Arsenal - World Cup qualifier

Chelsea, Lukaku &Sanchez: The winners and losers from World Cup qualifiers

September international breaks have always been the odd one. When clubs are sprouting to get into the swing of things, the uninteresting national team football just shows its ugly face.

But unlike many others, the just concluded break wasn’t totally boring. Perhaps due to the intense nature of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Yet, only a few players and teams emerged with any sense of warmth and happiness. The rest were left trudging back to their clubs with a feeling of dread.

That said, we round up the Premier League’s biggest winners and losers from the just concluded international break.

Winners

Chelsea

Manchester United may be the division’s in-form team before the break, but it is Chelsea who returns brimming with confidence. It is as though the break was made for Antonio Conte’s players who were simply remarkable for their countries.

Alvaro Morata continued from where he left at Stamford Bridge with three strikes and an assist for Spain against Italy and Liechtenstein. Victor Moses and Willian showed their class for Nigeria and Brazil respectively. But the most cheering news will be Eden Hazard’s return from injury. The 26-year-old, who hasn’t played since the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal, started and scored in the 9-0 massacre of Gibraltar.

Romelu Lukaku

There aren’t too many strikers in world football at the moment better than Romelu Lukaku, are there? Not only is the 24-year-old justifying the millions splashed on him by Manchester United but also repaying the faith of Roberto Martinez in the national fold.

Lukaku took his tally to eight goals in six games for club and country with a hat-trick against Gibraltar and the winner in a 2-1 success in Greece, a result which secured his nation’s qualification for the World Cup.

Ben Woodburn

It’s been an absolute fairy tale year for 17-year-old Ben Woodburn. From toiling in obscurity in Liverpool’s youth teams, the Chester-born forward has now become one of the league’s most popular youngster. Woodburn’s meteoric rise to stardom began after scoring on his first senior appearance for the Reds against Leeds United in the EFL Cup.

And it seems the 17-year-old is undone with debut goals as he repeated that feat for Wales. He came off the bench against Austria with scores even before firing home what turned out to be the winner from a full 25-yards out. The win kept Wales’ hopes of finishing in a playoff position alive.

Losers

Alexis Sanchez

It’s certainly not the best of time for Alexis Sanchez. First, the Chilean watched helplessly from the rare, as Arsenal frustrated his deadline switch to Manchester City. As if that wasn’t enough, he now has to contend with missing out on next year’s Mundial.

Sanchez was unable to inspire his nation in two crucial fixtures against Paraguay and Bolivia, which culminated in disappointing defeats. Both results leave Chile sixth on the 10-team CONMEBOL qualifier.

Riyad Mahrez

Sanchez wasn’t the only one with a failed summer transfer. Riyad Mahrez too had similar daunting experience trying to force his way out of Leicester City. The Algerian forward even missed his country’s 3-1 defeat to Zambia after being granted permission to formalise his move.

On his return, he was expected to lift the Desert Foxes who had garnered a measly one point from three games. But shockingly, he didn’t. Mahrez had little influence and even missed a spot-kick as they were beaten once again by the Chipolopolo, all but ending their flat world cup dreams.

Dele Alli

Dele Alli would have been pardoned had he merely disappointed with his performances for England during the international break. But not after being caught on live TV aiming a middle-finger gesture towards former club teammate, Kyle Walker.

He’s now likely to miss a qualifier next month with FIFA weighing up disciplinary action.

About the Author Toby

An unrepentant soccer freak other freaks call geek.

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