Do Eden Hazard, Christian Pulisic, Marcus Rashford and others need to find new clubs ahead of the World Cup?

The new season had not even started when managers raised concerns about the one-off World Cup in Qatar in November this year and its impact on the transfer market.

“The players are already very focused on this World Cup, which is good because they are getting in shape and taking care of themselves,” said Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel on August 5. “It’s also a bad thing focused on the World Cup and not here [on their clubs]. Some of them, I have the feeling, are already thinking about November.”

A week later, Tottenham boss Antonio Conte joined. “Every season there are different goals, this season there is the World Cup,” said the Italian. “Many players ask to play regularly in order to give [them] more time to play.”

Going by Sunday’s “Battle of the Bridge,” Tuchel and Conte rarely see eye to eye these days, so maybe we should all pay attention this time. There are less than 100 days until the start of the World Cup in Qatar. In a typical season, with an international tournament played in June and July, the January transfer window would see players reconsider their future and weigh short-term moves as the scramble to remain relevant to their country accelerates.

Some feel the clock ticking louder than others. With two weeks to go before this transfer window closes, players on the fringes of the first team everywhere will be weighing whether to remain patient and wait for their chance or push for a move to keep their World Cup dreams alive. ESPN takes a look at some of those grappling with the Qatar conundrum.

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The warning signs have been there for some time. Chelsea have signed Raheem Sterling, narrowly missed out on Raphinha after Barcelona and are still trying to sign at least two more attacking players, with two offers for Everton’s Anthony Gordon rejected and talks about Barcelona’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continuing.

The widespread upgrade sought at those positions – particularly after Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner were allowed to leave – suggests Pulisic needs to be much more than just an impact player at Stamford Bridge this season. He played in Chelsea’s first two games but only off the bench, playing 30 minutes in total. A sequel might suffice, of course, as he’s a guaranteed starter for November’s USMNT regardless, and there’s even an argument that limited playing time will keep him fresh for Qatar.

Pulisic also has two years left on his Chelsea contract so the situation could be reviewed after the tournament or next summer – but an offer of first-team football at a progressive club could be attractive to both the Blues and the player . Manchester United’s loan request for Pulisic could therefore be a game changer. It remains to be seen whether Chelsea would be willing to allow him to join a domestic rival – Newcastle, Juventus and Atletico Madrid are also watching the situation – but United can at least offer European football without moving to another country three months before the WM.

Another winger watching the club pursue players in their positions, Hudson-Odoi is in a similar state to Pulisic at Chelsea – but under much greater pressure in terms of an international spot. In fact, there’s little chance the 21-year-old will force his way into England’s plans as his last cap came in November 2019.

But a glimmer of hope for Hudson-Odoi will come from Gareth Southgate, who has an expanded 26-man squad to choose from and the manager is also known for picking players on form so the winger could have a stellar run in the coming months some hope. However, Chelsea would currently prefer a loan deal to a permanent transfer, with Newcastle and Aston Villa expressing interest among many quarters.

Gallagher was on loan at Crystal Palace last season and has featured with four senior England appearances, most recently in the last game – a 4-0 Nations League home defeat by Hungary in June. Still, there’s stiff competition for places in the Southgate squad and Gallagher is certainly an outsider to make the last 26, let alone when he’s not a regular at Chelsea.

The 22-year-old was used as a substitute in Chelsea’s first two Premier League games, which lasted just seven minutes in total. Crystal Palace and Newcastle are among clubs interested in Gallagher should he become available, but head coach Thomas Tuchel is a fan of the midfielder and the situation may have been complicated by an injury to N’Golo Kante. The French world champions were substituted off with a hamstring problem in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham and a prolonged stint on the touchline would make Chelsea even less inclined to part ways with Gallagher.

Alonso has wanted to move to Barcelona for months. The Catalan club’s ongoing financial woes and dispute with Chelsea over a transfer fee were key factors, but the left-back is also pushing as he has a real chance of making Spain’s Qatar squad. Spain coach Luis Enrique left Alonso out of his squad last November, stating: “I have to admit that in this case I was the most unfair to a player, in this case Marcos Alonso, because he did it for what he did in the previous ones playing deserves to be here and even start.”

Back then, Enrique chose Jose Gaya and Jordi Alba as his preferred left-backs, while Alonso struggled for minutes at Chelsea. However, after Ben Chilwell picked up a serious knee injury, Alonso was a regular at Stamford Bridge for the second half of the season, with the 31-year-old being recalled for Spain’s games in March and June. But Chilwell’s return, combined with Marc Cucurella’s £53m arrival from Brighton, means Alonso will be back on the periphery – a move this summer is crucial to his hopes of going to Qatar.

Hazard’s three years at Real Madrid have been a disaster – with 28 league starts, four goals and plenty of injuries – but there are signs his fortunes may have changed just in time to head into the World Cup fit and in shape. Surgery in March to remove a metal plate that was placed in his leg after a broken ankle has put the 31-year-old pain-free for the first time in years.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has always maintained his confidence despite Hazard’s struggles – he started three times in the UEFA Nations League in June – and at Madrid Carlo Ancelotti intends to use Hazard more this year. His preferred left spot is occupied by Vinicius Junior but Ancelotti sees potential in a ‘fake No.9’ to replace Karim Benzema.

“Physically he’s fine,” said Ancelotti after Hazard helped Madrid turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win in Almeria in Madrid’s LaLiga opener. “I think he’ll get minutes.” Hazard was keen not to leave Madrid as a failure. This season, he’ll have an opportunity to change that narrative, albeit as a useful substitute rather than the main character. — Alex Kirkland.



Craig Burley thinks Marcus Rashford should take every opportunity to leave Manchester United for PSG.

Rashford’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get enough games, it’s that he doesn’t do enough with them. He made 32 appearances last season but was ruled out by England ahead of the March internationals as his form did not warrant a place in the squad. Five months later and the problem is still the same. The 24-year-old has been linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and while United insist they won’t let him go, there’s an argument a change of scenery could do him good.

He will almost certainly stay at Old Trafford this summer and with few other options in Erik ten Hag’s squad, chances are likely to continue. It’s up to him to do enough to ensure Southgate has to pick him for the World Cup but the season hasn’t started well for Rashford or Man United. — Rob Dawson.

When Conte doesn’t want a player, he usually leaves no doubt. Reguilon, who has made 67 appearances for Tottenham in two seasons, has been ruled out of the club’s pre-season tour of South Korea and has not been included in a Premier League matchday squad so far this season. Conte’s full-backs are essential to his 3-4-3 formation and he sees his option on the left as a battle between Ryan Sessegnon and Ivan Perisic, the latter arriving on a free transfer from Inter Milan this summer.

Spurs are also planning for the future as 19-year-old Destiny Udogie arrives for an initial £15m before being loaned out to former club Udinese. Reguilon has been linked with a move back to Spain – he received his last cap in September and only regular action has allowed him to force his way back into the competition.

Ndombele is a long shot for the France squad. He was last capped in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Kazakhstan before being banned by Conte and loaned to Lyon. The 25-year-old certainly has no future at Spurs while Conte is at the helm, but one problem with his potential exit is Tottenham’s determination to recoup most of the £53.8million they paid Lyon to buy him three years ago to oblige. Napoli appear to be his most likely target – a positive streak in Serie A could see him back in France coach Didier Deschamps’ considerations for Qatar.

Vestergaard’s move from Southampton to Leicester hasn’t worked out the way he would have liked. The Foxes paid £15million to sign him last summer but the centre-back only started six league games after being a regular at Saints. Now Vestergaard is targeting a move from the club as he has concerns about his place in Denmark’s starting line-up after playing a key role in the run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals last year.

Leicester have only signed one summer deal so far – goalkeeper Alex Smithies, 32, on a free transfer from Cardiff – and are under financial pressure to raise funds over the departure of players including Wesley Fofana, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy, sparking interest. A loan move might suit all parties, but Vestergaard could face being dragged into a frantic end of the window for Leicester. Do Eden Hazard, Christian Pulisic, Marcus Rashford and others need to find new clubs ahead of the World Cup?

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