International break. The two words that so often now strike a chord of apathy into the hardened club supporter. I don’t whether it’s the slower pace of the game or that the players themselves look like they’d rather be somewhere else but it’s hard to get excited isn’t it? The name of the game, getting the best teams qualified, means that any heavy weight clashes normally get saved for the summer as it is. This particular round comes just as the business end of domestic competition gets going. Normally this would be irksome in the extreme but for once we’ve got reasons to be cheerful.
On the face of it, it couldn’t be much worse. Not only do we have a defeat to think on for two whole weeks but that defeat was down to our bitter local rivals. A defeat, which barring some biblical style disaster striking Manchester Utd (like defeat to Fulham?), rules us out of the title. That’s bad. On the other hand it gives our rivals something equally ponderous to chew on. Man Utd have, at last, been found out to be not the greatest footballing side every formed (Trademark: every daily newspaper) and have in fact been playing not that great for most of this season. Liverpool and Inter showed that a high intensity strategy can disrupt their flow and the defence can be rattled. Other teams have taken note and shaky confidence isn’t the best thing to brood over on the break. Liverpool may be top by the time United play again and the pressure will be huge against a Villa team due a win in the league but due a win at Old Trafford once every millennia.
Speaking of pressure our familiar friends over in Liverpool have certainly got their share as well. Explosive results in the past three games have turned their season round and got the plaudits purring. But this is Liverpool, who haven’t won the league in twenty years, and every time previously they have had the opportunity to compete they implode. All the championship talk around the club may galvanise them or it may prove to be an ill-timed burden. Either way they’ve two weeks to deal with rising expectations whereas we can quietly regroup. Furthermore Liverpool are currently scoring for fun and demolishing opposition. Will they be doing the same in a few weeks time? It’s rare for any side to have such a high scoring run beyond four or five games, they might find goals trickier to come by in the quarter finals.
The other added risk is injury in such a crucial part of the season. Given the amount of players we’ve lost on International duty this season surely our bad luck has run dry on that front. It may be a week of having fingers crossed for the top two sides. Meanwhile Anelka, Deco, Carvalho and Mikel can use the time to get match fit for the run in. Whereas the other managers can put their feet up Guus Hiddink is part-timing it with Russia. It’s not ideal but at least he hasn’t been doing both jobs long, with the break over he can focus solely on bringing success back to the Bridge come May. Besides their can’t be anything remotely possible that Chelsea don’t know about our Champions League opponents and vice versa.
The next three games are make or break, in the league and in the knock out competitions. We’ve had one defeat to dwell on over the internationals now the side have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.