The Hindu (Mumbai)

Palmer returns to City as Chelsea’s star, Liverpool aims to tame Brentford

- Uthra Ganesan

ndia won 10 against Ireland in their final FIH Pro League match here on Friday, courtesy of a lastminute shot from Gurjant Singh, but it was a game the host would hope to remember and learn a lot from about how much work it still needs to do to and forget in terms of the result.

It was a tactically brilliant game between coach Fulton’s current and former wards, one for the textbooks but nothing for the viewers.

IPlans in place

The Irish had their plans clear — defend in numbers, don’t bother much with attack unless in with a clear chance, and deny India any shot at goal.

They did it admirably almost till the very end. With clean tackling and precise defending, they negated anything India tried to throw at them. It made for boring visuals and fascinatin­g lessons.

Chelsea appear lambs to the slaughter ahead of a trip to Manchester City on Saturday as the English champion has hit top form as the business end of the season approaches.

However, Pep Guardiola’s men could have ground to make up in the Premier League title race by the time it kicksoff at the Etihad with Liverpool and Arsenal in action before on Saturday.

At the other end of the table, Everton is hoping to move out of the bottom three when struggling Crystal Palace come to town on Monday.

Of the over £1 billion splashed out by Chelsea on new players over the past two years, only the inital £40 million outlay on Cole Palmer has yielded an undoubted hit.

The 21yearold looked set to play a bigger part for City this season after scoring in both the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup, but headed to London on the promise of more firstteam minutes under Mauricio Pochettino.

Even in a difficult season for the Blues, Palmer has shone with 12 goals and

For extended periods, all 11 Irishmen were packed inside the circle and still India could not find a way to get too many PCs. When it did — six in total — the Irish defence and goalkeeper Jamie Carr stood firm.

And yet, despite the relentless pressing, there was little creativity from India to disrupt the defence. India seemed to be waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen.

Poor basics including trapping and passing did not help, offtarget hurried shots threatened little and for once, the Indians looked spent, both in body and mind. Postbreak, the Irish got a little more adventurou­s and attacked more but were unable to score.

The deadlockbr­eaker came when Hardik passed the ball to Gurjant, who waited for it to cross into the circle before smashing in from the top, finally managing to beat Carr for India’s second win in the competitio­n as Fulton looked more relieved than happy.

The day’s earlier game was a contrast with the Dutch showing how to cut nine assists in 28 appearance­s, including a late equaliser when City was held 44 at Stamford Bridge in November.

Chelsea will need Palmer in top form if it is to halt the 11game winning run that has put City in contention for another treble.

City trails Liverpool by two points and is ahead of Arsenal on goal difference, but has a game in hand on both.

Liverpool could open up a fivepoint lead at the top in Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff, but does not have good memories of

Australia’s speed and get open goals without waiting for PCs, at least for the first half. They raced to a 30 lead before the Aussies regrouped, changed plans and struck five goals, including three in the final quarter, for a 54 win, the winner coming with less than 40 seconds on the clock.

Contrastin­g styles

The clash of contrastin­g styles seemed to go the Dutch way — building patiently, switching flanks smoothly, long, grounded passes with pinpoint accuracy and onetouch hockey of possession that curbed the natural Aussie blistering pace with perfect positionin­g inside the circle — post break, the Australian­s restricted the zones, stuck to short passes to gradually push back and, once past the 25yard line, accelerati­ng at will to break into the Dutch circle.

The results:

Australia 5 (Blake Govers 33, 53, Jeremy Hayward 40, 48, Tim Brand 60) bt Netherland­s 4 (Duco Telgenkamp 6, Koen Bijen 12, 20, Jip Janssen 56).

India 1 (Gurjant Singh 60) bt Ireland 0. trips to the Brentford Community Stadium.

Brentford has been revitalise­d by the return of Ivan Toney from an eightmonth ban for breaching betting rules.

But the league leader could have its talisman back too, as Mohamed Salah returned to Liverpool training this week after suffering a hamstring injury at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Salah’s return is timely for Jurgen Klopp as other key injuries have begun to pile up.

Trent AlexanderA­rnold and Dominik Szoboszlai are set to miss next weekend’s League Cup final after recurrence­s of knee and hamstring injuries respective­ly.

Crystal Palace could be hauled into the relegation fight should the outofsorts Eagles fall to another damaging defeat at Everton on Monday.

Rumours spread on Thursday morning that Roy Hodgson was about to be sacked after a run of three wins in 19 games.

However, the club then said a planned press conference with Hodgson, 76, had been cancelled as the former England manager had taken ill.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? With 12 goals and nine assists, Palmer is undoubtedl­y Chelsea’s main man as it takes on a rampant City.
GETTY IMAGES With 12 goals and nine assists, Palmer is undoubtedl­y Chelsea’s main man as it takes on a rampant City.
 ?? BISWARANJA­N ROUT ?? Gurjant, right, being congratula­ted by teammates after finding the target in the dying seconds of the game.
BISWARANJA­N ROUT Gurjant, right, being congratula­ted by teammates after finding the target in the dying seconds of the game.

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