Five in-form players ahead of Euro 2016 qualifiers
More and more football fans, who would rather see somewhat meaningless and mundane friendlies scrapped (see England vs. Norway), bemoan the international break nowadays. Next week, however, the competitive nature of the game will return as the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 kicks off.
As is the norm after a major tournament, the stalwarts of years gone by tend to step away from the international lime-/lowlight to pave the way for new faces, with 'transition' the go-to buzzword for so many at such a time.
What fixtures with a national team so soon after the commence of the domestic season do provide players is a chance to set their nation off to a flying start, with a number of individuals looking to carry their early-season form from club to country. WhoScored.com highlight five players who will be looking to do just that in the upcoming first round of qualifiers.
Diego Costa (Spain)
The controversial Brazilian-cum-Spaniard's start to his Chelsea career couldn't have gone more swimmingly, with Costa's four league goals firing the Blues to an early advantage in the Premier League. The same couldn't be said of his international innings with his nation of choice, though the former Atletico man is, at the time of writing, just four matches into his La Roja career.
Two of those caps came in a dire World Cup campaign for Vicente del Bosque's side, with the holders crashing out at the group stages in Brazil with a misfiring and unfit Costa leading the line. Back at his physical peak, the 25-year-old is excelling in England, with his quartet of strikes coming from just nine shots at goal (six on target). Over his three appearances the Chelsea front man has attained a league-high average rating of 8.40 from WhoScored.com and has since been voted ESPN FC's European player of the month for August.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
Another familiar and fiery front man to have started the season in red-hot form, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back fit to captain the Swedish national side in their qualifier with Austria next week. The PSG striker has been at his best despite the side stuttering at the start of the campaign, netting both goals in a shock 2-2 draw with Reims in their season opener before picking up an early injury next time out against Bastia, seeing him sit out of a disappointing 0-0 stalemate with Evian.
Back in the side last time out, PSG put five past a highly rated Saint-Etienne side, with Ibrahimovic on hand to register a hat trick. With five league goals in just under 180 minutes of action this season it's little surprise to see him rank second, to Costa, of all players to have appeared more than twice this season in WhoScored's ratings (8.21). Austria beware!
Marco Verratti (Italy)
As Italy embark on their international journey under Antonio Conte, who had unrivalled and incomprehensible success at Juventus over the past two seasons, it's no wonder there's excitement surrounding the Azzurri once again. One man tipped to play an integral role during the manager's tenure is Marco Verratti, who Conte tried to lure to The Old Lady on numerous occasions. With Andrea Pirlo ageing (splendidly), Verratti is seen as the natural successor.
The 21-year-old will have the task of filling in for his aforementioned sidelined senior teammate in Italy's first qualifier with Norway and will hope to pick up where he's left off for his club. The top-rated player in Ligue 1 of those to have featured in all four matches thus far according to WhoScored.com (8.13), the comparisons with Pirlo are somewhat inevitable. The midfielder has averaged a quite remarkable 120.3 passes per game with an outstanding 95 percent accuracy in 2014-15.
Raheem Sterling (England)
Perhaps the only player to really impress for the Three Lions in an admittedly dour affair against Norway on Wednesday night, the hopes of a nation currently devoid in that area from a footballing perspective seem to be shifting to the shoulders of a teenager. The last time that happened, Wayne Rooney was breaking onto the scene. The rapid rise of Raheem Sterling has now led many to question the new England captain's role in the side.
Sterling started from the left but moved infield to the No. 10 role upon Rooney's withdrawal and the switch brought new energy to the lifeless affair up to that point. He created seven chances in the game -- more than any England player managed over three matches at the 2014 World Cup -- as well as winning the match-winning penalty for his increasingly maligned skipper. The Liverpool man has completed the second-most dribbles in the early stages of the Premier League (nine), scored twice and picked up an assist to earn a WhoScored.com rating of 7.86 for the Reds. It's Switzerland up next.
Ander Iturraspe (Spain)
It seems fair to pick a second Spain player here down to the restructuring of the former world champions' squad following their summer humiliation. With Xavi and Xabi Alonso having retired from international football, there are places up for grabs in the middle of the park, and Athletic's Ander Iturraspe is looking to queue-jump. Unassuming but extremely effective at club level, the 25-year-old let the likes of his United-bound namesake, Ander Herrera, take the limelight last season, but it's Iturraspe who most impressed del Bosque.
The ball-winning defensive midfielder has begun the season in excellent form, thoroughly deserving his second international call-up after just missing the cut for the flight to Brazil. The Athletic graduate netted only his second league goal for the club in a 3-0 win over Levante last time out, with an impressive La Liga rating of 7.81 from the first two matches, and he was key in the club's somewhat surprise dispatch of Napoli in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier, earning a score of 8.63 courtesy of six tackles and two interceptions.
All statistics courtesy ofWhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.