For the final time this year, players are returning from international duty and back to the business of Premier League football. Which players are returning with a spring in their step? And which managers will be cursing their luck over certain injury situations?
Havertz LB experiment: ‘Something is very wrong’
Kai Havertz’s versatility is a strength – it must have played a part in the decision-making process that led Arsenal to pay £65m for his services. However, that versatility was perhaps pushed a little too far by Germany boss Julian Nagelsmann in the week, who decided to employ Havertz as a left-back in fixtures with Turkey and Austria.
Usually found either as an attacking midfielder or as a central striker, the left-footed Havertz was given the nod over natural full-backs David Raum from Leipzig and Union Berlin’s Robin Gosens – to many raised eyebrows in German football.
Despite Havertz scoring in the defeat to Turkey, the experiment didn’t go down well. Germany lost both encounters.
Lothar Matthaus, Germany’s most-capped player, writing in his column for Sky Germany, said: “Havertz brings a lot of quality, but he was not trained in this position. This is also a slap in the face to those who have played there recently, even if there were problems on the left side of the defence recently.”
Former Arsenal defender William Gallas said: “Seriously? Something is very wrong. It seems like Nagelsmann doesn’t respect Havertz as a player… This is a complete lack of respect from the manager.”
Arsenal play Brentford on Saturday – maybe it could be the start of Havertz developing into the next Nigel Winterburn. Or not.
Chaotic Nunez shows his clinical side for Bielsa
The Marcelo Bielsa magic is being weaved all over Darwin Nunez for Uruguay.
Bielsa is making his mark with the Liverpool striker at the forefront of his plans. There is less chaos in his performances since Bielsa got hold of him. That chaos has been replaced by a cool, clinical edge in front of goal that has seen him score five goals in his last five qualifiers, including netting in wins over Brazil and Argentina.
That ruthlessness was on show when Nunez broke away and converted a low finish three minutes from time in Buenos Aires, breaking a 14-game winning run for the world champions in a 2-0 win for Uruguay and in the process officially announced them as major players on the South American scene now.
The striker backed up that performance with another match-winning one, when scoring twice in the 3-0 win over Bolivia. First came a side-footed volley finish and then a header from close range in the second half.
Can he transfer such deadly finishing back to domestic action? Well, it’s Manchester City next for Liverpool, live on Sky Sports.
Argentina vs Brazil madness: Joelinton dismissed
Those involved in Argentina’s tumultuous win over Brazil will have required a lie down. It was a sapping evening for many reasons and one that will surely have left an emotional mark on the 13 Premier League players that played some part in proceedings.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez tried to intervene as police clashed with Argentina fans before they dealt Brazil a historic defeat at the Maracana. The longstanding sporting rivalry between two of the most successful teams in world football hit fever pitch after the Brazilian police charged Argentinian fans in response to fighting in the stands during the national anthems.
The match – delayed by 30 minutes – started in a tumult of noise as local fans roared their support of the five-time world champions, who were looking to get their campaign back on track after losing successive qualifiers for the first time.
However, Nicolas Otamendi scored with a towering header to give Argentina a 1-0 victory – the first time Brazil had lost a home World Cup qualifier.
Brazil’s misery was compounded when substitute midfielder Joelinton was sent off for hitting Rodrigo de Paul in the face in the 82nd minute, only three minutes after he came off the bench.
Son continues to shine
Footage emerging of Tottenham striker Heung-Min Son taking a nasty knock to his right knee late in the second half of South Korea’s 5-0 win over Singapore will have triggered a collective intake of breath in north London.
But any injury fears were quickly quashed by the player himself. And, instead, Spurs, already cursing their luck owing to injuries to James Maddison and Micky van de Ven, will have been delighted with Son’s trip away.
The striker scored three goals across the two games, including playing a leading role in a 3-0 win over China that kept up South Korea’s 100 per cent record in qualifying. The Tottenham captain netted an early penalty before heading home a second just before the break. Son was also involved in South Korea’s third, assisting Jung Seung-hyun’s bullet header in the 87th minute.
Son will be leading to line, looking to add to his eight goal tally, when Spurs play Aston Villa on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Mitoma, Ferguson injuries add to Brighton’s woes
Brighton are currently without a league win in six games – the longest period of Roberto De Zerbi’s time in charge.
Of course, the added demands of European football and key injuries to Pervis Estupinan, Solly March and now Lewis Dunk all must be factored into the melting pot when assessing why De Zerbi’s usual consistent side are underperforming.
But things may get worse before they get better as both Karou Mitoma and Evan Ferguson are rated as doubtful for Saturday’s trip to Nottingham Forest. Mitoma pulled out of Japan’s squad over the international break and reports suggest the winger hasn’t yet recovered from the issue while Ferguson, who started for Ireland against the Netherlands, had to be replaced after 55 minutes owing to a hamstring problem. However, the striker did feature as a second-half substitute against New Zealand.
This could provide huge headaches for De Zerbi at a time where Brighton’s key attacking metrics have nosedived. When at their best during the backend of last season De Zerbi’s team were posting a per match average of 2.22 expected goals, 33.23 touches in the opposition box and 11.91 shots inside the box.
However, that level of performance in the final third has fallen dramatically when assessing their numbers over the past six fixtures – a run that has offered up soft opposition in Fulham and Sheffield United too. Their expected goals average is down to 1.39, the touches in the opposition box figure is now just 24 and shots in the box is down to 7.33.
De Zerbi has a problem to solve.
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