This weekend we’ll see four Home Nations and the Republic of Ireland in competitive action for the first time this season, as their respective World Cup 2018 qualifying campaigns get underway. And with little in the way of shock squad selections, we’ve picked out five players worth keeping an eye on over the next few days.
And where better to start than with Sam Allardyce’s England?
One to watch – Wayne Rooney
Big Sam has stuck by Wayne Rooney as captain and that boost, coupled with the Manchester United star’s fine start to the domestic campaign, could see him play a significant role this weekend.
His influence may well come from a deeper role, as hinted at by his inclusion in the ‘Midfielders’ section of the latest squad listing.
But this isn’t an area of the pitch that Wazza is unfamiliar with, having said before that it’s a position he naturally sees himself falling into as he reaches the latter stages of his career.
And the decision to play Rooney in a deeper role in last summer’s Euros proved to be an effective one, with the skipper being at the heart of everything good that England did back in June.
Expect England’s all-time leading goalscorer to dictate proceedings once again on Sunday.
One to watch – Hal Robson-Kanu
It’s been exactly two months since Robson-Kanu did that Cruyff turn, and rumour has it that Marouane Fellaini, Jason Denayer and Thomas Meunier are all still trying to work out their bearings after being turned inside out by the Wales striker.
And in that time the former Reading man has been linked with a whole host of clubs from around the world, but finally agreed a deal with West Bromwich Albion late yesterday evening.
Baggies fans will be itching to see their new man in action again, while Wales manager Chris Coleman will be hoping Robson-Kanu – along with his international teammates – can carry their fine summer form into a new campaign.
One to watch – Oliver Burke
There’s suddenly a lot of pressure on 19-year-old Oliver Burke’s shoulders, having been made Scotland’s most expensive player of all time following a £13m move to Leipzig this summer.
And Scottish fans have every reason to be excited about what the future holds for their country with Burke playing for them – especially given that Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich were linked with the teenager.
Against Malta, he’s certainly one to look out for.
Republic of Ireland
One to watch – Shane Long
Veteran striker Robbie Keane played his last ever game in an international shirt last night, scoring in a 4-0 victory over Oman, and now it’s time for someone else to step into the Ireland all-time leading goalscorer’s boots.
Step forward Shane Long.
The Southampton striker boasts all the credentials necessary to replicate Keane’s success, and he can get off to the perfect start this campaign with a goal away at Serbia – a side he scored against back in 2014.
One to watch – Michael McGovern
McGovern was undoubtedly the hero of Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign, catching the eye of several clubs in England in the process.
And following a string of strong performances in France, the 32-year-old secured a move to Championship outfit Norwich, who he has represented on three times already this season.
If Michael O’Neill’s men are to progress from Group C, they’ll be heavily reliant on a safe pair of hands in goal.
Their campaign begins with a trip to the Czech Republic on Sunday.
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