Just another manic Sunday after the international break
Background Image: Paul Sprengers
Imagine returning to work from maternity leave. You expect to ease back into the grind, maybe pass around selfies of you and the little bundle of joy on the first day, bask in the obligatory praise, tell a few horror stories about labour and do the rounds to get back up to speed. Instead, the boss wants you in his office before you can get behind your desk, enjoy a sip of coffee and open your briefcase. The company’s most important account is talking about switching to a rival. If you can’t get them back in the fold by end of business, the company will suffer huge losses. Your job may even hang in the balance and, distracted by other matters, you’ve had no time to prepare.
In essence, that’s how players on several big clubs felt when they returned to their clubs on Thursday or Friday. After two weeks on international duty, stars at Tottenham, Roma, Lazio, Sevilla, Valencia, Ajax, Braga and Rangers all arrived back to their respective facilities, more than a few still trying to shake off the jet lag, only to find their managers eager to get in what training they can in the two or three days available to prepare for a Sunday match that could make or break the season. Nor are the gaffers losing their heads over nothing. League titles and Champions League places are at stake. Defeat is not an option. Road-weary or overjoyed at their success, it must all be forgotten. There’s no choice but to hit the ground running.
Here’s a quick look at the matches in question and the stakes involved.