The international break is back, but despair not as there’s so much going on!
While some fans lament the fortnight break from their regularly scheduled avalanche of club football, this international break could convince them of its merits as there are several stories to follow as the players scatter around Europe.
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1. Wijnaldum watch (Turkey vs. Netherlands)
Gini Wijnaldum has signed for Barcelona, or at least agreed to sign for Barcelona, according to a flurry of reports. And while Barcelona have since refuted this story, it will nevertheless be interesting to see how Wijnaldum plays for the Netherlands where he could potentially be lining up in midfield alongside potential future team-mate Frenkie de Jong.
How will Wijnaldum play? Under Ronald Koeman (now Barcelona coach) he was most often the man bursting forward into the box, will he do that same thing under former Barcelona player Frank de Boer? Or will he perhaps play more of a holding role, with an eye to being an athletic replacement for Sergio Busquets in the Blaugrana XI (rather than getting in Pedri’s way)?
It’s worth keeping an eye on.
2. Lewandowski vs. Kane
This one will build and build over the break, culminating in an epic showdown in the final game. Harry Kane is said by some to be the best striker in the world and for sure he is absolutely incredible with a skill-set to die for and an incredible goal output. However, Robert Lewandowski is basically all that but… more.
Kane has 30 direct goal involvements (goals and assists) in the Premier League this season. That’s incredible. Lewandowski has 35 goals. When we look at his goal involvement it spikes up to 41. Kane has 32 goals for England, a very impressive total; Lewandowski has nearly twice many (63) for Poland.
There’s no doubt who the best striker in the world really is, the only question is can he guide Poland to three wins in this international break, including one against the biggest pretender to his throne?
3. Can Bale do it on the road? (Belgium vs. Wales)
Gareth Bale hasn’t scored an away goal for Wales in three years. On 22nd March, 2018 he bagged a hat-trick in China, but since then his only strikes for his country (four in total) have come at home. Now he opens this international break on the road against the best team in the world (according to the FIFA rankings anyway), will he be able to break that streak? His other two games are at home so the clash with Belgium is his only chance. Jose Mourinho will probably be keeping one eye on it.
4. Cristiano with another no. 1?
Cristiano Ronaldo has 102 goals in 170 caps for Portugal. No, seriously. He does. The only man who has scored more international goals than Cristiano is the legendary Persian forward Ali Daei, who had 109 in 149 caps for Iran.
Cristiano has got three golden chances to pass him with butter soft ties against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg sandwiching a moderately tricky trip to Serbia. He needs eight goals, but a hat-trick each against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg plus a brace away to Serbia would get the job done and given how loaded the Portugal squad is, strangers things have happened.
Cristiano Ronaldo needs just eight goals to become the all-time top-scorer in men's international football history…
When will he break the record? 👀
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 23, 2021
5. Jamal Musiala becomes a German international (Germany vs. Iceland)
Jamal Musiala was born in Stuttgart to a British-Nigerian father and a German mother. When he was seven he moved to England and there he came up through the youth system of Chelsea and also began representing England in the youth teams (he played twice for Germany Under-16s but the bulk of his international football was in the England youth system). He then moved to Bayern Munich and has begun to break through into the first-team this season.
It looked like Musiala had chosen England as recently as November 2020. The Bayern players must have done some heavy recruiting over winter, however, because here we are not six months later and Musiala has been called up by the German senior side and looks likely to make his debut against Iceland, committing himself to Die Mannschaft.
6. Paul Pogba
Just… Paul Pogba. You can watch him on the field as he gets to play in a functioning midfield with players that are actually on the same level as him rather than several orders of magnitude below, and that will surely be fun, but the real hilarity here has to be in the interview. You know the one; the inevitable quote he will give to a journalist where he inadvertently (or not?) says something outrageously spicy about life as a Manchester United player. Pogba is too good to be losing FA Cup quarter-finals, so it should be a doozy!
7. New Kids on the block (Spain vs. Greece)
Spain have a fairly nondescript tie against Greece to open up their international break but it will be all eyes on them because we could see the first steps of Spain’s next generation take place. Obviously the Spanish had the greatest generation of all generations a decade ago but the one following that was charitably less than stellar, this new wave of kids though carry immense talent and promise with them.
Pedri, Pedro Porro and Bryan Gil are all in line to make their debuts for Spain. As there are no other right-backs in the squad, the 21-year-old Man City player (currently on loan at Sporting Portugal) Pedro Porro will certainly start and may well play all three games. Pedri is playing so well now he is likely to feature although Spain’s midfield is absurdly stacked. And Bryan Gil should get a look in off the bench.
8. A break for South America
This is not a footballing story you will be able to actually watch, but CONMEBOL have cancelled their fixtures for this upcoming international break due to ongoing travel restrictions.
This is frustrating because we were due to get three gargantuan grudge matches this break in Argentina vs. Uruguay, Colombia vs. Brazil and the big daddy Brazil vs. Argentina. But at the same time presents clubs with a unique opportunity where for once their South American superstars will actually be the most physically fresh players coming out of an international break! Amazing, eh?
The story to track will be when Europe’s top five leagues enter their respective home straights and South American representatives are not running on empty…
9. The first double hat-trick? (England vs. San Marino)
Kane may have just over half as many international goals as Lewandowski right now but by the time the two sides meet he will have hoped to close that gap considerably by racking up a handful against San Marino.
England have been drawn against the minnows and Kane, who is in good goalscoring form, will be determined to bag as many as he can. No one has ever scored six goals in a game for England (four players have scored five) and should he get the start against San Marino then the England skipper will be out to make history and bag the nation’s first double-hat-trick.
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