10 Nations League lessons as Frenkie de Jong pushes his price tag up

Kevin De Bruyne’s ‘glorified friendlies’ moan is proved right, Frenkie de Jong pushes his price tag up and Erling Haaland leaves Manchester City fans hungry for more… 10 things we learned from the Nations League

  • A chaotic and gruelling fortnight of Nations League action has come to a close
  • Italy’s post-Euro 2020 slump continued as they were thrashed by Germany
  • France also struggled, with the defence of their World Cup crown on the horizon
  • Wales suffered late heartbreak, but they have an exciting prospect in their camp
  • Sportsmail details 10 things we have learned from all the games around Europe
  • Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates

Thirteen chaotic days of Nations League action are over and Europe’s elite can finally jet off on their summer holidays. 

With most countries playing four games in a tightly-packed, non-stop schedule, there was plenty to learn about each nation and their squads. 

We know it was a wretched camp for England that has left many fans questioning Gareth Southgate’s future, but what about the rest of Europe? Which countries are showing promise ahead of the World Cup? Which players have put themselves in the spotlight for a summer move? 

Sportsmail picks out 10 things we have learned from the last fortnight. 

France are the reigning Nations League champions but failed to win any of their four games

Kevin De Bruyne had a point

Kevin De Bruyne labelled this month’s games as ‘glorified friendlies after a tough season’

The Manchester City midfielder made headlines at the start of the Nations League campaign when he said that this month’s fixtures were ‘unimportant’ and ‘glorified friendlies after a long and tough season’. 

Players rarely get sympathy for the lives they lead and the money they earn, but anyone watching a match over the last fortnight could see that they are in desperate need of a break. The majority of games were slow and turgid and no one was playing at their maximum level.  

Four matches were crammed into a gruelling 10-day period to accommodate the winter World Cup later this year and the tournament in Qatar is also forcing the domestic season to start earlier than usual. Enjoy your holidays, lads…

Les Bleus get… the blues

France are the reigning champions of the Nations League, but a string of poor performances this month means they will not be retaining their crown. 

Didier Deschamps’ side put England’s struggles into context as they too only picked up two points from four matches. 

Despite possessing arguably the most potent strikeforce in international football in Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe, with a stellar supporting cast that includes Real Madrid’s new £85million signing Aurelien Tchouameni, Les Bleus scored just three times and fell to home defeats by Denmark and Croatia. 

It follows on from a poor showing at Euro 2020 last summer, so Deschamps has plenty to contemplate before France go about defending their world title in Qatar. 

Italy’s post-Euros slump continues

This time last year, Italy had won 3-0 against Turkey in their opening game of Euro 2020, a tournament they would go on to win by beating England in the final. 

But since that penalty shoot-out victory at Wembley, Roberto Mancini’s side have had very little to cheer about and failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to North Macedonia in the play-offs. 

Their solitary win this month came against Hungary and a humiliating 5-2 defeat to Germany on Tuesday night was the most goals they had conceded in a game for 65 years.  

Italy’s 5-2 defeat to Germany was the most goals they had conceded in a game for 65 years 

Germany Flick the switch 

While Italy’s form has gone south since the European Championships, Germany are gradually on the up again after being knocked out by England last summer. 

Although victory over the Italians was their only victory of the month after three draws, Germany have found an identity again under Hansi Flick, who replaced long-time boss Joachim Low after the Euros. 

Former Bayern Munich manager Flick remains unbeaten in 13 matches in charge and is bringing through a new generation of talent such as Jamal Musiala and Nico Schlotterbeck. 

Following a dismal showing in Russia four years ago, Die Mannschaft may just be contenders again in Qatar. 

Former Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick remains unbeaten in 13 matches in charge of Germany

Late heartbreak for Wales 

This month was all about qualifying for the World Cup for Wales, but in their inaugural campaign in the top tier of the Nations League they showed that they will do more than just make up the numbers in Qatar. 

But Rob Page still has plenty to work on, particularly when it comes to conceding late goals. In a remarkable case of deja vu, Wales scored stoppage-time equalisers in both of their games against the Netherlands only to concede again moments later and lose home and away. 

In Cardiff, Rhys Norrington-Davies headed in his first international goal to make it 1-1 in the 92nd minute, before Burnley striker Wout Weghorst won it for the Dutch in the 94th. Then in Rotterdam, Gareth Bale’s penalty looked to have earned the Dragons a 2-2 draw after 92 minutes but Memphis Depay nicked a winner straight from the restart.

‘I’d rather this happen now and we address it than it happen at the World Cup,’ Bale said after the game. That’s one way of spinning it. 

Wales conceded stoppage-time goals to lose both home and away against the Netherlands

Haaland leaves City fans hungry for more 

Erling Haaland’s numbers for Borussia Dortmund – 86 goals in 89 games – speak for themselves, but his record in a Norway shirt is also hugely impressive. 

Manchester City’s newest recruit scored five goals in this month’s four games – no player netted more across the Nations League – as he helped Norway to wins over Sweden (twice) and Serbia in League B. 

Haaland now has 20 goals in 21 caps for his country, placing him ninth in Norway’s all-time scorers list at the age of just 21. He only needs 14 more to break the record which has stood for 85 years. His Premier League entrance can’t come soon enough. 

Erling Haaland scored five goals in four games – more than anyone across the Nations League

Frenkie De Jong pushes his price tag up

Despite Frenkie de Jong confirming his desire to stay at Barcelona this summer, reports linking him with a move to Manchester United refuse to go away and any United fan who watched the midfielder in action for the Netherlands this month would have been left desperate for him to make the switch to Old Trafford. 

It was a strong international window for the Dutch, who won three and drew one of their four matches, and De Jong ran the show in the middle of the park with his calmness in possession and excellent range of passing.  

The 25-year-old’s substitute appearance in the 2-1 victory over Wales particularly caught the eye, as he played a pivotal role in Wout Weghorst’s 94th-minute winner.  De Jong drove his team upfield before playing the ball out wide to Tyrell Malacia, who crossed for the 6ft 6in striker to score. 

After he again dictated the play in the two countries’ reverse meeting, Rob Page purred: ‘De Jong is a great player, let’s hope for the fans that he can be seen in the Premier League every week next season.’ 

Manchester United target Frenkie de Jong dictated the play in the Netherlands’ fixtures

Brennan Johnson is Premier League ready

Wales have a superstar of their own in their ranks and it’s not Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey. This month’s fixtures have seen 21-year-old Brennan Johnson come into his own and score his first two international goals. 

Fresh from winning promotion to the Premier League with Nottingham Forest, Johnson scored an 86th-minute equaliser for Wales in their 1-1 draw with Belgium, finishing coolly following a neat flick from Ramsey. 

He netted again away in the Netherlands as he found the bottom corner with a precise finish from just inside the box and it’s clear his potential has no limit.  

Johnson looks all set to make his mark in the top-flight next season, but Forest will face fierce competition to ensure he does so at the City Ground.  

Brennan Johnson scored his first two Wales goals against Belgium and the Netherlands

Clarke eases Scottish pressure with convincing win

Steve Clarke’s Scotland future continues to hang in the balance following mixed results

Unlike Wales, Scotland failed to secure World Cup qualification this month after being beaten by Ukraine in their play-off semi-final. 

It meant that disappointment hung over Steve Clarke’s squad throughout their Nations League fixtures, despite a 2-0 win over Armenia getting them off to a strong start. A 3-0 defeat away in the Republic of Ireland raised further questions over Clarke’s long-term future in charge.

The 58-year-old’s fears of the sack will have been eased for now by a convincing 4-1 victory away in Armenia, but with a double header against Ukraine either side of Ireland at Hampden Park coming up in September, he is unlikely to be out of the woods yet. 

Danes continue to dine at top table 

Semi-finalists at Euro 2020, Denmark again showed that they can compete at the top level of European football with nine points from four games – only the Netherlands (10) picked up more in League A. 

Kasper Hjulmand’s side came from behind to beat world champions France away from home as substitute Andreas Cornelius scored twice in a stunning victory, before they beat Austria twice either side of defeat to Croatia. 

Christian Eriksen starred throughout as he continued his impressive form that reportedly has Manchester United ready to offer him a contract. 

Denmark picked up nine points from four games and beat world champions France in Paris

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