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EPL Monday: Death to International Breaks!

Cardiff City v Manchester United - Premier League

Reading this in 2013 will sound silly, but back when I played on my local rec soccer team will my elementary school classmates most, if not all of us, had no idea the concept of “professional” soccer existed. We all watched football, baseball, basketball or even hockey on television. Soccer might as well as have been Monopoly — just a game you played to pass the time. So when the 1990 World Cup rolled around it was mind-blowing. Other countries play each other? In a sport, you say? They play National Anthems? And it’s called the ‘World Cup’? The nine-year-old me was hooked.

The fascination with the World Cup still exists, despite all the warts you notice about international sporting events — corruption, graft, human rights violations — you learn about when you get older. Yes, it’s another example of consumerism run amok, but the tournament itself is fun to watch unfold every four years in early summer and next June’s tournament in Brazil looks to be fantastic.

By the same token, the fascination with international soccer itself, in non-tournament settings is mostly dead. For every wild, thrill-a-minute game like Zlatan vs. Cristiano last week, there are far too many duds. How many of you have had this conversation?

PERSON: Oh, cool, what’s this game for?
YOU: Uhh, nothing. It’s just a friendly.

“Just a friendly.” What a lousy term to use for a sporting event, “friendly.”

This weekend, the Premier League returned after a week off due to the international break. Fortunately, it’s the last international break of the calendar year. The interruption to the ebb-and-flow of the season caused for players to jet off across the world to play money-making friendlies grows more tiresome each passing break.

When play resumed this weekend with the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park, we saw Liverpool star Luis Saurez limping inside of the first 25 minutes. Suarez happened to fly back to England on club owner John Henry’s private jet after he helped Uruguay secure a place in the World Cup via win over Jordan in the second leg of their qualifying playoff in Montevideo. Uruguay led 5-0 after the first leg. It was academic. Suarez didn’t need to play anything more than a cameo substitution in the final few minutes.

Or, take a club such as Southampton, which entered the weekend a surprisingly third. As a result of the Saints’ early success, promising players Adam Lalllana and Jay Rodriguez were called by England to play in friendlies vs. Chile and Germany. Instead of a extra week of training with the club, the duo got to experience what it’s like to disappoint the media on a national stage — a right of passage everyone everyone who’s ever kicked a soccer ball in England has dreamed about.

The international break wasn’t the only reason Spurs rolled out a vomit-inducing performance in a 6-0 loss to Manchester City, but it probably didn’t help that Christian Eriksen picked up an injury on Denmark duty. Or take a team like Fulham, which is hardly a powerhouse, yet has a roster filled with international players who spent the previous 10 days away playing for their country. It’s not a shock Martin Jol’s team lost at home to Swansea City after the layoff.

A study released earlier this year totaled about 32-percent of minutes played in the Premier League came from the British “home countries.” In turn it means more-and-more foreign players, which translates to more players potentially on international duty every couple of weeks.

So if you’re a “big” club like Arsenal or Liverpool, for instance, you have to compose a roster that will take part in the 38-game EPL grind, the Champions League, a couple cup competitions, all the while keeping your fingers crossed none of your key players pick up a knock away representing their country. With more-and-more money entering the game in the top leagues across Europe it’s only a matter of time until the club vs. country debate boils over.

As much as we all might enjoy the World Cup, the path toward making that particular sausage get made isn’t very appealing.

Overreaction Game of the Week: 

Manchester City 6, Tottenham 0 … In three (overall) home games in November, City scored 18 goals. This shouldn’t be all too surprising. In the last three seasons City is 45-4-8 at the Eitihad Stadium. With Sergio Aguero (10 goals), Yaya Toure (5) and now Alvaro Negredo (5) there’s plenty of firepower available. City’s home form is one constant this year.

To say Manuel Pellegrini’s club has turned a corner is jumping to too much of a conclusion. We’ll know more about City in early December when it plays three straight road games away to West Brom, Southampton and then Bayern Munich in the Champions League. City were my pick to win the league back in August and I’ll still stick with that due to their depth. This weekend they curb-stomped Spurs, with David Silva and Vincent Kompany on the bench. Take Mesut Ozil or Per Mertesacker away from Arsenal and the Gunners are in trouble.

As for Spurs? When a player vomits on the field for all the world to see like Sandro did, what more is there to say?

I’ll drop a mea culpa. I thought the windfall of players Spurs nabbed for selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid would be a lot better. There’s plenty of time for this to happen, but at the moment Andre Villas-Boas squad looks woefully inept with only nine goals in 12 matches. Spurs are still 6-4-2 overall, but trending downward. What exactly is the strength of the Tottenham team right now? Defender Jan Vertonghen’s hair?

Admittedly, it’s 20/20 hindsight but you now have to wonder why a guy like Eriksen was on the transfer block from Ajax for so long until his move to Spurs in the summer. Roma certainly hasn’t missed Erik Lamela’s services. Say what you will about Clint Dempsey (and I have), but at least he provided goals, what has Lewis Holtby done since showing up in January?

Long-term, Tottenham will be okay, although a place in the Top Four is slipping away due to this winless league performance in November. They clearly miss a match-winner like Bale, who alone could mask over all the other problems. It doesn’t get easier next Sunday with a game vs. Manchester United at White Hart Lane.

Simply Awesome Simon

Everton v Liverpool - Premier League

We could talk for days about Saturday’s 3-3 Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton. Between the Kevin Mirallas incident, to the goals, to anything and everything that makes this a uniquely English fixture.

You wouldn’t think it’s worth talking about a goalie in a game where he allowed three goals, but Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet continued his excellent season. The Belgian was under fire most of the second half, making nine saves — upping his total to 48 on the season. For a brief spell it felt like Mignolet was throwing his body around non-stop to stop the relentless Romelu Lukaku-led Everton attack.

Right from opening day Mignolet has made an impact, saving a Stoke City penalty in a 1-0 Liverpool victory. He’s only kept three clean sheets, but that’s not a knock. Liverpool has fluctuated between a back-three and back-four, yet the Belgian stopper has remained a constant rock for manager Brendan Rodgers.

The draw, coupled with Arsenal’s ho-hum 2-0 win over Southampton, pushed Liverpool four behind the Gunners in first place. As important as the goals from Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez have been, Mignolet’s contributions in goal are right up there. He’s been one of the signings of the season and best keeper I’ve seen week-in, week-out.

How’d you like to be Belgian National Team manager Marc Wilmots, having to decide between Mignolet or Atletico Madrid’s Thibault Courtois at next summer’s World Cup.

The draw was costly for Everton, with Leighton Baines breaking his toe. He’ll be out a month. Roberto Martinez doesn’t quite have a like-for-like replacement for his key player, but Everton has been positive all season so figure they press on as they’ve done all year.

Rooney, Rooney, Rooney:

Wayne Rooney kicked a Cardiff player in the butt, Rooney scored a goal, Rooney was beaten by Kim Bo-Kyung for the game-tying goal in stoppage time. Full day, eh?

That was close to being a very nice win for David Moyes and United, away from home and without the services of Robin van Persie. Instead its a sour draw. (Obviously if Sir Alex Ferguson were still coaching his personal will would have stopped Kim’s header. Obviously.) Moyes new team — Manchester United — is now even on 21 points with his former team, Everton.

If there’s a concern for United above all others, it’s the lack of creativity outside the tireless, leather-lunged running by Rooney.

Two big wins in a row would have been a great tonic for anxious United fans, now the questions about Moyes and his lineup continue to linger. If you’re United and you lose a game in which Patrice Evra scored a rate goal, it’s never a positive development.

Goalie Goofs:

Who wore it worse, goalie edition: Artur Boruc vs. Hugo Lloris.

borucgoof

Cristiano Ronaldo, Southampton’s Polish keeper is not.

navas1

Poor decision by Lloris, but an equally solid finish by Jesus Navas.

Boruc wins easily. He was also the victim of Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic’s goal. Great Job!

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