As I have touched upon on these pages previously, while I love the big international tournaments, I find the international breaks, especially the early season ones in September, October and November, very hard to handle. Increasingly I find myself becoming more and more apathetic to the performances of England, probably as a result of a deliberate decision to save myself the pain from their continual failures on the big stage by not caring. I will watch them in the big tournaments and will even hope that, for once, they may perform creditably but I flatly refuse to dedicate anything more than a passing interest to their qualification campaigns.
I therefore feel an immense sense of relief when each tortuous ten day period without proper football is brought to an end and we can all return to our normal routines once again.
Looking ahead to this weekend, in many ways the early game on Saturday lunchtime promises to be the most intriguing battle with Jurgen Klopp taking his exciting Liverpool side, fresh from their demolition of Arsenal, to the Etihad to take on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City outfit. It will be interesting to see whether Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starts and if so where he plays, given his proclamations that he made the move to Anfield to play centrally; and also whether seeming want-a-way star Phillippe Coutinho returns to the fold after demonstrating that he was fit enough to play for Brazil during the break.
With neither team having looked especially solid at the back so far, combined with their expansive attack-oriented games, it would seem almost certain that there should be goals in this game (cue goalless draw then!). If one or the other were to take all three points it would see them go top, if only until the evening game when Manchester United travel to Stoke City.
As impressive as Mourinho’s side have looked thus far, scoring ten goals without reply, there seems to be the inescapable feeling that they haven’t truly been tested yet, it remains to be seen if Mark Hughes’ charges can offer a sterner challenge or whether United can carry on the momentum they have generated even at this early stage.
My own Saturday afternoon will be spent at the Emirates trying to rekindle the faintest notion of hope that the goings on at Arsenal during the summer are all part of some closely-guarded masterplan that us mere supporters have been unable to comprehend; and that Arsène, Kroenke and co really do know what they are doing. In all reality though I am anticipating (hoping for?) a comfortable win that the team is usually capable of in these more routine matches, before the wheels come off once again when we visit Stamford Bridge next Sunday.
The Everton v Tottenham game also promises to be an intriguing match, and it seems somewhat strange that this hasn’t been scheduled for live TV; although with all of last season’s top seven teams playing on Saturday it should make for an interesting Match of the Day.
In addition to the Premier League, next week also sees the return of the Champions League with a potentially highly entertaining Matchday One repeat of the 2015 final when Juventus visit the Nou Camp to take on Barcelona on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday night I will be reverting to my Rotterdam affiliations and watching Feyenoord’s return to Champions League action for the first time in fifteen years when they welcome Manchester City to De Kuip. While sensible logic would suggest that my boyhood team stand little chance of escaping a group that includes City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk; the fervent atmosphere that will be created be the legion of passionate fans, especially in their home games, may allow them to become something of a surprise package within the group.
As the result of a (fortunate) scheduling accident I am to be spared the obligation of going to Arsenal’s opening Europa League fixture against FC Köln on Thursday and will instead be in New York, no doubt in an appropriate Irish Bar, rather than at the Emirates. While I hope that Wenger actually takes the competition seriously, as much to lift spirts around the club as anything else, I do find it hard to spark too much excitement for a group that includes the aforementioned Germans, BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade.
For all the trials and tribulations that proper football brings, it feels good to have it back, at least for the next four weeks until we have to face yet another international break.