International football is fun, don’t get me wrong. World Cups are Technicolour explosions of joy and the European Championships aren’t bad either.
Even qualifying has a certain charm about it, not least when Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland are upsetting the odds. This, by most measures, has been a pretty good fortnight of action.
But still. There is a sleepiness to international breaks that is hard to shake. Maybe it’s the lack of press conferences or the slowing of the relentless churn of club news, but everything is just a bit… adrift.
It’s relaxing, in a way, but you can be sure that most will welcome domestic football, with all its foibles, back with open arms this weekend. What a weekend it is, as well.
Here are five talking points:
The excitement is understandable, of course. This is a club that has for a long time been in desperate need of a unifying force – a leader to cut through all the cobwebs and clutter. For a while, Brendan Rodgers appeared to be the man for the job, but he disappeared down a rabbit hole of tactical uncertainty and outstanding business speak.
In Klopp, they have a manager with the charisma and conviction to knock a rag-tag squad into shape. He showed at Dortmund that he has a clear vision of how the game should be played – he admits his first aim is to do get Liverpool playing “a recognisable brand of football” – and it is hard to imagine the players failing to respond.
The question is how successfully Klopp can implement his notoriously taxing gameplan at such short notice. James Milner may be a natural road-runner, but do Liverpool’s other players have it in them to chase in packs for 90 minutes? And if not, will Klopp be able to find a happy medium between the present state of the squad and his future ideal?
With Klopp already proving himself to be as handy with an aphorism as with a tactics board, it’s going to be fun finding out.
City’s second string come to the fore
Residents of the streets surrounding the Etihad reported a strange murmuring sound coming from the stadium this week.
When one brave local police officer plucked up the courage to investigate, he stumbled across Manuel Pellegrini, alone in the shower room, sobbing into a cup of coffee. “Another one down,” he whimpered. “Another one down.”
Yes, it’s been a fairly terrible couple of weeks for Manchester City on the injury front. Sergio Aguero jetted off to represent Argentina and came back with his hamstring in two parts. David Silva broke down for Spain and could be out for three weeks. Not ideal.
It is time, then, for a couple of City’s lesser lights to come to the fore. Wilfried Bony, who has scored a grand total of two goals since joining for £28million, will look to make the most of a rare chance to lead the line in Aguero’s absence. Silva’s absence is likely to mean either Jesus Navas or Samir Nasri will get starts.
These are good players, of course, but they represent a drop-off in quality from City’s leading stars. A home game against Bournemouth looks negotiable, but the Blues are likely to find their position as league leaders under threat in the weeks ahead.
A warmer welcome for Rooney?
There has been something of a rapprochement between Everton and Wayne Rooney of late, evidenced by his kind words about the club in the recent BBC documentary about his good side.
Toffees fans, too, seem increasingly inclined to forgive Rooney for his acrimonious exit all those years ago. Time, as they say, is a great healer.
It will be interesting to see (or perhaps hear) what kind of reception the striker gets when the Merseyside club host Manchester United this weekend. Will the familiar chorus of boos give way to something more welcoming?
His cause may be helped by his recent travails: on current form, Rooney’s presence in the United line-up would probably good news for Everton.
Opportunity knocks for Chelsea
You’d have been given pretty good odds on the reigning champions finding themselves down in 16th after eight matches of the season, but it is there that Chelsea find themselves.
The Blues have been the crisis club of the season so far, matching Liverpool for haplessness and comedic value on the field and trumping them in the PR disaster stakes off it. Jose Mourinho has behaved with both childlike naivety and dictatorial cruelty – often in the same ten-minute period.
The international break probably came at the right time for Mourinho, who has had a few days out of the spotlight and time to reflect on what has been going wrong. There were good signs from his players, too: Eden Hazard was on target for Belgium and Willian notched twice for Brazil.
The fixture list has also been kind: a home game against Aston Villa is, at this moment in time, the Premier League equivalent of a birthday party. If they can clamber up to the giddy heights of midtable in the next couple of weeks, a title tilt is still not out of the question.
Big Sam’s big challenge
And so Sunderland turned to the Dudley Deity.
With just three points on the board and precisely zero morale left in the tank, the Black Cats have pressed the big red button marked ‘Allardyce’, calling on one of football’s most divisive rescuers to dig them out of a hole. He kicks off his reign against Tony Pulis, something of a kindred spirit.
It probably won’t be a classic. But Big Sam will be hoping to spot a sign or two of life that has so far mustered all the spark of a wet cardboard box.
The revival starts here. Maybe.