James Tarkowski is finally back to full fitness and determined to remind England boss Gareth Southgate of what he can do.
The 26-year-old has endured a season as frustrating as his club Burnley’s so far, attempting to play through a niggling hernia problem before eventually undergoing surgery last month.
Having started in the friendly victory over Switzerland in September, Tarkowski sat out the England fixtures in October and November as his team-mates stepped up with victories over Spain and Croatia.
Now the former Brentford defender has set his sights on winning back his place in the squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers and Nations League finals.
He said: “It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a very long time. I had a difficult time with the injury. A lot of lads will play through injury and I tried to for a very long time. It just got to the point where I needed to bite the bullet and feel physically 100 per cent again.
“I was having to take my training a little down to then be okay for the weekend, and then that started to affect my fitness a little bit. I was hindered slightly and I was probably going out there with the mindset of, ‘Am I OK to play?’ rather than, ‘Let’s go and perform right’.
“Now I’m 100 per cent fit I can concentrate on my football completely. There’s a good break from the internationals now so it’s a good opportunity for players to put in some good performances and prove they can be in the England squad. I need to start performing at the best of my ability.”
Burnley certainly need a fully-firing Tarkowski as they attempt to pull away from the Premier League relegation zone, and the defender showed what his club have been missing with a strong performance in last weekend’s vital 1-0 victory over Brighton.
That ended a run of eight defeats in a row, and Tarkowski was very encouraged by the fight on show.
He said: “The performance was good. Maybe not our best technically on the ball but I thought there was a lot more grit and battle about us, and to get that clean sheet is always good.
“I don’t know how or why we lost (the grit) but we seem to have found it again. That was probably a classic Burnley performance. That’s just the start for us. There’s a lot of points we need to get on the board, a lot of performances that we need to go out and show how good we can be.”
Tarkowski, meanwhile, defended Burnley’s physical approach and team-mate Ben Mee in the wake of criticism from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
A tackle from Mee that resulted in Joe Gomez suffering a fractured leg during Liverpool’s 3-1 victory last week was among a number of challenges that angered Klopp, even though he accepted they were not fouls.
Tarkowski said: “Something we’ve always done is played physical, played strong. If we were playing to a level that was dangerous then I think the referee would show that.
“I can’t remember the last red card we had so I don’t think we’re going outside the law we’re just playing the way we always have done.
“I think Ben and Joe Gomez would both admit that was a good tackle. It’s obviously very unfortunate for Joe and I send him my best wishes but I don’t think it was a bad tackle at all.”