As far as international breaks go, this one is set to contain more drama and excitement than most as the qualification process for the World Cup reaches its final stages with playoffs in Europe and elsewhere set to decide the final remaining participants.
The list of familiar teams with Chelsea representation who have already qualified include Belgium, Brazil, Spain, France, Nigeria, and even England, and they could be joined in the next few days by Italy, Denmark, and Croatia.
The latter already played their first leg against Greece, making quick work of the team who once so cruelly denied Pavel Nedved a European crown. While Greece did get an away goal, Croatia replied with four in kind, and barring a disaster on Tuesday, are basically in the tournament now. Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic, who already plays in Russia for Spartak Moscow, played the final two minutes and stoppage time, replacing the ever-wonderful Luka Modric.
Today, it’s Italy’s turn, who take on a Zlatan-less Sweden in Stockholm. Chelsea new boy Davide Zappacosta has played in three straight games for the Azzurri, starting one of them, and could be in line for more minutes today.
Last but certainly not least, Chelsea center back of the future AND the present Andreas Christensen and Denmark will be taking on Republic of Ireland on Saturday, with the Danes heavily favored to return to the World Cup after missing out on Brazil 2014. The 21-year-old, fresh off his impressive turn against Manchester United last Sunday, is feeling confident after playing in one of the biggest games of his career.
"[The Manchester United match] was probably one of the biggest games [I took park in], even though I have played Champions League with Mönchengladbach. In our Champions League groups, Mönchengladbach were very unlucky to get Manchester City, Barcelona, Juventus; but Manchester United is one of the best teams now in the Premier League so for me, in my career, this was one of the biggest games."
"In the Champions League you feel the pressure even though Mönchengladbach were underdogs. Just playing against some big teams helps you prepare for the pressure. It helps a lot."
"I don’t think you can ever be too comfortable about these games, it is a play-off and a lot is at risk. Both teams are going to try to do their best and it is going to be two very, very tough games. So I don’t think we can be too confident but I think we are a team and the results we got at the end of our group stage, we feel confident and hopefully we can progress."
-Andreas Christensen; source: Chelsea FC
Christensen has only played in one of Denmark’s last five games, with the team switching away from the previously favored three-man defensive setup and preferring to play the older and more experienced pairing of Simon Kjaer and Andreas Bjelland instead, but if they were paying attention on Sunday, perhaps the 21-year-old will be in line for some high-pressure minutes this weekend as well.
Good luck, all!