Weekend Wanderings: Vital World Cup Qualifiers and early lower league strugglers

With the first international break of the season well underway, Alasdair Hooper has looked at the biggest talking points of the weekend, both on the continent and closer to home.

After the madness of transfer deadline day, the international break should bring a welcome sense of calm for plenty of people.

However, there are still important games that need to be played over the weekend – and there is some domestic action continuing.

So here are the five things you should keep an eye out for on Saturday and Sunday.

1) The luck of the Irish?

The Republic of Ireland face a crucial double header this international break in World Cup qualifying.

Before Martin O’Neill’s side host Serbia on Tuesday – the nation the Republic of Ireland are joint top with at the summit of Group D – they must navigate a potentially tricky tie in Georgia on Saturday.

The reverse fixture saw Ireland grab a narrow 1-0 victory, thanks to a second half strike from Seamus Coleman. A victory will be crucial if O’Neill and his players are to stay clear of Wales and Austria who are chasing below.

2) Villa is back for clash at the top

The most eye-catching international fixture takes place on Saturday as heavyweights Spain and Italy go head-to-head in Group G.

Both sides are tied at the top on 16 points and, if it wasn’t exciting before, a little extra spice has been added with the return of a certain Spanish hero.

Former Valencia and Barcelona forward David Villa – who holds 97 caps and is his country’s all-time top goalscorer – has come out of retirement three years after he initially stepped down from international duty.

Now 35 and plying his trade with New York City, can the striker make a dream comeback for La Roja?

3) Can Oldham get off the mark?

One of two teams yet to register a point in League One, Oldham are desperate to get going.

Whether it is in the league or in the Carabao Cup, that first victory has eluded last season’s 17th placed side.

Boss John Sheridan, now in his third spell as manager at the club, is deeply frustrated by the poor form and needs that first win urgently.

They host Charlton on Saturday who have won three of their opening four.

4) Port Vale’s struggles continue

At the start of last season, Port Vale were looking up rather than down as they appointed their first ever foreign manager in Bruno Ribeiro to guide an exciting continental team.

Instead, relegation from League One was the end result, with Norman Smurthwaite resigning as club chairman.

Now former Sheffield United midfielder Michael Brown, who was Ribeiro’s assistant, is in charge permanently and despite an opening day win, three defeats on the bounce have followed.

Notts County are Saturday’s visitors.

5) High-flying Sutton making the most of last year’s run

One of the stories of last season was Sutton United’s magical FA Cup run, which came to an end when eventual winners Arsenal knocked them out.

Despite that run, however, Paul Doswell’s side struggled for consistency in the National League with a mid-table finish being the end result.

This season, while it may be early days, the South London side appear to have garnered some of last season’s spirit and have shot straight out of the blocks.

In seven games, the club have won five and lost two to sit top of the league with 15 points.

Can they keep it up on Saturday as Maidenhead come to town?

You can follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992

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