The international break is still with us ladies and gentlemen and there's still international business to be conducted before returning to familiar fixations. For ETW, there were a couple of highlights over the past week as qualifying for the World Cup nears its conclusion for many teams in different federations.
Stephen Keshi's Nigeria were unimpressive but secured a vital victory away to a determined Ethiopia side. The East African side will have to travel to Calabar to overturn a 2-1 first leg reverse to become the first East African nation to reach a World Cup. Without any bias, it'd be best for Africa's champions to make it to a World Cup as it would feel strange otherwise. Similar sentiments also could be directed the way of Óscar Tabárez's Uruguay; a side in some qualifying peril right now. However, it is hoped that if Ethiopia do not make it to Brazil 2014 then Russia will be the scene where a side hailing from Africa's "east side" can make a little bit of continental history.
One of Liverpool's former favourite managers, Roy Hodgson, displayed boldness that characterised his tenure at Merseyside by selecting Tottenham Hotspur's Andros Townsend in a crucial qualifying game. Roy's bold play was rewarded with a convincing victory and a fine performance by the youngster. Hodgson's proud English warriors can reach next year's glamour spectacle by defeating Poland later today but will have to be wary of Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Błaszczykowski in particular.
Lucas is back for Brazil too and that is worth a solitary line on its own. Liverpool are lucky to have him.
For Liverpool, a trip to Newcastle looms. Make no mistake friends, visitors, enemies, and bystanders. Liverpool have players returning from injury to a side that sits heathily in the league. Players such as Aly Cissokho, Glen Johnson, Joe Allen, and a healthy Daniel Agger should result in a continuation of victories throughout what remains of October. Focus on one game at a time they say. According to the sweet chirping of seasonal birdies, Liverpool should forget about designs on loftier goals. Be practial and reasonable. Remember what happened last time? You do? Good. The time before that? Really? Excellent. So the right prescription should be caution.
Only there's one little problem with such a recommendation scrawled in handwriting typical of the most seasoned doctor. Opportunity. For the past decade in the Premier League, making an excellent start often dictates much of the season. Sure some sides tail off in ways that are most unfortunate for optimistic supporters. Clearly Brendan Rodgers' side isn't making a title charge but virtually all of the previous title winners in the past ten years have started quickly.
Making an excellent start to win the league was virtually mandatory after the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea's Russian backed operation. In Mourinho's first two seasons, a blistering start was continued to secure a title and it was the same story for the retired Dark Lord when he wrestled the title back from Mourinho. A similar "way of working" is required for Liverpool to finish in the top four if that's the aim for this season and Liverpool's competitive workload is small compared to perceived rivals while the League Cup exit has further reduced potential fixtures. In light of current circumstances, what other aim can there be apart from finishing in the top four?
A start of considerable promise leaves Liverpool second even with some notable injuries. Liverpool's two biggest financial investments over the summer have settled in as quickly as January's transfer stunners, Jamie Carragher's experience and expertise have been adequately replaced, an attacking signing's struggles have been mitigated by the industry of loanee, and the league's best player remains at the club. There is more. Manchester United have struggled early on and Tottenham still have teething problems to work through. 3-5-2 is a legitimate and potentially exciting addition to Rodgers' tactical toolkit and what we've seen can only be improved with the inclusion of Johnson, Cissokho, Allen, Agger and Coutinho as starting or rotation options.
Not all is rosy-cheeked in Liverpool's garden yet opportunities must be taken advantage of. A trip to Newcastle and an Anfield battle against West Bromwich Albion may not be guaranteed points yet they represent chances for consolidation after the international break. They arrive ahead of a limited yet tricky November schedule and a daunting December.One game at a time but what about two games? Reinforcements are here and their respective returns are timely. Martin Kelly could even have a stretch of good fortune, which would be welcome news for a talented Liverpool stalwart who has a lot to give to the club.
Liverpool are in new territory. We're ahead and we can still improve. There are possibilities and chances that can be taken but what will Rodgers and Liverpool's players do about it?