Sometimes, for whatever reason, a player simply appears more at ease representing their country than their club. Yes, compared to the never-ending cycle of club football, they may only get a few games a year, but the national team can provide a change in style, formation, and teammates that may benefit some players.
With the 2022 World Cup approaching, there can be worries that a player’s prospects of shining in Qatar could be harmed by a lack of playing time or familiarity with a club team. But do not worry; it is likely that these six players will perform better when wearing the national team jersey.
Christian Pullisic is the first player that we will discuss. The progress of the USMNT captain’s club career has somewhat stalled after first appearing to be so promising for Chelsea (he scored nine goals in his first season in the Premier League). After being completely overlooked by Thomas Tuchel last season—he never had a sustained period in his preferred spot on the left side of midfield—the hiring of new manager Graham Potter may either signal a new beginning for him at Chelsea or the beginning of the end.
Although some constantly hope for more, Pulisic has consistently delivered for his country, with a hat trick against Panama in March being his most recent performance (he has 21 goals and 12 assists from 51 games). He has yet to play for longer than an hour in any competition this season due to his club form, but he should still keep his spot as the captain of the United States team for the World Cup.
The second player is going to be Fred. Fred is a crucial component of Tite’s Brazil midfield despite never becoming vital at Manchester United. The left-footed defensive midfielder, who is currently in his fifth Premier League season and has played in over 100 matches, has rarely displayed sustained runs of form outside of the occasional flare of his undeniable potential. At the club level, the 29-year-old frequently appeared uneasy or one-dimensional in possession and cautious in his pushing approach, but he plays with more assurance for Brazil.
When on international duty, Fred typically plays a sitting role alongside his new club partner Casemiro, creating a steady, balancing presence with the freedom to move forward occasionally. Although he never lacks for effort, he sometimes seems to run out of options when receiving the ball for United (although he did show indications of strengthening his attacking contribution during the second half of the last campaign), whereas he benefits from a more defined role for his country.
Then comes Timo Werner of course. Werner continued to represent Germany despite going extended stretches without scoring for Chelsea. Werner never lacked for mobility, application, or enthusiasm, but during his disastrous time in London, his goal-scoring consistency came under examination, as he managed only 10 goals in 56 league games. With 24 goals from 53 appearances for Germany, he has a goal scoring record that rivals some of the best players in the world.
Werner has surprisingly struggled to capitalize on opportunities at the club level since returning to the Bundesliga to rejoin RB Leipzig for €30 million in the summer; his current total is only one goal from six league outings (though he did net a hat trick in a DFB-Pokal game.) It’s not surprising that his Chelsea coaches were tempted to play him in a wide role (thus further away from goal), as he is primarily a forward who prefers to move around and thrives in space, but in the Germany team, he typically slots in at center-forward where he is their most reliable goal threat.
Eden Hazard is also in the discussion. Although the former Chelsea forward’s Real Madrid playing time, which stands at 98 minutes after three games, appears to be reducing month by month, he is still expected to play a significant role for Belgium at the World Cup. In fact, despite his injury issues, Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez has seemed content to field Hazard as one of two No. 10s, along with Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City. Hazard even played continuously when games were coming thick and fast (he appeared in all four of Belgium’s Nations League games in June).
Despite rarely playing for his club, Hazard (who has scored 33 goals in 120 international matches) recently made a crucial contribution for Real Madrid when his second-half entry against Celtic led to a goal and an assist for the European champions. His ingenuity, experience, and skill with the ball could still end up being crucial for Belgium in Qatar.
Last but not least is Memphis Depay. Depay has not only continued to play well for the Netherlands despite experiencing personal unrest at Barcelona, but he has also possibly been his country’s best player throughout the whole World Cup qualifying campaign. With nine goals in as many games, Depay’s performance helped the Netherlands qualify for the World Cup, and in June he also shone in the Nations League.
Depay may have recently regained some confidence in Barca manager Xavi after choosing to remain at Camp Nou despite numerous offers elsewhere at the end of the transfer window, but given the club’s apparent willingness to let him leave in the summer, it appears that the majority of his playing time will come from his nation. His experience and talent up front will be crucial to their chances as the only member of the Dutch team with a goal total over 10 (a respectable 42 from 80 appearances).