The final international break of the 2018/19 season is upon us, and the European nations are set to embark on their qualifying campaigns for the Euro 2020 finals.
As coaches look find their strongest possible lineups, many have handed out first call-ups to players hoping to make a name for themselves on the international stage. We take a closer look at the teams that have looked to freshen up their playing squads for the coming week, starting with Gareth Southgate’s young lions.
There were no real shocks in the initial squad that Southgate named ahead of the double header with Czech Republic and Montenegro, with Declan Rice earning a first call-up having announced his decision to switch his allegiance from Ireland. The West Ham youngster has enjoyed an excellent first full season in the Premier League after all, and a shortage of holding midfielders in the England set up would suggest the 20-year-old has a prominent role to play in the years to come.
Only Wilfred Ndidi has won possession in the middle third more times than Rice (145) in the Premier League this season, and it would be no surprise to see the youngster start one or other of the upcoming matches.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has also been drafted into the squad following the withdrawal of Luke Shaw, though it’s fair to say the teenager is more likely to be used as an impact sub than he his fellow debut hopeful. The Chelsea winger is still yet to start a single league game for the club but has shone in the Europa League - earning the joint highest WhoScored.com rating in the tournament (7.84) courtesy of four goals and two assists.
It’s a new dawn for Germany, albeit under their long standing coach Jogi Low, who has made some big calls following dismal World Cup and Nations League campaigns. The likes of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller have all been told their services are no longer required, so it was no real shock when the coach named three uncapped players in his latest squad.
The likes of Lukas Klostermann, Niklas Stark and Maximilian Eggestein could all see action in a friendly with Serbia on Wednesday ahead of a crucial qualifying showdown with rivals Netherlands. The former - a 22-year-old right-back for RB Leipzig could become a permanent fixture moving forwards, with Joshua Kimmich reverting to a central midfield role, and his ability to play at wing-back could be a key asset.
Stark will also be vying for a place in what is set to be a new look backline but can also play as a deep midfielder, while Eggestein is the latest in a long line of ‘number 8s’ that can pose a threat by arriving late in the final third.
His reign as Italy boss hasn’t exactly been a success so far but Roberto Mancini hasn’t been shy to hand out call-ups to players young and old to have been overlooked in the past, and his latest squad is no different. From Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo - aged 19 - to Cagliari frontman Leonardo Pavoletti - 30 - the former Manchester City boss is still trying to find the right blend to his squad and has named five uncapped players in total this time around.
Zaniolo is perhaps the most exciting, despite falling out of form of late, while Pavoletti is very much a no nonsense target man, with ten league goals to his name and the most aerial duels won per game in Europe’s top five leagues (7.7).
Elsewhere the latter’s teammate Alessio Cragno (24-years old) has been rewarded for his impressive form between the posts this season, while Gianluca Mancini (22) and Armando Izzo (27) offer options at centre-back to the usual pairing of Bonucci and Chiellini. It should also be noted that Fabio Quagliarella has earned a first call-up since 2015 - leading the Serie A scoring charts (21 goals) at the age of 36 - and aiming to make his first Azzurri appearance since 2010.
Luis Enrique has also not been deterred by age with his latest call-ups, naming four potential debutants for the double header against Norway and Malta. 22-year-old Fabian Ruiz has had to withdraw from the squad, denying the Napoli midfielder a first senior cap, but Sergi Gomez, Sergio Canales and Jaime Mata are all in with a chance of making their international bow.
The former, at 26, is the youngest of the three and will be hoping to stake a claim to become Gerard Pique’s long-term successor having established himself as a regular for Espanyol since signing from Celta Vigo. Canales - 28 - is a player who was earmarked for greatness early in his career and is now enjoying something of a renaissance at Real Betis having lost his way during ill-fated spells at Real Madrid and Valencia.
The playmaker is enjoying his most productive league campaign in front of goal - scoring six times - and is flourishing once more in Quique Setien’s free-flowing system, completing 88.7 per cent of his passes.
Mata, meanwhile, comes onto the scene even later in his career and very much falls into the late bloomer category. A regular goalscorer in the Segunda Division, Getafe finally gave the striker a chance to prove himself in the top-flight during the summer and the 30-year old has proven a shrewd signing, scoring 13 goals - making him the top scoring Spaniard in La Liga - and assist a further six assists.
The long-term striker prospects once Cristiano Ronaldo hangs up his boots have appeared somewhat thin on the ground in recent times, and Fernando Santos is clearly keen to find the man capable of taking up the goal mantle. Andre Silva had seemed to be that man and boasts a strong international record but his form has nosedived - not for the first time in his young career - so three potential attacking debutants aren’t overly surprising.
Brazilian born Dyego Sousa is the late comer at 29, and has been rewarded for a 14-goal haul in Liga NOS with Braga. Wolves’ Diogo Jota - 22 - has also been called up having had a direct hand in ten Premier League goals this season and an even bigger impact on his side’s results - dovetailing well as a second striker since his arrival at Molineux.
The most exciting prospect for the reigning European champions, however, is undoubtedly Joao Felix. The Benfica teenager scored his tenth league goal of the season at the weekend and has assisted a further four, earning the second highest WhoScored.com rating in Liga NOS when excluding substitute appearances (7.85).