Lionel Messi to Harry Kane – stars aiming to rediscover best form during the international break

For many players struggling at their clubs, the international break offers a chance to get their head down, focus primarily on training ground work and hope for a fresh start once the season resumes.

But for higher profile stars not quite at their best, the switch in attention to the international game only offers more scope to scrutinise their struggles on the pitch.

There is a positive way to look at it though, and that is seeing how time away with the international side can produce a different environment. One which might bring about that badly needed goal, rediscover that killer pass or just simply lay a foundation stone to building confidence again.

Top stars around Europe have struggled to get back up to speed at the start of this season, so Sportsmail looks at those who rather than seek a place to hide will be looking to prove a point during the international break.

England forwards Harry Kane (left), Jadon Sancho (centre), and Raheem Sterling will be looking to prove a point during the international break and get back on form

Harry Kane

Harry Kane was the Premier League’s top goal scorer and assist-maker last season, and followed it up with a summer where he was a key component with four goals leading England into the Euro 2020 final.

Yet whether he was wearing a Tottenham Hotspur or a Manchester City shirt, few could have predicted that two months into the Premier League season he has not scored a single goal or provided an assist.

Trying to force his way out of north London with an embarrassing episode that saw him return to pre-season training late on hasn’t helped his cause, and it appears to have unsettled the striker whose six goals have been spread across the backwaters of the Europa Conference League (5) and the Carabao Cup.

Admittedly, service has not been kind to the England captain in a Spurs team who under Nuno Espirito Santo have been among the worst going forward this term.

But Kane too has not been his usual self in front of goal, snatching at chances and looking a little fatigued following a whirlwind summer.

The 28-year-old will now hope the World Cup qualifiers can offer him chance to assert himself on the major stage once again. 

Kane has yet to score or provide a Premier League assist for Tottenham this season

Kane has yet to score or provide a Premier League assist for Tottenham this season

Raheem Sterling

Sterling’s importance to Manchester City appears to have diminished in the last year, not helped by failing to help guide them to Champions League glory in a rare start against Chelsea back in May.

But his performances for England at the European Championship where he was arguably the best player in Gareth Southgate’s side should have been enough to start the season picking up a bit of club form again.

Instead the only thing he has picked up is splinters off the bench, starting just two of the first seven Premier League games, with his only goal in all competitions coming in the 5-0 stroll over Norwich City.

Even the assists have all but dried up barring a Carabao Cup tie against League One outfit Wycombe Wanderers – one of only two matches this term he has completed 90 minutes.

Although City have been a fraction off their best, Sterling is still not seeing enough minutes to convince Pep Guardiola that he is worthy of an extended run in the first team.

Perhaps picking up from where he left off this summer with England where he found the net three times might give the City manager an opportunity to consider a recall to the City first-team. 

Sterling continues to struggle for Manchester City during 2021 despite an impressive European Championship campaign with the England squad

Sterling continues to struggle for Manchester City during 2021 despite an impressive European Championship campaign with the England squad

Jadon Sancho

If there is one England player who could do with a big break at the moment it is Jadon Sancho.

It was hoped that a £73million move to Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund this summer could get him back on form following a summer where he dropped out of the England starting XI before missing a crucial penalty kick in the Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy.

Since then, it’s not really improved on the pitch. No goals, no assists and already Solskjaer has a headache trying to coax the best out of a player who combined to devastating effect when paired alongside Erling Haaland in Germany last term. 

The trouble is his lack of form for United is giving Southgate no reason to return him to the Three Lions starting XI, and having pulled out of the last squad, his next appearance will see him kick a ball in an England shirt for the first time since his costly Wembley miss.

Sancho’s overall England numbers are starting to cause a concern though. He has only ever scored in one competitive international – that coming over two years ago against Kosovo – producing an overall return of just three goals from 22 games.

Even as a winger, it’s a poor record but there is hope for the 21-year-old. England’s away trip to Andorra may give him valuable minutes and an opportunity to show his worth again.

You remember, the daring attacking winger who is confident driving into attacking areas with the ball with an assured finish in front of goal too. A confidence builder is badly needed for a player sadly looking bereft off it right now. 

Sancho (centre) has yet to fire at Manchester United since his £73million arrival this summer

Sancho (centre) has yet to fire at Manchester United since his £73million arrival this summer

Lionel Messi

Speaking of whirlwind summers, Messi has gone through a rollercoaster of emotions since the end of last season.

Winning his first major trophy with Argentina in the Copa America should have given him a boost to carry a struggling Barcelona team into the new season, except football works in mysterious ways.

With his deal with the Spanish club having expired, and them being unable to offer him a new one, he was forced to leave his only senior club.

Now at Paris Saint-Germain he was expected to at least be at his next most comfortable destination, where teaming up with former Barca team-mate Neymar and France hotshot Kylian Mbappe it was thought it was only a matter of time before the goals between the trio flowed in.

Yet it’s not quite worked out that way. At the very least there are teething problems in the PSG attack, who although are dominating Ligue 1 with eight wins from nine games – are doing so with minimum input from the Argentine.

He has played five games for the club now and has one goal to show for it – albeit an excellent and important strike against Manchester City in the Champions League.

It’s far too early to be writing him off but three World Cup qualifiers for Argentina against the likes of Paraguay and Peru, with a crunch clash against rivals Uruguay inbetween offer an excellent chance for the 34-year-old to rediscover his dazzling best. 

Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal for Paris Saint-Germain in the French top flight

Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal for Paris Saint-Germain in the French top flight

Timo Werner

When it comes to rediscovering best form you have to go back to 2020 for the last time the German forward showed the type of performances that convinced Chelsea to pay RB Leipzig £53million for him last summer.

One below-par season later and he is now trying to fight for his place in the squad alongside new striking favourite Romelu Lukaku.

So far it’s been a battle he has been losing, and two goals across eight appearances in all competitions this term are doing little to suggest Thomas Tuchel was wrong in pursuing Lukaku to be his lead marksman instead following his £98million return to Stamford Bridge from Inter Milan.

Yet, Werner isn’t going down fighting and heads away to the Germany team for World Cup qualifying having scored a crucial late goal for the Blues in a 3-1 win over Southampton which keeps them well in the hunt in the Premier League title race.

Confidence then should already have seen an improvement, and with Germany facing relatively kind opposition when they host Romania before visiting North Macedonia, now is the time for Werner to remind Tuchel on why he can still deliver the goods at Stamford Bridge.

Of course though, it could go the other way, with German fans still aware of Werner’s missed sitter against North Macedonia that led to their shock 2-1 defeat at home earlier in the campaign. 

Timo Werner heads into the international break after scoring in the Premier League for Chelsea

Timo Werner heads into the international break after scoring in the Premier League for Chelsea

Anthony Martial

Now here’s a man with a point to prove – and not just for Manchester United.

Every action has a reaction and while United supporters were dancing in the streets after the summer arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho, you could forgive Anthony Martial for thinking what his future at the club was to bring.

So far we know it is not many starts – just three this term in fact – yet he hardly did much convincing in his only full 90 minutes as United slumped out of the Carabao Cup at home in a 1-0 defeat by West Ham.

Substitute appearances have followed in the Premier League but his cameo minutes alongside his two first XI selections have seen him bag just one Premier League goal against Everton… where he was still replaced by Sancho before the hour mark.

Time with France will hopefully provide him with further opportunities to impress Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has so far been unable to get a tune out of Jadon Sancho.

The trouble is, finding the net for France has also proven difficult for the winger, scoring just twice in his 30 caps so far. Nations League clashes against Belgium and either Italy or Spain will provide the platform to send out a message, but will France boss Didier Deschamps give him the pen to write it, with a start? 

Anthony Martial has fallen slightly out of favour at Manchester United after summer arrivals

Anthony Martial has fallen slightly out of favour at Manchester United after summer arrivals

Antoine Griezmann 

Confidence can have a dramatic role in how a player performs and there is perhaps no better example of that in football right now than Antoine Griezmann.

After two failed seasons following a high profile £107million move Barcelona from Atletico Madrid, who has since gone back to the Spanish capital this summer with his tail between his legs in the hope of rediscovering his best form.

After all, if you want to show the kind of performance that convince people you are worth over £100million in the first place, what better environment is there to find it again than the one where you produced it in the first place?

Curiously though, Griezmann’s form has hardly improved at all since returning to the Wanda Metropolitano where in his first spell he scored 133 goals in 254 games. 

But now with a crowd who, rather than unanimously adore him, have still yet to forgive him for walking out on them to Barca, he has just one goal in 10 matches and no assists to show for it.

So far it’s not done too much to rock the Spanish champions’ title bid as they sit joint top alongside Real Madrid, but the 30-year-old will be desperate to use the Nations League finals as a chance to show his true worth following a miserable last two years in Spain.  

Despite returning to Atletico Madrid this summer, Antoine Griezmann is still not at his best

Despite returning to Atletico Madrid this summer, Antoine Griezmann is still not at his best

Eden Hazard

It was only two years ago that Real Madrid secured a £150m deal with Chelsea for Eden Hazard as they hoped to replace a Cristiano Ronaldo shaped vacuum at the Bernabeu left from the previous summer.

Since then all they have seen for their return is a player who has suffered unfortunately with a spate of injuries as well as fitness issues. 

Hazard left the Blues as a credible contender as being one of the the top three players in the world but he has since become a forgotten man when it comes to discussing the elite players.

A summer reset under new manager Carlo Ancelotti offered the chance of a fresh start but he still cannot complete 90 minutes, let alone become the key driving force between their midfield and attack.

Now free from injuries he has played 10 times this season and is yet to score, contributing just one assist on the opening day of the season.

Whether it is down to poor form or just poor fitness he hasn’t lasted beyond 78 minutes this season, although we may get a clearer idea of the both when he expectedly lines up for Belgium in the Nations League finals against France and either Italy or Spain this week.

He needs a goal, a performance and a full 90 minutes – it’s a far cry from the days when this was an easy expectation down at Stamford Bridge. 

Eden Hazard has struggled to complete 90 minutes in a Real Madrid shirt this season

Eden Hazard has struggled to complete 90 minutes in a Real Madrid shirt this season

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