The Premier League has been on hold for two weeks as its stars played in World Cup qualifiers around the world.
It's back to business today, with clubs still chasing runaway leader Chelsea and hoping their international players recover from the mixed emotions of World Cup qualifying and elimination.
The Blues have won all eight of their games so far and are nine points clear of Charlton and Tottenham. Traditional powers Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are further back.
Chelsea hosts Bolton on Saturday. Its form before the international break was sharp -- after Liverpool became the first club this season to hold Chelsea to a draw, in their Champions League match at Anfield, the Blues won 4-1 at the same venue in the league four days later.
The absence of players for international duty has been a nuisance for Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
"Training with three or four players is not the best solution for changing things and improving," he said. "After a defeat like Chelsea we cannot prepare the players properly for the next game."
At least many of his players will come back happy -- with England's Jamie Carragher, Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard and France's Djibril Cisse all helping their countries automatically qualify for the World Cup finals in Germany next year. John Arne Riise helped Norway to a playoff spot.
Bolton has proved to be no pushover this season with its collection of aging European stars. Sam Allardyce's most recent addition was former French international defender Martin Djetou, who could be in the squad against Chelsea.
Bolton had won its four previous matches, including two in the UEFA Cup, before falling 2-1 to Wigan on Oct. 2
In other matches today, it's Wigan versus Newcastle, Liverpool versus Blackburn, Sunderland versus Manchester United, Tottenham versus Everton, West Bromwich Albion versus Arsenal, Middlesbrough versus Portsmouth. On Sunday, it's Birmingham versus Aston Villa and Manchester City versus West Ham. On Monday, it's the London derby between Charlton and Fulham.
Arsenal's international contingent also did well. And while France and England played without the injured Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell, manager Arsene Wenger hopes to have them both back playing in nine days.
Henry's replacement, Jose Antonio Reyes, has also been in good form, setting up three Spain goals in its last two games.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter says he is amazed that struggling Premier League clubs deliberately field weak lineups against powerhouse teams because they know they will lose.
Answering questions from British callers during a show on BBC Radio 5, Blatter said there was a danger that Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal could eventual play in a "galactic" league of their own if their lesser English rivals had no interest in trying to beat them.
Blatter was asked if he was worried that Chelsea, owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, was taking control of English soccer simply by buying all of the best talent available.
"I am not only speaking about Chelsea," he said. "I am also speaking about other clubs but Chelsea is one of the names which will come up in the news.
"I had the opportunity a month ago speak with an official of West Bromwich Albion and they told me an extravagant story that, when they are meeting big clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool or Arsenal, they will not field the best team because they know they will make no points. They know they are going to lose.
"So there is something wrong because they will only field their best team when they play Birmingham, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Fulham and so on."
Japanese couple Rikiya and Ayumi Kataoka had their honeymoon wrecked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but their resourcefulness in enforced exile in Cape Verde has won them appointments as ambassadors for its Olympic team. The Kataokas had completed a third of their round-the-world trip when a suspension in long-haul flights stranded them for five months in the archipelago of 10 tiny islands off the coast of West Africa. Unable to resume their journey to Europe and then home to Japan, and unwilling to head to the African mainland, where virus cases are spiking, they had to trade their skills with domestic businesses to
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