So what if we're in the thick of an international break? It's still Monday and it's still time for another edition of Gab Marcotti's Musings.
Are Germany firmly back on track?
The problem with qualifying in Europe, at least when it comes to the bigger countries, is that it's really difficult to have any sort of frame of reference of where these teams are.
Take Joachim Low's new-look Germany. In theory, matters could have gotten interesting on Sunday night when they went a man down away to Estonia after just 14 minutes. A draw would have left them a single point clear of Northern Ireland, with the pair squaring off next month. But no. Even with the man advantage, Estonia retreated, leaving Germany to have 70% of the possession.
Think about this for a minute. They're playing at home and they have an extra man, which means there is an Estonian player wide open at all times. And still, more than two-thirds of the possession goes to the visitors.
- Inside Messi10: Barca's star gets Cirque du Soleil treatment
Maybe that's why Low didn't bother sending on another central defender after Emre Can's misplaced tackle saw him earn his marching orders so early on. Already faced with limited options at the back -- Antonio Rudiger, Jonathan Tah, Matthias Ginter and Niklas Stark are all injured, while Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are no longer part of Low's plans -- it was unusual that you should play Can in the first place. He hadn't started a competitive game for club or country since May, and you can count one hand the number of times he's played at the back over the past few years. But that's what an injury crisis does.
It wasn't just at the back that Low was short on numbers, either. Toni Kroos, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane were also unavailable. It took Germany nearly an hour but eventually they broke through with two Ilkay Gundogan strikes before Timo Werner added a third.
What did we learn? Not much, other than the fact that Estonia are both extraordinarily poor, which we already knew. The much-hyped Kai Havertz had a quiet game, Germany's youngsters went through the motions, odds are this team will look rather different come the summer.
Comparing qualifiers like this to league football is obviously silly, but if you simply juxtapose them with the UEFA Nations League 12 months ago, and the excitement and tension surrounding those matches, it might make you ponder a little. That was entertainment, an afternoon at the movies. This was a visit to the dentist: something you have to do, without much in the way of enjoyment.
Zlatan back to Europe? It's not a crazy idea
It likely speaks to the fact that his skill set is so unique and his productivity so high well into his 30s that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who turned 38 earlier this month, remains talked about not as some commercial sideshow but as a potential midseason shot-in-the-arm for a host of top European clubs.
It's not hard to see why. His deal with the LA Galaxy expires on New Year's Eve and the transfer window opens the next day. He may be ancient in footballing terms, but he has scored 30 goals in 29 Major League Soccer appearances this season (and counting ...). And sure, some will mock MLS citing the Bradley Wright-Phillips Principle -- he averaged 21 goals a season between the ages of 28 and 33 in MLS, despite only ever producing at the League 1 level in England -- but it's equally true that Zlatan is a case apart.
The last time we saw Ibra in a top league, he was scoring 28 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United. That was when he was 35, so already well past his sell-by date according to conventional wisdom. He obviously suffered a bad injury that sidelined him for seven months, but then came back with his two seasons in MLS. At the very least, the two campaigns showed that he is undeniably healthy and capable of staying that way.
Beyond that, his hugely unusual blend of traits -- that rare combination of size, strength, creativity, technical ability and desire -- are the least likely to be affected by the passage of time. Any conjecture over his next stop should really hinge on only three factors.
The first, obviously, is what he wants to do. It may not be retirement, it may be another year in L.A. or an experience elsewhere (that Boca Juniors link, teaming up with Daniele De Rossi, is as romantic as it seems unlikely) or China. Or he may opt for one last run at the Champions League, a trophy he has never won. Or perhaps, beyond the highest tier, a sentimental return to one of those clubs that made him happy, like Manchester United or Milan.
The second is decidedly unromantic: money. You would assume someone like him has earned enough that it would not stand in the way of any move, but then you factor in his agent, Mino Raiola, and the realisation that athletes rarely leave cash on the table, and you have to be realistic. Ibrahimovic as a spot-starter or impact sub at a top club makes sense only if the price is right.
The final point is where he fits. Throughout his career, most teams he's been on have ended up revolving around him, for better or worse. It would have to be a side pragmatic enough that he could slot in and come out without dismembering whatever philosophy the manager has built, which rather rules out, say, Manchester City, not that they would have been an option given who's in charge there.
That's a lot to muddle through, but the fact that it's even a possibility has got to be exciting to anyone who has even the smallest romantic side.
Praising the ageless Sergio Ramos
Speaking of freaks of nature, Sergio Ramos won his 168th cap against Norway, moving him into eighth place all-time in men's football. (The women's game is a different kettle of fish: U.S. midfielder/forward Kristine Lilly has 352.)
Barring injury or suspension, at some point next year Ramos will blow past Gigi Buffon's 176 appearances and become Europe's No. 1. From there, just three people between him and the all-time record, held by Egypt's Ahmed Hassan (184). The odd thing is Ramos could get that far and still not be No. 1. Oman's Ahmed Mubarak and Kuwait's Bader Al-Mutawa are both on 173 and, more importantly, are both still playing for their national sides (in fact, they both played last week).
Lots of different adjectives have been applied to Ramos. Quite clearly, he's the kind of player you hate if he lines up for the opposition and you adore if he's defending your colours. To me, there's a relentlessness about him. He just keeps coming and never goes away: it feels as if he has missed more games through suspension than injury in his career, which may or may not be true but is telling nonetheless.
Ramos showed it again in the 1-1 draw over the weekend: he didn't despair after being nutmegged by Martin Odegaard. He simply kept going and got his own back. That's Ramos.
Italy punch their ticket to Euro 2020
Italy became the second country to qualify for Euro 2020 by beating Greece 2-0 on Saturday (Belgium were first after thrashing San Marino 9-0 on Thursday). It's certainly unfamiliar territory for the Azzurri, who tend to leave it way late to qualify.
Those of a superstitious bent might read something into it, but really it's just a statistical quirk. What matters is that Roberto Mancini is sticking to his guns, pushing younger players and, more importantly, pushing them to play without fear. That's something Italy fans haven't experienced in a long time.
England loss punctuated by Maddison mess
England losing 2-1 away to the Czech Republic will likely turn out to be just a bump in the road, even though it was their first defeat in a meaningful World Cup or Euro qualifier since 2009. They'll still qualify for next summer's fun, they'll still have plenty of exciting young kids and Gareth Southgate will still be everyone's favorite waistcoated neighbour. But you hope that James Maddison will take it as a learning opportunity.
England looked weakest in central midfield, which is exactly the position he plays. Having been included in Southgate's squad, it looked as if he'd earn his first cap this break, but on Thursday he was sent home after being hit with a virus. Whatever virus it was, it cleared up quickly because 24 hours later, right around the same time his teammates were playing in Prague, he was playing poker in a casino back in Leicester.
Undoubtedly he felt better, but you don't have to be a PR guru to understand that it's not a good look. And that if there is a place on Earth you won't go unnoticed, it's going to be at a casino, where security cameras and facial recognition software follow you all the way to the bathroom. You hope, for his sake and England's, that this will go down as a "teachable moment."