International preview: Gomez in line for senior debut as Lovren and Mane face crunch qualifiers

Liverpool Crest

The last batch of international fixtures for 2017 sees numerous Liverpool players again jetting off to represent their countries. Unlike in recent international breaks, though, most of the Red men just have friendly action over the coming days, although two are involved in crunch World Cup qualifiers with their countries’ participation in the balance, while one could be set for a senior international debut. Two who had expected to be involved can instead take the weekend off due to their omission from the England squad, while Mohamed Salah has been given a rest from action with Egypt already assured of their place at the World Cup. Ragnar Klavan is another player with the weekend off, as he isn’t in the Estonia squad for their upcoming friendlies. Let’s look at what awaits the Reds on international duty this week.

Joe Gomez – England

Gareth Southgate called three uncapped players into the England squad for the upcoming friendlies against Germany and Brazil, amongst them Liverpool defender Joe Gomez. The youngster has had a solid start to the season and was captain of England’s under 21s in recent outings, so perhaps it’s not hugely surprising that Southgate has deemed him worthy of drafting into the senior squad.
Indeed, these matches against two of the world’s top teams in a non-competitive environment seem like the perfect scenario for Gomez to make his international debut, while his promotion to the senior setup gives him a great chance of staking a claim for a seat on the plane to Russia next June. It seems very likely that the defender will play in at least one of the games at Wembley, especially with Southgate’s selection trimmed by a multitude of injuries which includes three of Gomez’s clubmates who would probably have been involved otherwise – Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne.
While that trio stand a good chance of returning to the squad, the omission of Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain does not bode well for either player, Southgate admitting that their lack of club action has counted against them. The message has been sent loud and clear to the respective Chelsea and Arsenal alumni.

Dejan Lovren – Croatia

October was not a particularly happy month for the defender, who missed his team’s World Cup qualifiers through injury and then had that Wembley horror show which prompted inexcusable and disgusting death threats from one warped individual. Lovren’s fitness still seems off its peak, but at least this month he is able to hook up with the Croatia squad for their World Cup play-off tie against Greece.
The first leg takes place in Zagreb on Thursday night, with Lovren and co expecting a win to take to Athens for the deciding clash on Sunday. Croatia will be favourites to advance, although the Greeks are well known for producing upsets in crucial games. If the Liverpool defender is fit enough to play, he will most likely be in the starting XI, despite his patchy club form.

Sadio Mane – Senegal

The lethal attacker missed several games for Liverpool lately after picking up an injury for Senegal last month, but he got through 90 minutes against West Ham last weekend upon his return to action and he now faces into a massive few days, with his country on the brink of World Cup qualification. Senegal could book their place in the finals on Friday when they travel to face South Africa in a replayed fixture due to match manipulation from the referee. A draw in Polokwane will all but assure qualification; a win makes sure of their place in Russia. Indeed, Senegal and South Africa meet again next Tuesday in a match that could be academic or have everything riding on it for both teams. Two draws would do Mane and his compatriots; their opponents must win both games.

Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino – Brazil

Brazil were the first team to successfully qualify for next year’s World Cup and breezed through their remaining qualifiers to finish comfortably top of the South American section. They round off a very satisfying 2017 with friendly matches against Japan and England, with Liverpool duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino called up once again. At least this time the pair won’t face gruelling transatlantic flights to represent their country, as the selecao’s meeting with Japan on Friday takes place in Lille and then they face England at Wembley next Tuesday. That’s an itinerary that Coutinho, Firmino and all Liverpool fans will surely welcome, although the former might have a limited part to play given that he has missed recent club matches through injury.

Emre Can – Germany

Gomez, Coutinho and Firmino won’t be the only Liverpool players set to feature at Wembley in the coming days. Germany face England at the London venue this Friday and Emre Can is very likely to play a part for the world champions, who then have a home friendly against France in Cologne next Tuesday. Having qualified for the World Cup with the minimum of fuss, Joachim Low will see this double header as a good indication as to where the Germans are at seven months ahead of putting their world title on the line. The France game also brings a chance to somewhat avenge their semi-final defeat to Les Bleus at Euro 2016.

Andrew Robertson – Scotland

Once again, an odd-numbered year ends with Scottish football fans lamenting their team’s failure to reach a major tournament, a wait that now extends into a third decade after they blew a lead in Slovenia in what turned out to be Gordon Strachan’s last game in charge. Malky Mackay takes interim charge of Scotland for Thursday night’s friendly at home to Netherlands and included in his squad is Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson, who continues to be overlooked at club level despite being one of the Scots’ best players in their unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign. That lack of club action might count against him, though, should Mackay wish to assess other options.

Georginio Wijnaldum – Netherlands

If Robertson is selected to start on Thursday, he will likely come up against Liverpool team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum, who is in Netherlands’ squad for their upcoming friendlies against Scotland and Romania. The Dutch are reeling from missing out on a second successive major tournament and they face two other teams whose World Cup qualifying campaigns ended bleakly. Wijnaldum’s participation for the Oranje looked doubtful after he limped out of Liverpool’s Champions League win over Maribor last week, but with the midfielder restored for the 4-1 romp at West Ham, he should be OK to win two more caps for his country in the coming week.

Danny Ward and Ben Woodburn – Wales

Wales had put themselves in a good position to at least have a crack at a play-off to qualify for their first World Cup in 60 years, but defeat to the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff last month ended any chance of emulating their Euro 2016 heroics. On Friday they travel to Paris to take on France before returning to the Cardiff City Stadium to play Panama, fresh from their maiden qualification for a World Cup.
Liverpool duo Danny Ward and Ben Woodburn have been called up to recent Wales squads, but their inexperience has left them with little or no part to play as Chris Coleman put his faith in the tried and tested. However, free of competitive pressure, Ward and Woodburn could play a more prominent part this month. The goalkeeper will be especially keen to get a run, having been forced to play consistent understudy to Wayne Hennessey during the World Cup qualifiers.

Simon Mignolet – Belgium

Having been the first European team to successfully qualify for the World Cup in Russia, Belgium could relax for last month’s concluding qualifiers and now face two friendlies to end the year. First up is a meeting with Mexico at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, followed by Tuesday’s clash with Japan in Brugge. Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is again called up by Roberto Martinez and, like the aforementioned Ward, he is hoping that the friendly status of both games will increase his chances of playing, with Thibaut Courtois the undisputed first choice in competitive action.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominic Solanke – England under 21s

The English senior side have done the business of qualifying for the World Cup, but the under 21s are in the thick of qualifiers for the European Championship in 2019. As expected, Aidy Boothroyd’s youngsters have made a solid start to their campaign, winning three and drawing the other of their four matches thus far. On Friday they are away to a Ukraine side featuring Olexander Zinchenko, who is on the books at Manchester City, and who have a win and two draws to their name so far. There are now just two Liverpool players in the under 21 squad, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominic Solanke, after Gomez was called up to the seniors, depriving Boothroyd of the player who captained this team last month.