We may be only three games into the new Premier League season, but already we’ve arrived at an international break. Important World Cup qualifiers are taking place around the globe over the next week, and a smattering of Manchester United stars will be involved. But who, and where, we hear you ask. Well, friends, we’ve got everything you need to know below.
United’s second-choice shot-stopper Sergio Romero will be between the sticks as his national side play a couple of big World Cup qualifiers: the first is a tricky encounter with Uruguay on Thursday; the second an eminently winnable clash with Venezuela in Buenos Aires the following Tuesday.
Armenia: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Armenia's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup are hanging by a thread: Henrikh Mkhitaryan's side are second-bottom of their group, and need wins if they’re to stand any chance of making a late dash into the top two. They travel to face Romania on Friday, before hosting Denmark the following Monday.
Belgium: Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku
Belgium, by contrast, are sitting pretty at the top of their qualifying group: they've not lost any of their opening six matches, notching five wins along the way. Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini should both feature as they bid to keep their impressive run going: they take on Gibraltar in Liège on Thursday, before travelling to Piraeus to play Greece on Sunday.
Ecuador: Antonio Valencia
The Premier League's Best Right-Back™ is in action for Ecuador on Thursday, as his side travel to Porto Alegre to face Brazil. They're back in action the following Tuesday, welcoming Peru to Quito. Their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup are still very much alive: they sit two points adrift of the fifth-place playoff spot heading into this slate of fixtures.
England: Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford
The usual suspects are all included in Gareth Southgate’s England selection, including Jesse Lingard. England travel to Malta on Friday, before returning to host Slovakia the following Monday. The Wayne Rooney-less Three Lions are only two points clear of Slovakia at the top of their qualifying group, but look unlikely to cock things up from here.
Well well, no Anthony Martial. Didier Deschamps has, however, called up Paul Pogba, with France set to play games at home to both the Netherlands and Luxembourg. They're currently second to Sweden in their qualifying group, and a defeat to the Dutch could make things very nervy indeed.
Italy: Matteo Darmian
Matteo Darmian will once again have to endure the deafening roar of Gianluigi Buffon's Fratelli d'Italia, as they’ve both been called up by coach Gian Piero Ventura. Only tiebreakers keep Italy below table-toppers Spain in their qualifying group, setting up a very intriguing contest in Madrid on Saturday. Italy then return to the peninsula to host Israel the following Tuesday.
Ivory Coast: Eric Bailly
The Ivory Coast are currently top of their qualifying group, but only by a couple of points. Eric Bailly's side travel to face Gabon on Saturday, before hosting the same team three days later.
Netherlands: Daley Blind
A young Dutch team that has looked alarmingly competent in their last couple of matches play a crunch match away in Paris on Thursday, before returning home to take on Bulgaria the following Sunday. Daley Blind will be expecting to feature for Dick Advocaat’s side.
Serbia: Nemanja Matić
Serbia are locked in a straight fight with the Republic of Ireland for their group's top spot. Nemanja Matić's side should have too much for Moldova on Saturday, but it's anyone's guess what will happen in Dublin three days later.
Once again there’s no room for Ander Herrera or Juan Mata in Julen Lopetegui’s Spain squad; David de Gea is the only United representative. His side take on Italy in Madrid on Saturday, before travelling to play Liechtenstein the following Tuesday.
Sweden: Victor Lindelöf
With Zlatan Ibrahimović having retired from international duty, Victor Lindelöf is United’s only Swedish representative. He'll be hoping to feature as they travel to face Bulgaria and Belarus on Thursday and Sunday respectively. They're currently above both France and the Netherlands at the top of their group, but things remain much too tight to call.