Belgium are currently the number one ranked side in world football, overtaking superpowers like Brazil who they eliminated from last year’s World Cup. Simply put, no country per capita is remotely producing as many top footballers as they are. So what’s their secret?
There has been plenty of talk of Liverpool ‘bottling’ this title race, largely from those who wish ill upon them. But we can put that to one side for now. Facing Chelsea at Anfield, five years after Steven Gerrard’s fateful slip and on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Hillsborough, created a pressure that would make many teams crumble. But not them.
Chelsea’s match against Brighton may have seemed like something of a sideshow compared to the festival going on up the road at Tottenham’s new ground, but their 3-0 victory could prove to be just as important in the race for the top four and for the future of their manager Maurizio Sarri.
Between defeat at Chelsea in their first away game under Emery and mid-December, Arsenal took 14 of a possible 18 points on the road, but face trips to Brighton and Liverpool having been haunted by the ghost of seasons past against Southampton at St Mary’s.
Following the traditional ‘slamming shut’ of the transfer window, albeit at the markedly un-traditional time — before a ball has been kicked in anger — attention can now turn to how teams will line up and not to what gaps still need to be filled.
And then there was one. Well, two actually, but the World Cup third-place play-off is definitely one of those nominally competitive fixtures which presents a fairly robust challenge to my old friend Declan Lynch’s wise maxim that there’s never a good reason not to watch a football match.