The 2018 World Cup kick off 12 weeks from tomorrow, so while most football fans will be focused on the concluding weeks of the club season, international managers (and indeed players) will have more than one eye on the summer’s festivities in Russia. This weekend sees the final international break before the World Cup squads are announced, so for players whose participation in the finals is still 50-50, the next few days represent a huge opportunity to earn their seats on the plane. Here, we look at the Liverpool players involved in national team duty this weekend.
Six of Jurgen Klopp’s men could be involved at the Amsterdam Arena on Friday night as England take on Netherlands, who face a second successive tournament summer idle after failing to qualify for the World Cup. Ronald Koeman was still Everton manager when the Dutch last played competitively and he is now tasked with reviving this sleeping giant of European football. Liverpool duo Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum are set to feature for the Oranje, while Gareth Southgate can call upon Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana. For the latter in particular, Friday’s game could be a good chance to get some much-needed game time under his belt after an injury-plagued season. The other two midfielders are good bets to make the World Cup squad, while Gomez will be eager to impress having been in and out of Liverpool’s first team.
Two of the best players in the world will be involved as Portugal take on Egypt on Friday. The exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo have been well-publicised, although his form this season has been eclipsed by the mercurial Mohamed Salah. As Egypt’s best player in a year that sees them playing at their first World Cup since 1990, there is little doubt that he will feature for the Pharaohs, so Liverpool fans will be clutching rosary beads and nervously assessing any injury news stemming from the game.
There will also be a few apprehensive Kopite eyes cast in the direction of Russia this weekend, with Brazil and Roberto Firmino taking on the World Cup hosts in a friendly on Friday. The striker has been a regular for the selecao under Tite and there’s a strong chance that he will lead the line for the five-time world champions not just for this game, but for their return to Russia in three months’ time. Ex-Red Philippe Coutinho is also in Brazil’s squad for Friday.
Germany gear up for their World Cup defence with a very tasty-looking fixture against Spain on Friday night. One player who could be touch and go to make the finals squad is Emre Can, who is currently in good form for Liverpool after an indifferent start to the season amid considerable speculation about his future at Anfield. If the midfielder is given a prolonged chance to impress against the Spaniards, he could improve his chances of making Joachim Low’s World Cup 23 no end.
Scotland have the summer off once again, but the players selected for their friendly with Costa Rica will be keen to impress new manager Alex McLeish, who begins his second time in charge of the Tartan Army after Gordon Strachan departed towards the end of 2017. The former Southampton and Coventry boss showed plenty of faith in Andrew Robertson when the left-back was struggling for game time at Liverpool earlier this season, but with the ex-Hull man excelling at Anfield since Christmas, he looks a shoo-in for a place in McLeish’s first Scotland team of his second coming.
Wales are also beginning life under new management, with Ryan Giggs perhaps a surprising choice to replace Chris Coleman, whose managerial fortunes have taken a turn for the worse at Sunderland since he stepped aside from the Welsh job after the World Cup qualifying campaign in the autumn. Giggs has named Liverpool youngster Ben Woodburn in his first Wales squad for the friendly against China, with the teenager doing enough in previous games for his country to merit inclusion despite a glaring lack of first team football at club level.
Senegal’s preparations for their first World Cup since 2002 continue with a friendly against Uzbekistan this Friday. Sadio Mane remains a key player for the Lions, even though the forward has had a frustrating time with Liverpool in recent weeks, aside from the hat-trick in Porto last month. While Mane might not be at his explosive best right now, he remains an integral player for both club and country, so let’s hope he gets through this weekend without any harm done.
Two Liverpool players are included in the England under-21 squad for the friendly against Romania on Saturday evening. Trent Alexander-Arnold was pilloried for his performance against Manchester United a couple of weeks back, but the defender has otherwise had an excellent season and had it not been for that difficult day at Old Trafford, he might even have snuck into the senior squad. By contrast, Dominic Solanke has had a disappointing season at Anfield, with his stellar performances in England’s Under 20 World Cup triumph last summer an increasingly fading memory. He could do with a goal or two on Saturday to boost his confidence, especially if he is called upon at club level in these crucial final few weeks of the season.
The friendly between Estonia and Armenia on Saturday is likely to evade the attention of everyone on this side of Europe, but Klopp will have an interest in proceedings between the two former Soviet states due to the involvement of Ragnar Klavan for Estonia. The veteran defender’s first team opportunities at Anfield have been very sparse since van Dijk’s January arrival, but a strong performance this weekend could stand him in good stead if he is needed for Liverpool in the coming weeks.
While there are numerous Liverpool players involved in internationals in the next few days, some of Klopp’s squad will have the weekend off. Danny Ward is not part of the Welsh squad for the trip to China, while Nathaniel Clyne’s injury woes mean that he wasn’t considered by Southgate for this month’s games and the right-back continues to battle against time to make the World Cup squad. Will his team-mates at club and international level strengthen or weaken their case for inclusion for Russia in Amsterdam on Friday night?