Examining the relationship between a player's national team form and their club form

There are cases where a player performs better for their country than club, why is that?

Netherlands v Scotland - International Friendly
Netherlands v Scotland - International Friendly / Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

While there are a lot of fans of club football that dread the international break, I am someone that loves seeing players disperse across the globe to represent their respective nations.

The international game is different from club football, there is no doubt, however there are numerous cases of star players playing well for both club and country. Those are typically the best players in the world.

The Mohamed Salah, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo's and more come to mind in this regard. However, I have always been fascinated when a player that is struggling for form at their club can become a key player just a week later for their national team.

Yet, the inverse has also happened. A player is tearing things up for their club but they look a shell of themselves for the national team.

I understand the biggest factor in this is probably tactics and management. When Liverpool players spread out to play for their countries, they are not taking the Jurgen Klopp gegenpressing style with them.

While it is something that is for sure engrained in them as a player, they must conform to the shape and style that the national team manager prefers.

The first example of this would be to look at Trent Alexander-Arnold with the England setup. When he was fit and firing earlier this season, Gareth Southgate deployed Trent in a full-time midfield role. This was a deviation from his hybrid role that he takes up at Anfield.

TAA thrived and was a creative force against smaller nations during the fall. Southgate missed the chance to test him in his midfield role this break because of Alexander-Arnold's continued injury rehab.

Cody Gakpo secured his move to Liverpool largely on an instrumental performance at the 2022 World Cup where he was a shining light for the Netherlands.

He has been a very good player for Liverpool since signing and this year he is closing in on 20 goal contributions in all comps. However, he had a poor showing in the FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford and there was a lot of vitriol being thrown his way.

Waht does he do? Links up with his national team and provides two assists in a comprehensive Dutch win just 5 days after that FA Cup debacle.

Gakpo is allowed a bit more creative freedom with Holland as he is one of their driving forces in attack. He can cut inside and get in behind to his hearts content.

For Klopp, Gakpo has been asked to play as a left-sided central midfielder, false 9, left wing, right wing and an out-and-out No. 9. His role for his country is more stable which might allow him to play with a bit more confidence.

Another part of this that is clearly a big part is the confidence of the individual. If they believe the level that their game is at, that can help cover up a lot of the tactical nuances that come from the change.

While I always get excited when I see Liverpool players succeeding for their nations, I know it's not a guarantee they will carry that form back to Anfield. The Reds are such a talented side that they have a lot of star players that are asked to take a step back and work as a unit.

However, when players like Darwin Nunez goes to Uruguay, Andy Robertson with Scotland, Salah with Egypt and others, they are asked to shoulder heavier loads.

There is no exact science behind it all. However, when a player like Naby Keita struggles for long stretches while at Liverpool, it was always frustrating to then see him produce magic moments as the Captain for Guinea.

While the saying "form is temporary, but class is permanent", is very accurate, I think things are not as cut and dry when examining how a player performs for their club and country.

To surmise, there are a great many factors that go into a player playing well for both their club and country. Tactics, supporting cast, expectations, confidence and luck.

It is not a lock the 25-goal scorer for his club will score for fun at the international level. Just as it is the case the creative midfield maestro for his country can return to his club and pull all the strings. However, the cream will always rise to the top regardless of circumstances.

While club form and national team form are not linearly connected, they do have a symbiotic relationship that the best players in the world can navigate. Liverpool have quite a few of those in the squad today.