The international break is not often greeted with a positive response from football fans, an unwelcome pause to the entertainment of the domestic campaign.
This week’s break kick-starts qualification for the 2024 European Championship and is a period which will be relished by several Premier League names. From potential debutants to those hoping to prove a point, here are six Premier League players to watch during the international break.
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has confirmed that Evan Ferguson will make his first start for the national side on Wednesday evening, as The Boys in Green take on Latvia in a friendly.
The fixture represents a chance for Kenny to run the rule over the teenager, ahead of the visit of France as qualification for Euro 2024 begins on Monday night. Ferguson has catapulted himself into the consciousness with an impressive breakthrough season at Brighton, one which has seen the 18-year-old score seven goals in all competitions.
He has averaged a goal every 127 minutes for the Seagulls this season, a remarkable rate of return for a forward who has emerged as Ireland’s most exciting prospect for some time. Ferguson scored a brilliant brace as Brighton booked their place in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend and now has the chance to stake his claim for a regular role with the national side.
.@Evan_Ferguson9's brilliant brace against Grimsby! 🔥 @BrightonTools 📺 pic.twitter.com/dj7sRHJ6KF
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) March 20, 2023
Ireland have struggled to produce top-level talent across the past decade, but Ferguson appears to have all the attributes to develop into a player Kenny can look to build his side around.
Ivan Toney has been recalled to the England squad for March’s international fixtures, having failed to make his debut when first selected in September. The 27-year-old was then a notable omission from England’s World Cup squad for Qatar, with Newcastle forward Callum Wilson selected ahead of Toney after a fine run of form heading into the tournament.
Toney, however, is back in the squad this month after a brilliant season at Brentford. Only Harry Kane (21) has scored more than his 16 league goals among English players in the Premier League and his reward is a second chance to impress Gareth Southgate.
Only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have been directly involved in more Premier League goals this season than Ivan Toney:
◎ 24 appearances
◉ 16 goals
◉ 4 assists
Recalled to the England squad on his 27th birthday. 🥳 pic.twitter.com/ix03yDqvug
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 16, 2023
Southgate has included Toney in his plans despite the the looming threat of a ban for breaching the FA’s gambling rules, perhaps a testament to the regard in which he is held. Toney is arguably the best stylistic comparison to Kane among England’s centre-forward alternatives, possessing a mix of goal threat, physical presence and an ability to come short and link with the midfield.
“Ivan has been consistent across the season,” Southgate said at his squad announcement press conference.
“As soon as we announced the (World Cup) squad he had a brilliant game at Manchester City which was typical. But he is playing really well, I like his presence in games. I saw his game against Arsenal where he was outstanding and he deserves his opportunity.”
Romeo Lavia is another Premier League name who looks set for an international debut this week, after the Southampton teenager was included in Belgium’s squad.
Belgium are preparing for a new era following their World Cup disappointment, with many of the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’ having moved on. Kevin De Bruyne has been appointed as captain following Eden Hazard’s international retirement, as the Red Devils begin life under head coach Domenico Tedesco.
Lavia is among the new faces in the squad for March’s fixtures with Sweden and Germany, one of two uncapped teenagers alongside PSV’s Johan Bakayoko. Nine of the squad are aged 23 or under, with Lavia among the most exciting of the new generation. The 19-year-old signed for Southampton from Manchester City last summer and has been outstanding during his first season at St Mary’s.
😮💨 @RomeoLavia pic.twitter.com/sH3ivdKjd2
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) March 13, 2023
Comfortable and confident in possession at the base of the midfield, he departed Manchester City in search of a clearer path to first-team football and has thrived amid regular minutes on the South Coast. Several top Premier League clubs are understood to be monitoring his rapid progress, while City have a buy-back option that can be triggered in 2024.
Aleksandar Mitrovic is at the centre of a controversy storm at present, following the forward’s red card during Fulham’s 3-1 FA Cup defeat at Manchester United last weekend. Mitrovic’s meltdown saw him dismissed for pushing referee Chris Kavanagh, leading to calls for a lengthy ban.
The FA are yet to decide on the length of punishment for Mitrovic, but have said a three game suspension is ‘not sufficient’ as the governing body looks to clamp down on improper conduct towards officials.
Chris Sutton believes Aleksandar Mitrovic should receive a 10-game ban 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/SAgT8nKZf9
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) March 20, 2023
Mitrovic will take a welcome break from the noise surrounding his immediate club future, as Serbia begin their qualification campaign for Euro 2024. Dragan Stojković’s side will begin as favourites to top Group G and will hope for a strong start. Serbia host Lithuania on Friday evening, before a trip to face Montenegro.
Mitrovic – who scored eight goals in qualification for the 2022 World Cup and is Serbia’s all-time leading scorer – will be crucial to their chances.
Kevin Schade has not quite found his feet since moving to the Premier League in January, but the Brentford forward has received a boost after a maiden international call up this week.
Schade has been included in an experimental Germany squad for friendly fixtures with Peru and Belgium, as the Euro 2024 hosts begin preparations for a home tournament.
🇩🇪 @kevinschade_ 🤝 @DFB_Team_EN
Congratulations to Kevin on his first call-up to the senior Germany squad 🙌 pic.twitter.com/sJv4CkYZm9
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) March 17, 2023
The 21-year-old signed for Brentford on an initial loan deal from Freiburg during the winter, with the expectation that the Bees will make the move permanent for a club-record fee this summer. Schade has failed to score in nine appearances for Thomas Frank’s side, but has a good return for Germany at youth level with four goals in five appearances for the u21 side.
In the absence of big names including Thomas Muller, Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sane and Marco Reus, he will hope to get a chance to impress Hansi Flick and restore confidence after a challenging start in English football.
James Maddison has retained his place in the England squad for March’s international fixtures, following a frustrating World Cup that saw the midfielder fail to feature.
Amid much outside noise championing his inclusion, Maddison was included in the squad for Qatar but the Leicester star did not make it onto the pitch at the tournament. Even given the competition for places in Southgate’s creative cast, it was a decision which frustrated and confused those outside the England camp.
Maddison has been among the Premier League’s most consistent performers across the last 18 months, having been directly involved in 34 league goals in 54 appearances since the start of last season.
Most goal involvements by central-midfielders in the Premier League this season:
◎ Kevin De Bruyne: 16
◎ Martin Ødegaard: 16
◉ James Maddison: 15
Magicians. 🪄 pic.twitter.com/JdyTVgEIdV
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) March 18, 2023
Only Kevin De Bruyne and Martin Odegaard have more goal involvements among Premier League midfielders this season, despite Maddison operating in a team embroiled in a relegation dogfight.
His set-piece threat and invention could prove a valuable option for England against deep-lying defences and the 26-year-old deserves a chance to show what he can produce for the Three Lions.
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