Sharman’s 3 thoughts: Transfer hype overshadows World Cup qualifiers

Gianluigi Buffon. (Kerstin Joensson/AP)

Ahead of every weekend this season I will give you my three thoughts on what’s going on in the Premier League. These might not always be the biggest stories, but rather my personal observations as the games approach each Saturday.

Leave it to the modern sports world to allow a transfer window deadline to completely overshadow some legitimate money games in World Cup qualifying.

The soccer world is in a tizzy at the moment as the clock ticks down before Thursday’s deadline. Meanwhile, millions of fans’ enjoyment of next year’s World Cup in Russia hangs in the balance over the qualifying games that will take place in the next week.

Transfer hype

I have bought into the hype. This summer’s transfer window has been enjoyable as it has been frustrating, as the majority of nonsensical, pie-in-the-sky rumours have come true, with many more set to be confirmed. As such, there are certain players I will be keeping an eye on, and how they will they react to having just been sold off.

I am looking at you Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who looks to be on his way to Liverpool. And you, Alexis Sanchez, who may or may not be with Arsenal. And Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, who looks to be moving very well at the Brazil training camp despite a sore back keeping him out of action for the Reds. And Kylian Mbappe suddenly needs to live up to a price tag as astronomical as his talent, but first up a France match.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in these dressing rooms; there has to be some awkward glances between teammates.

Watch both legs from all of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff series in Europe live on Sportsnet from November 9-14. You can also watch online at Sportsnet NOW.

Spain hosts Italy in marquee tilt

One match does stand out ahead of all others this weekend, and that is Saturday’s Group G tilt between Spain and Italy in Madrid. Both have been perfect since their 1-1 draw in October, sitting on 16 points apiece, with Spain ahead on goal difference. Spain and Italy have grown since that match, both more settled and both looking very impressive.

Two attacking stars stand out to me, two players who could be the story of Russia 2018. Real Madrid wing wizard Marco Asensio has started off the club season as the best player in the world’s best team. Don’t believe me? Watch Real. Asensio has arrived and has already been touted as a future Ballon d’Or winner by his teammates.

There is every chance he’ll be competing with Torino striker Andrea Belotti. He too has started off this season on fire – he scored a fabulous goal against Sassuolo this past weekend that might well win the Puskas award next year. Nicknamed “The Rooster,” he scored goal 26 times last season in Serie A, and already has four in four starts in qualifying, and looks to finally be the solution up front for Italy, as a golden generation bubbles beneath the surface.

Dutch in tough vs. France

France meets the Netherlands on Thursday, which is another tantalizing game. For the Dutch, they simply cannot afford to drop points. Newly-installed manager Dick Advocaat has been given the task of saving the sinking ship, and his side has looked better in its last three matches. But the Oranje are three points behind France and Sweden, and time is running out.

France has the quality to rival any team in the world, but could still lament goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’s last minute giveaway against the Swedes last time out, gifting their rivals the three points, and with it first place in the group.

The current qualifying structure has resulted in little drama so far, and with expansion on the horizon that will not improve in future World Cups. But there are some huge matches upon us now, and France vs Netherlands without doubt has a big match feel to it.

Sportsnet's Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues.

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