This month’s international break should contain moments of real consequence for a selection of football’s brightest stars.
With Europe’s best continuing a new cycle in Euro 2020 qualification and South America’s contingent refreshing options now the 2019 Copa America is out the way, managers across the globe are open to new options.
Real Madrid teenager Vinicius Junior is free of the bothersome ankle injury that cost him continental glory this summer, while Leicester City playmaker James Maddison’s burgeoning reputation can no longer be ignored by England’s Gareth Southgate. These are just two names that could begin stand-out international careers from September 2-10:
Fixtures: Colombia (N), Peru (N)
Club: Real Madrid
2019/20 record: Three appearances, zero goals/assists
Vinicius has been destined to don the famous ‘Canarinho’ shirt since being a school boy.
This summer’s Copa on home soil seemed the natural starting point for a historic career. That was before, cruel, injury struck.
Preparation at Madrid has not been ideal since for the €46 million teenager. He’s been in and out of the XI in spite of an injury crisis and is yet to deliver any tangible returns from 2019/20.
Now, comes his international chance. With Neymar undercooked because of the abortive Barcelona/Real Madrid transfer sagas, he should get minutes.
Instantly forgettable friendlies in the United States could, nevertheless, feature a pivotal moment for Brazil’s future.
Fixtures: Bulgaria (H), Kosovo (H)
Club: Leicester City
2019/20 record: Five appearances, one goal, two assists
Maddison exudes the confidence of a celebrated 50-cap veteran.
Ignore the brash social media profile, the 22-year-old boasts the numbers to prevent lapsing into hubris. His debut Premier League campaign in 2018/19 saw him become the only player to create 100 goalscoring chances, in the process becoming the first Englishman to reach three figures since Everton left-back Leighton Baines in 2012/13.
In this term’s nascent competition, only the peerless Manchester City’s pair of Kevin De Bruyne (four) and David Silva (three) have notched more than his two assists.
With Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard in wretched form and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli scrambling for fitness, Maddison should get a chance to stake his claim as the Three Lions’ latest creative hub.
Fixtures: Germany (A), Estonia (A)
Club: PSV Eindhoven
Position: Centre forward
2019/20 record: 11 appearances, four goals, four assists
Arsenal’s loss has been PSV’s gain.
Malen made the bold choice to break away from the Gunners’ youth set-up in August 2017, despite then manager Arsene Wenger labelling him as showing “interesting qualities”. This defection has proven adroit.
A clearer path to first-team football opened up under Mark van Bommel. Now at 20-years old, Malen is the No9 for one of the Netherlands’ leading clubs after the summer exit of Luuk de Jong to Sevilla.
The Ajax youth product is not a prolific scorer. Yet a refined football intelligence – honed as a youth under Denis Bergkamp at Ajax and Thierry Henry at Arsenal – and startling turn of pace shines through.
It is these facets that made Oranje boss Ronald Koeman issue a debut call-up, ostensibly as under study to PSV alumnus Memphis Depay. Malen has the ability to make this the first of many.
Fixtures: Chile (N), Mexico (N)
Club: San Lorenzo
Position: Centre forward
2019/20 record: One appearance, zero goals/assists
The spine of Argentina’s side has come under intense scrutiny.
Centre-backs not fit for purpose, an invisible midfield and failure from centre forwards to mirror club performances at international level have sparked serious doubts. Optimism about a brighter future, however, was restored during July’s semi-final defeat at the Copa to Brazil.
This positivity could increase further this month if prolific junior international scorer Gaich can replicate this form at senior level.
The imposing, 6 ft 3 in colt was a standout at both the U-20 World Cup and Pan American Games. Only three goals in 16 first-team run-outs, however, for San Lorenzo have been registered.
La Albiceleste tactician Lionel Scaloni will hope this friendly experiment has not come too soon.
Fixtures: Netherlands (H), Northern Ireland (A)
Position: Centre forward
2019/20 record: Four appearances, three goals, zero assists
Waldschmidt represents a striking prospect who is coming to the boil.
A leading seven goals in six appearances upon Germany’s charge to runners-up at the 2019 European Under-21 Championship showed genuine promise. This has been reflected in a strong start to the 2019/20 Bundesliga, with two goals coming in three games for Freiburg.
The 23-year-old possesses a thunderous left-footed shot and refined technical skills.
This mixture, obviously, appeals to Die Mannschaft supremo Joachim Low.
RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner is locked in as starter. Uninspired back-up options like Schalke’s Mark Uth and Freiburg team-mate Nils Petersen should be no competition in the long term for the flourishing Waldschmidt.
He is unlikely to be thrust into a competitive qualifier versus the Netherlands. But minutes against Northern Ireland are not out of the question.
Real Madrid grabbed a 2-2 draw with Villarreal in a pulsating game which both teams will feel they could have won at Estadio de Ceramica on Sunday night.
Villarreal were twice in front, leading as late as the 86th minute, before Gareth Bale scored the second of his two equalisers for a Madrid team which was dominant for the majority of the action.
There were plenty of positives and negatives for both teams to extract, but we can only start by hailing another excellent performance from the biggest plus of Madrid’s season so far… that man Bale:
BALE BACK IN BUSINESS
Perhaps the most unexpected storyline of the new La Liga season so far has been the resurgence of Bale, with the flying winger resisting a forceful push out of the Bernabeu exit door to once again become a key protagonist for Madrid.
After a summer which saw head coach Zinedine Zidane do everything possible to rid himself of the Welshman, who nearly ended up moving to the backwaters of China, a long injury list has given the French coach no choice but to hand Bale a starting spot – and he has seized the surprise second chance with both hands.
Bale burst into the new season with an excellent assist for Karim Benzema to spark the opening day victory over Celta Vigo, and he was even more influential on this occasion by rescuing his team with two well-taken equalisers.
More than that he was a strong presence throughout the game, in stark contrast to the subdued figure who meandered through many outings last season.
90+4'| Second yellow card for Gareth Bale. #RMLiga— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) September 1, 2019
He started on the left wing and later moved to the right, but was unfazed by that positional change and provided a steady stream of probing runs and incisive crosses.
Unfortunately his night was spoiled by a dismissal for two stoppage time yellow cards, meaning he will miss the post-international break home game against Levante, but now there can be no doubt that against the odds he still has a big role to play at Real Madrid.
MADRID’S SOFT UNDERBELLY EXPOSED
On the balance of chances this was a game that Madrid should have won with a fair degree of comfort, with home keeper Andres Fernandez far busier than Thibaut Courtois, but from another perspective Zidane’s men were relieved to come away with a point after their defensive frailties saw them twice fall behind.
This, of course, is nothing new. Los Blancos conceded a shocking 46 league goals last season, and their vulnerability at the back was on display again as recently as last weekend when Real Valladolid netted a late equaliser to steal a point from the Bernabeu.
1 - Gareth Bale is one of the two Real Madrid players to score a brace and sent off in the same LaLiga game in the 21st century, after Cristiano Ronaldo against Malaga in January 2010. Critical. pic.twitter.com/BecEeOyseL— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 1, 2019
Even though they were apparently in complete control for long periods of this game, easily dominating possession, Real never really looked safe at the back. Their inability to defend against fast transitions through the midfield, gifting far too much space in the centre of the pitch, means that any opposition will always fancy themselves to grab a goal.
And until that weakness is truly addressed by Zidane – who now urgently faces the task of proving himself as a tactician – they will surely be unable to gather the consistent results required to mount a serious title challenge.
WILL VILLARREAL EVER WIN?
Villarreal must be wondering if they will ever register their first victory of the season.
Javi Calleja’s team have led on seven occasions during their three games so far in this campaign, but somehow they only have two points.
In their season opener against Granada, the Yellow Submarine were up 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-2 before being pegged back for a 4-4 draw. Then at Levante they were 1-0 ahead but conceded two penalties to lose 2-1, and now in this game Villarreal were leading 1-0 and 2-1 but again had to settle for just a point.
#VillarrealRealMadrid | 2-1 🚨 72' | GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Moi Gómez fires home an @javiontiveros39 ball across the box. 💪💛 pic.twitter.com/r8GOLEAF8b— Villarreal CF English (@Eng_Villarreal) September 1, 2019
Some of their approach play is outstanding and the squad is gifted with great technicians, but like Madrid they are bugged by a defensive frailty which has condemned them to a tally of far fewer points than they really should have claimed.
It was a similar story last season, when 52 goals conceded saw them in serious relegation trouble before a late burst of victories, and Calleja’s men must add greater game management skills if they want to fulfil their huge potential over the next few months.
Gareth Bale was both hero and villain for Real Madrid on Sunday night, scoring two equalisers before receiving a late red card in his team’s entertaining 2-2 draw with Villarreal.
Find out who else shone and which players struggled with our full player ratings:
Andres Fernandez 7: Didn’t look comfortable coming for crosses, but made an excellent double-save from Kroos at 1-1 and another good stop from Modric.
Mario Gaspar 6: Had his work cut out defending against Mendy and Bale but did make a key goalmouth intervention to deny the latter.
Pau Torres 6: The young defender held his own in the biggest game of his career so far, but perhaps could have blocked Bale’s second goal.
Raul Albiol 7: Made several important clearances against his former team, dominating in the air and showing good anticipation.
Xavi Quintilla 6: Solid and steady in the left back spot, unable to get forward too often. Beaten by Bale for Madrid’s second goal.
Samuel Chukwueze 6: Dangerous down the right in the early stages but faded and was replaced early in the second half.
Santi Cazorla 6: Weaved passing patterns during Villarreal’s fast start but became imprecise as Madrid took over and was subbed off.
Vicente Iborra 7: Worked hard to anchor the home team midfield, tirelessly attempting to protect the back four and always keeping his composure.
Moi Gomez 7: Showed some clever touches drifting inside from the left, troubled Mendy after switching to the right and got into position to score the second.
Karl Toko Ekambi 7: Threatened with his movement and ability, having a hand in the opener, but was sacrificed when Villarreal switched to 4-5-1 after an hour.
Gerard Moreno 7: Thrashed home the opener after latching onto a loose ball, and had another shot saved in the build up to the second goal. Linked play well.
Javi Ontiveros 6: Recent signing from Malaga came on for his home debut. Drove the ball across goal to assist the second goal but was often careless in possession.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa 6: Brought on to add more presence in midfield and did that job well, helping his team restore a sense of order.
Carlos Bacca 6: An attacking sub just before his team retook the lead, he worked hard in the latter stages to stretch the Madrid defence.
REAL MADRID (4-4-2)
Thibaut Courtois 6: Unlucky with both goals, making saves but seeing the rebounds converted. Had little else to do but didn’t convince with his distribution.
Dani Carvajal 6: Surged forward to tee up Bale’s leveller with an unselfish pass but was otherwise largely subdued, concentrating on defence.
Raphael Varane 5: Sometimes found himself dragged out of position by the home team’s slick forward play, and never really looked comfortable.
Sergio Ramos 6: Gave away possession horribly for Villarreal’s opening goal. Otherwise a powerful performance and came close to scoring with a header.
Ferland Mendy 6: A mixed display on his first competitive outing. Grew in confidence after an unsteady start but was vulnerable defensively.
Lucas Vazquez 6: Elevated into the starting eleven and had some bright moments, firing a clear first half opening into the side-netting.
Casemiro 6: Initially couldn’t settle against Villarreal’s swift ball movement. Improved after that but headed a great chance wide.
Toni Kroos 7: Overwhelmed in the opening minutes but grew into the game and helped his team take control. Came close with two low shots.
Gareth Bale 8: Netted two equalisers, the first from point blank range and the second from the edge of the box, but spoiled his excellent night with a late red card.
Luka Jovic 5: Partnered Benzema up front in his full debut and fired a decent chance wide in the first half, but often looked lost and was replaced.
Karim Benzema 6: Unlucky not to score with a 20-yard strike against the post. Occasionally lacking support but produced some classy touches.
Luka Modric 6: Came on midway through the second half and played a big role in setting up the second equaliser. Added fluency to his team.
Vinicius Junior 4: Came on for the final stages as his team chased a second equaliser but looked out of his depth. Disappointing lack of impact.
Federico Valverde N/A: Introduced for an injection of energy in the final ten minutes but didn’t really establish himself in the action.