It is that time of the year again, when club football takes a backseat for two weeks as players jet off to various parts of the world to play meaningless friendlies. However, this particular set of games is far from meaningless, as it affords national managers one of only two chances left to have a look at their players in match action, before squads are finalised for the World Cup this summer. With that in mind, here are some of the biggest story lines to track about the Manchester United players who will feature for their countries in the next couple of weeks –
Where does Paul Pogba feature for France?
This week saw the French national team manager, Didier Deschamps, comment of Paul Pogba’s situation at Old Trafford, stating that the midfielder “cannot be happy” with how things are panning out this season. There was never any doubt of the former Juventus man missing out on a France spot, even after barely featuring for United over the past month. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how and where Deschamps uses his midfield talisman; he has previously preferred to use him on the left of a two-man pivot in a 4-2-3-1, alongside Chelsea man N’Golo Kante. With the surfeit of attacking players at his disposal, Deschamps would be extremely reluctant to play a 4-3-3 and play an extra midfielder in place of an attacker; however, this is widely acknowledged as the system that gets the best out of Pogba, and given that France face fairly middling opposition in Russia and Colombia in this round of friendlies, Deschamps may be tempted to fiddle and figure out a role for Pogba. It remains to be seen if Jose Mourinho learns something new about his midfielder from these games.
Argentine duo to cement their World Cup spots
Both of United’s Argentines, Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo, have been called up by Jorge Sampaoli for friendlies against Italy and Spain. Both players are not regulars for United; Romero is firmly behind David de Gea in the goalkeeping pecking order, playing in the cups and the occasional league game, while Rojo’s appearances this season have been limited by the knee injury he suffered at the fag end of last season. Rojo did sign a new long-term contract with United this week, and remains a Mourinho favourite, and Romero has performed well in goal whenever called upon. Their lack of appearances for the club does not seem to have affected their standing within the Argentina squad, as both are first-choice in their respective positions. However, it would be prudent if the duo come up with good performances against top-class opposition to confirm their seats on the plane to Russia, and in Rojo’s case, to show Mourinho that his injury problems are behind him and he can begin to feature regularly for United.
McTominay looking to impress on Scotland debut
Scott McTominay received his first call-up to the Scotland squad, after confirming his willingness to play for the Tartan Army over England. Scotland are under new management, as Alex McLeish replaces Gordon Strachan after a failed World Cup qualifying campaign, and McTominay will look to create a favourable first impression. Scotland’s midfield is in dire need of rejuvenation, with stalwarts such as Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher and James McArthur all close to the end of their careers, and McTominay can be the man to lead them in the future, having shown his qualities in breaking through to the United first-team, and leaving out players like Paul Pogba in the process.
Ashley Young has an opening in the England squad
The former Watford winger was rewarded for his performances at club level with a call-up, in what could be a crucial set of fixtures for Gareth Southgate to decide his England squad. With Southgate having previously stated that the Three Lions will predominantly look to play with three centre-backs, this means that there is an opening in the squad, and potentially in the XI, for wing-backs. Young’s versatility could be a massive benefit to him, as he has played on both flanks for United, as fullback and wing back. There remain uncertainties over the fullback positions for England, as on the left, Danny Rose has not featured enough for Spurs while Ryan Bertrand has been in a squad fighting relegation all season, while on the right, Kyle Walker has defensive deficiencies and Joe Gomez is extremely inexperienced. Further, none of these players, bar Rose, have had significant experience playing in the system Southgate wants to deploy; in such a scenario, it may be the case that Young sneaks in and claims a spot, in a stunning renaissance of his international career.
Sanchez to use Chile to jump start his United career
One of the biggest surprises of the World Cup qualifying campaign was Chile’s failure to make it to Russia. Some even attributed Alexis Sanchez’s drop in form for Arsenal to this; with no World Cup in the summer, Sanchez would have even lesser motivation to push himself for a club he was determined to leave in any case. Nevertheless, United fans and Jose Mourinho will hope that he uses the upcoming set of friendlies to play himself back into form. Chile play Sweden and Denmark during this international break, and given Sanchez’s utmost commitment whenever he puts on his national team’s jersey, allied with the fact that he, along with the rest of the Chile squad, will be looking to show the world that they are not a spent force yet, one can hope that United’s #7 brings his best form to these fixtures. Chile are an ageing squad, with a need to replace the likes of Sanchez and Arturo Vidal in the near future; however, Sanchez in particular will be raring to establish that he is not done with the national team just yet. One can hope that this translates into improved performances, both for Chile and subsequently for United.