Sorry Pogba, but it's time for you to leave
Because let’s face it – nobody really cares if England beats Montenegro, or if Spain thrashes Malta, or if an Alexander Hleb-inspired Belarus will upset Germany and cause Joachim Löw to embark on an epic armpit-sniffing marathon.
What most football fans really want is for club games to start again. Well, that is unless you support Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur. For supporters of these two struggling North London clubs, like myself and Edwin respectively, the international break represents a good opportunity for us to crawl out of the holes we’ve been hiding in for some much-needed fresh air.
But for those of you who cannot wait for the international break to be over – I’m looking at you, Liverpool and Leicester City fans – and are looking desperately for something to do this coming week, I’ve got the answer for you.
It doesn’t matter what religion you believe in, or if you’re an atheist, just get on your knees and pray to whatever god you know of to keep your favourite team’s key player safe from injury this international break. Because an injury to your key player at this crucial juncture, with the games set to come thick and fast during the festive period, could make or break your team’s entire season.
And so, without further ado, we present to you the seven players who should be in fans’ prayers for the coming week, starting with:
Liverpool – Roberto Firmino (Brazil)
In terms of pure output for Liverpool in the EPL, Firmino (3 goals, 3 assists) pales in comparison to his more popular contemporaries Mo Salah (6 goals, 3 assists) and Sadio Mane (7 goals, 2 assists).
But anyone who has watched the Reds this season would recognise that the 28-year-old’s gameplay is centred on more than just goals and assists. A bona fide false nine, Firmino’s intelligent movement off-the-ball has been integral in creating time and space for his team-mates to do the damage. He’s like the perfect wingman you’ll bring to a club – the kind who’ll do whatever it takes to distract the other girls (defenders) just so you can score.
Therefore, Firmino is the most important cog in the seemingly unstoppable Liverpool juggernaut at the moment, and Kop fans must pray that he gets through Brazil’s games against Argentina and South Korea unscathed. Because make no mistake about it – the moment Liverpool lose their wingman, their dry spell will begin.
Leicester City – James Maddison (England)
Some might say Maddison’s call-up to the England squad is undeserved, and that he’s in the squad simply by virtue of not being Jesse Lingard. But really, has there been a more consistent midfielder (four goals, two assists) in the EPL this season than the Leicester midfielder?
The 22-year-old’s impressive form has not gone unnoticed, with England manager Gareth Southgate reportedly set to hand him his first international cap against Montenegro this Friday (SGT).
As far as opposition goes, Montenegro is hardly going to be the biggest test that this England squad will face. But the Montenegrins are robust players who aren’t above leaving their feet in their tackles, and would gladly do to the England players what Raheem Sterling did to Joe Gomez, only 10 times worse.
So, Maddison would do well to tread carefully and ensure he doesn’t leave the pitch with just one working leg, because Leicester can ill-afford to lose their spark in midfield. An injury to Maddison would be a particularly huge blow to Jamie Vardy, who, for all his numerous qualities, would not be the deadly striker he is today without the hustle and bustle of his countryman behind him.
Chelsea – Mateo Kovačić (Croatia)
I must admit, when Chelsea spent £40m (S$70m) to sign Kovačić on a permanent basis last summer, I laughed. After all, in the season before, the Croatian had looked as out of place in the EPL as Ed Sheeran in Game of Thrones, and there was no doubt in my mind that he would flop again this season.
But I was sorely mistaken – Kovačić has been sublime in midfield for Chelsea so far this campaign. Dictating play from deep, cleverly controlling spaces, and with a penchant for playing defence-splitting passes, the 25-year-old has been vital in helping the Blues dominate their opponents, while simultaneously protecting the team’s defence from harm.
To lose Kovačić – who will likely feature in Croatia’s games against Slovakia and Georgia – would see a gap the size of Donald Trump’s lack of knowledge on climate change open up in Chelsea’s midfield, and severely curtail their push to finish in the top-four this season.
Manchester City – Raheem Sterling (England)
The good news for Man City fans is that Sterling will not feature against Montenegro, having been dropped from the team following his scuffle with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez at England’s training base earlier this week.
But the 24-year-old is still in line to start for the Three Lions in their final Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo on Monday (SGT). Sterling’s importance to the Citizens is no secret – tricky, direct, and only just a smidge slower than the force of nature that is an aunty rushing towards an empty seat on the MRT during peak hours, the winger has been arguably one of City’s best players over the past few seasons, and is near unstoppable when on his day.
With Pep Guardiola’s men already struggling to keep pace with league leaders Liverpool, Man City will need all their best players available if they are to stand a chance of retaining their title this season. And Sterling certainly can count himself among that esteemed group.
Arsenal – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
As the only player seemingly capable of scoring for Arsenal at the moment, Aubameyang’s sojourn to Africa for Gabon’s matches against Congo and Angola will be watched closely by Arsenal fans, who otherwise might not have known there was even a country called Angola.
Because while Arsenal can still count Alexandre Lacazette and young Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli as attacking options, neither of those two players are in the same quality bracket as Aubameyang.
After all, only someone with near superhuman ability can score eight EPL goals when playing in a team managed by Unai Emery, a manager so cautious and cowardly, he’d probably get scared watching the comedy Friends on TV.
Manchester United – Daniel James (Wales)
Wales manager Ryan Giggs might be a United legend, but fans of the Red Devils will not forgive him if James gets injured on international duty in the Welsh’s upcoming matches against Azerbaijan and Hungary.
James has been an undisputed star for United since signing from Swansea in the summer, and is probably one of the few positives for the club in a season that has thus far been as underwhelming as the DC Extended Universe.
To lose James to injury now would be the equivalent of putting a lock on the fabled steering wheel that Ole Gunnar Solskjær is supposedly behind. And it will surely condemn United to another season of finishing outside the top-four, where, I suppose, Liverpool fans will say they deserve to be. But that’s an argument for another day.
Tottenham Hotspur – VAR (PGMOL)
Where would Spurs be without VAR? We might never know for sure, because football matches are never straightforward, but chances are, they’d be in a much worse position than they are in now.
Because it’s no exaggeration to say that Spurs have generally had the rub of the green with VAR decisions – just look at last weekend’s ridiculous decision to rule out David McGoldrick’s goal for Sheffield United because VAR ruled that John Lundstram’s toenail was offside.
But such decisions have led to VAR coming under intense scrutiny and criticism from all and sundry. And, if the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL) headed by Mike Riley had any sense of shame or pride in their work, then they would surely use this international break to do something to improve VAR.
Or they could just put an end to VAR in the EPL this season. I mean, if the PMD ban on Singapore's footpaths could be implemented on just one day's notice, surely the PGMOL can cull the use of VAR in under an hour.
Now, that would really add insult to Spurs’ injury.