Anyone else feel like this international break lasted a month? Maybe that’s my pandemic sense of time, but it really has felt like forever. While some teams were building momentum only to come to a complete stop due to the break, others are hoping this deep breath will help them focus and right the ship. So, what should we be looking out for this weekend? There’s plenty, but I’m only going to highlight three things.
The Merseyside Derby
The most exciting match of the weekend is also the one that kicks it off. I know, 7:30AM on a Saturday is rough. And if you’re on the west coast, I’d say record it, avoid social media, and watch when you wake up because 4:30 is ungodly.
Everton has taken all 12 points from their first four games, and look to be the class of the league in this early sample size. James Rodriguez and Allan truly have helped transform that midfield. Couple that with Dominic Calvert-Lewin molding himself into the striker we thought he could be and you have a combination that’s legitimately dangerous.
The question here is can they keep it up? Liverpool is coming off an embarrassing 7-2 drubbing by Aston Villa, but you could see them switch off by the 4th goal. They had the “on to Goodison Park” mentality before the end of the first half. In the past couple years, no team has been better than The Reds. They’re unlikely to lose two on the bounce, and are boosted by getting Thiago and Sadio Mane back into the team.
The difference in this one is going to come down to which Jordan Pickford shows up. On his best days Pickford looks like the clear England number one and a surefire top 10 keeper in the world. But, as of late, he’s had some howlers that make him look like Loris Karius in the 2018 Champions League Final. He’s always been just inconsistent enough to not truly be in the top 10 of the world conversation, but he’s going to need to be at his best to prevent Divok Origi from capitalizing on his mistakes to give the red side of Liverpool another late derby win.
Bale is back
Gareth Bale back in Tottenham always felt like a pipe dream. Throughout the years much was made of this “special relationship” Spurs had with Real Madrid. However we only ever see players going in one direction – out of London. So when rumors started swirling about a return to N17 for the Welshman I didn’t take too much stock in them. After all, they’ve been relatively prominent for the past two years.
Bale holds a special place in the hearts of Spurs fans. I remember when I was endeared to this club a decade ago. I watched this kid rise to the occasion and play what felt like every position on the pitch at one point. He shattered minds in Milan and was the face of the Premier League when NBC Sports purchased the rights to bring the English games through our televisions. I have an awesome purple Bale kit from 2011. When I tell you I was drawn in by his energy, a gravitational pull to stylish, fun football, it’s a genuine understatement.
His leaving to go to Madrid would be like Harry Kane deciding to leave the club in 2018 at the height of energy and excitement around Pochettino’s Spurs. It was devastating, but at the time inevitable. So his return now has me, as well as many others I’m sure, cautiously optimistic. Is he going to be the fast paced winger who adds a bit of flair and finishes with a flourish? Or is this excitement rooted in nostalgia?
Only time will tell.
But if named to the starting lineup, or even coming in later in the game off the bench, against West Ham on Sunday? He’s not walking out there alone. In his final season before heading to Madrid, Bale felt like the only source of creativity and the only source of goals. Now he’s one spear in the trident of Tottenham’s attack. He doesn’t need to do it all himself. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have already proven to be kinetic in the infancy of this season. Adding to that the energy of the club legend that is Gareth Bale? I have goosebumps. 11:30 Eastern on Sunday can’t come soon enough.
Between the sticks in SW6
Chelsea probably won the transfer window. After a period during which they were banned from making any purchases, brought in club legend Frank Lampard as manager, and actually fostered the youth in their system, they’ve shored up the ranks with some stellar signings.
Of those signings, none may be as important as Edouard Mendy. The 28 year old Senegalese came in at a time that Chelsea’s attack was doing the necessary work, but their keeper couldn’t get out of his own way. Kepa Arrizabalaga has gone from club record signing to lucky to make the bench. However, during this international break, Mendy picked up a knock that will keep him out of Chelsea’s clash with Southampton.
This leaves Lampard with a big decision to make. Does he put in Kepa, who is probably struggling for confidence and then some? Or does he go with 39-year old Willy Caballero? The Argentine veteran had already overtaken Kepa after some questionable performances from the record signing this season. Putting Kepa between the sticks could be asking for a Danny Ings feast. But it also good be exactly what the Spaniard needs to prove there’s still competition at the position. We’ll know soon enough, but Lampard isn’t letting us in on anything ahead of time.