2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview – France vs Argentina, Uruguay vs Portugal

With the group stages finally over, let’s look at the round of 16, where teams will need to step up their game and prepare for the knock out portion of the tournament.

France vs Argentina

The first game of the round of 16 is a huge one. Both teams have a huge history and would like to add to that this year. Let’s begin with France. The 1998 winners go into this game unbeaten, and only conceding 1 goal. However this looks much less impressive when looking at their performances. They only scored 3 goals and got the first 0-0 of the tournament. They also did not keep the same team in any of their games. It continues to show further incompetence in Didier Deschamps. He is easily the most overrated manager at this tournament and it amazes me how he still has a job, with other Frenchman like Zidane and Wenger available. It should be classed as a crime to not be performing with the best players on the planet. They have looked very poor as a team, and I can’t see them getting far in this tournament.

I was not disappointed in Argentina in the slightest. In fact I expected this. They have some talented players, but they don’t have balance. So far they have not proven me wrong. Even in their last minute win, they still didn’t play good. That game was won from a Marcus Rojo of all people bagging the winner. Even though they were poor, there are still some positives. Ever Banega was very good. He added a player with real ball ability in that midfield. But it still brings up the issue of why is Perez and Mascherano still starting for Argentina. Mascherano is not near the player he was 5 years ago, yet he is still starting every game for Argentina. Why isn’t Lo Celso starting, a guy with real ball winning ability. Or even taking Parades. Even though he is playing in a poor league, he is still a great distributer. Sampoali has baffled me throughout this tournament with these strange selections.

For France to beat Argentina, midfield is their key. If they want to take a book from Croatia, who beat Argentina because of their superior midfield. It is a game where France need all their best ball players, so a midfield 3 of Pogba, N’Zonzi and Kante would be perfect. Pogba and N’Zonzi have a brilliant range of passing and would help bypass that weak midfield. Playing Kante would help win the ball higher up the pitch, to stop players like Banega and Mascherano keeping hold of the ball. For Argentina, they need to give the ball to Messi as much as possible. He hasn’t lit up the world, but he is still the best player of all time. He did look much better in a front two. His run for that first goal against Nigeria was perfection all around. The run, the touch, the second touch, the finish. It was all perfect. Messi as usual, is the key for Argentina’s success. This game contains a team that can’t attack in France, and a team that can’t defend in Argentina. Based on goals needed to win games, the Argentine’s will be the victors

France 1-2 Argentina

Uruguay vs Portugal

Both teams can come into this game with some positives. Uruguay went through their group without conceding a single goal. While they did look very poor in their first 2 games, they stepped it up against the hosts Russia, and started playing a midfield 3, adding Torreira to a midfield of Bentacour and Vecino. It gave them much more fluidity and a real drive in the final third. Another bonus for them would be the form of their attackers and defenders. While Suarez has been poor, he has still bagged 2 goals and Cavani also scored his first against Russia. Their biggest positive to take away from the group games would be their defense. Godin and Gimenez were both fantastic. Godin especially was a real leader in those games. He was the one making sure his other teammates would start attacking because he was doing his job, so why weren’t the rest of the team. There were points against Egypt were Godin would run with the ball because no one else would.

Portugal also have some real positives. They have been successfully protecting their old central defenders, even if at times they have been caught out. Ronaldo has also been brilliant. His form is the main reason why Portugal are where they are. He seems to love having the amount of responsibility he does. However they still have some real issues. The rest of the attackers have not been great. Fernandes was dropped after the first game after not having a good game (even though he was out of position). Guedes also has been very disappointing. He just hasn’t shown that raw skill he was shown all through last season. Even in midfield, a partnership of Joah Moutinho and William Carvalho doesn’t scream energy and attacking threat. Their biggest positive is easily how organised they are. Because of their brilliant full back options, it means the centre halves can stay very narrow so they don’t get caught in places where they will be exposed. Fernando Santos has been fine in that aspect, however in the attacking sense they could be better. Putting Guedes outwide, and putting Martins on the right would give them so much pace and width. Andre Silva definitely deserves a chance too. These would definitely help give them a bit more of a threat.

Uruguay can beat Portugal simply their strikers. Both Suarez and Cavani are very hard to deal with for defenders. If they both can help deal Pepe and Fonte, it would allow the midfield players to come from deep and outnumber the opposition. They play such a deep 4-4-2 that just getting their technical players in the box would be enough to cause Portugal plenty of problems. Portugal just have to simply give the ball to Ronaldo. He has been their best attacking player so getting him on the ball as much as possible is their way to win. I can see Uruguay winning here, but because of Portugal so far suprising me, I might just go for a close game but Ronaldo magic to win it

Uruguay 1-2 Portugal

4 Most Disappointing teams at the 2018 World Cup

With so many players and teams showing the world what they are made of, let’s look at the other side of the coin. These are four teams who have completely disappointed me so far in this tournament.

Germany

The most obvious disappointments so far. Germany have looked a shadow of how they were 4 years ago, and explaining why is pretty simple. One of the biggest changes from Brazil is losing their leaders. Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philip Lahm all have since 2014. While they have found some good replacements in Kimmich, Goretzka and Werner, they have lost their experience and leadership. The partnership of Kroos and Schweinsteiger was key during their winning captain and gave a sense of stability to that midfield. Their midfield in general has looked so poor since the start of the tournament. Joachim Low has continued to play a midfield two,with Toni Kroos who usually does not work playing with only one partner, and Khedira, who is a shadow of a player he was 4 years ago. With his increase in age, he lost his defensive ability and any sort of creativity with that. Both were exploited during their defeat to Mexico. Kroos was marked out of the game, while Khedira just couldn’t keep up with the energy and power in Vela and Lozano. Khedira was instantly replaced in the following with Sebastian Rudy, a player who’s only compliment would be solid. Kroos still needs to be put in a midfield three to work, maybe bringing in Goretzka and putting Rudy in a deeper position would give Kroos more time on the ball and would stop him coming so deep to receive it. Even in the attack, it is clear that losing a player like Klose has been a huge hit. It seems even with playing Werner throughout qualifying, they still seem to play as if he is 5 inches taller. I love Werner, but for the way Germany play at times, it seems like he might be the striker they need. He definitely has a use however. Germany are still a very strong team, but are not the same machine they were in 2014.

France

France easily have the most talented squad at this World Cup. They world class rising stars in Mbappe, Dembele and Mendy, while still keeping some solid experienced players in Giroud, NZonzi and Lloris. Even their second team could do very well. However what cannot be underestimated is how frustrating Deschamps is. France qualified relatively simple. However they did have some moments that can be questioned. They lost 3-2 to Sweden, which included a real howler from Lloris. That can be forgiven. Sweden are a solid team and have shown before they can beat any top opposition, as seen with Italy. However what cannot be forgiven is drawing a goaless draw against Luxembourg, a team Sweden beat 8-0. Deschamps in that game chose to play Matuidi and Sissoko, over Pogba and Kante. He has tried over 40 players in qualifying and still seems to not know his best team. France began the first game with a front line of Mbappe, Griezmann and Dembele. I believe that to be their best attack. It gives them three players who are extremely flexible, which enables them to interchange thorought the game. It makes it difficult for defenders to know who to pick up, if the forwards are constantly moving. However Deschamps changed this in the next game and played a 4-2-3-1, which Matuidi on the left and Giroud just in front of Griezmann. It shows a manager who still does not know what system and formation to play, at this point of the tournament that is worrying. The biggest insult is just the way they play. They seem to play a very slow possession game, with usually using Giroud as the link up to the rest of the attack. It frustrates me that they usually resort to that is because of the shear talent they have. Paul Pogba also seems to struggle in this system. Even when he plays with Kante and Tolisso, his most balanced partners, he still seems to not look his best. Pogba is at his best when he is able to drift out wide to the left and open the defense with his pace and power. He seems slow, and that is because of Deschamps. He seems to never play on the front foot. I like these players, but they are stuck with a manager who seems to limit their incredibly high ceiling.

Uruguay

Uruguay qualified at the top their group without conceding a single goal, and winning every game. That does sound good on paper, but when looking into each game, especially the first two, it is clear they are not doing great. Oscar Tavares has set up this team to be so defensive, and rely on the forwards to do something. The problem with this is they don’t have a real creator. He started the tournament with a midfield of Vecino and Bentacour. I like both players, but as a two they don’t work. Vecino just plays it too safe, and Bentacour actually played really well against Egypt, but with a lackluster partner, it made it difficult for him. Tavares only decided to change this in the final game, where he changed into a 3-5-2, to play a midfield of Torreira, Bentacour and Vecino. It worked much better, with Torreira adding his great energy and tenacity. Another problem for Uruguay has been the forwards. Context is so important when looking at the strikers Uruguay took. Suarez, Cavani, Struani and Gomez all scored over 15 goals in their respective leagues. All were in brilliant form and it gave them plenty of options. Suarez however has not looked himself in the slightest. He looks just so much more reserved and is lacking that usual bite (no pun intended) and aggression he usually gives in the penalty area. Cavani I think has been very good. It seems every time one of Suarez or Cavani received the ball to begin a counter attack, there was no other runner beside them, resulting in a situation they failed to benefit in. The first game of the round of 16, Uruguay vs Portugal, could not be as exciting as we hope it is, and speaking of Portugal…

Portugal

Most of Portugal’s issues I can sympathize with. They have an extremely old centre half partnership, with Pepe and Fonte both over 32. It means they have to play much more cautiously, with their centre halves playing very narrow. They have to protect them so it means less focus is on attacking. It gives a huge over reliance on Ronaldo to score while also hold up the ball, and create. They also have been unfortunate with injuries. They lost Danilo Pereira, who was excellent for Porto last season. But that is where my sympathy ends. I still believe this team isn’t hitting its heights. For some strange reason, Fernando Santos chose to take Joah Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and Cedric Soares, over players who were in much better form in Ruben Neves, Ronny Lopes and Nelson Semedo. It’s a similar issue that is seen with Joachim Low, who chose players who he liked over players who deserved a spot. Even in team selection questions should be asked. Why was Guedes playing as a striker alongside Ronaldo, instead of on the left hand side, where he has been excelling. He chose to play Jao Mario instead, and while he’s a fine enough player, he should be playing in midfield alongside Carvalho. It’s a position where I think he is much better in. Even though Andre Silva was poor for Milan, he still scored 9 in qualifying, which was the fifth most in Europe. He didn’t start until the last group game. Portugal themselves have been a bit of a chore to sit through. Their protection of the centre halves means it makes them difficult to sit through. They are lucky to have a very good Ronaldo, who has dragged them to this point. While you can question if they would be more balanced without him, like Sweden are now, he has still definitely delivered. Portugal could definitely go a long way because of their style, but I just wanted more from. So many of their attacking players were in such good form, especially Bruno Fernandes (who has been out of position) and it seems we will look back on this side and think, how were they not better.

Top 5 Best Performers Of The World Cup (As of Game Week 2)

After 2 games, let’s see which players have performed for their respective countries, and shown their ability to the world.

5. Romelu Lukaku

When it comes to strikers, the choices were between Kane or Lukaku, and because all of Kane’s goals have required near zero skill, I’m giving it to Lukaku. The Belgian forward has been superb in the opening 2 games, scoring 2 braces. He is now averaging 17 goals in his last 10 for Belgian, which is an absolutely incredible record. He has worked so well in that front three, with Mertens and Hazard beside him. Mertens has given so much of the ball work, and Hazard has given his usual trickery. Lukaku has been getting in those positions and adding that perfect finish. While I like to criticise Martinez for so many things, one of them isn’t his use of Lukaku. My issue with Lukaku at United is how he is used as a target man. While he can be used that way, he is much more effective when running in behind, using his size and pace as his biggest advantages. Lukaku seems to be the favourite for the Golden Boot, and it’s justified. I don’t like to count penalty goals when discussing top goalscorers, because it doesn’t show the skill of that certain striker. Lukaku’s goals have all been from open play, and all have shown his ability in the air and in front of goal. What a brilliant performance so far from the big Belgian.

4. Carlos Vela

Mexico are usually a team to be threatened by. They have always possessed quality players all over the park, and this World Cup might be the last for many of their mainstayers. The likes of Hernandez, Ochoa, Guadrado and Herrera have all been great servants to the National Team. One of those said servants I would like to highlight would be LAFC’s Carlos Vela. The former Arsenal Winger has been absolutely key for his side in this world cup. Since moving to the MLS, Vela has actually been incredible. His has been the fulcrum of his side, being the main creator and goalscorer for a brand new club. He has carried his superb form over to his national side, where he has been key in Mexico’s games against Germany and South Korea. Looking at his stats, it is clear to see how superb he has been. He has been averaging a ridiculous 3 key passes per 90 and 3 dribbles completed per 90. He is also shooting 1.5 times on target per game. He was especially key in the first game against Germany, where he had the freedom of the pitch, with Kimmich going forward as much as he would. It meant Vela could tear the rest of that defense apart. He has by far been Mexico’s best player, and got what he deserved with a goal against South Korea. Well done Carlos!

3. Isco

I wholeheartedly believe that Isco is the fourth most talented player on the planet (the three ahead should be obvious). Only Messi is able to dribble out of tighter spaces than him, and his importance in that Real Madrid side cannot be emphasised more. He took a world record signing Gareth Bale out of the team and made Zidane rearrange his entire set up to accommodate the Spaniard. His importance for Spain also cannot be more emphasised. While there are plenty of talented players in that team, with Koke, Busquets, Ramos, Costa and Silva all showing in the past their world class ability, Isco is easily the best out of a great bunch. Already in this world cup he completed 140 touches in a match, which is the second highest. It shows his importance to the side because of how often they want him on the ball. While his key passes aren’t as high as they usually are, dropped to a 0.5 from a 1.7. the most interesting stat to take would be his passing in general. It has risen from 50 passes per game to 99. It shows how he keeps things ticking in this Spain side and helps them dominate games so effectively. Isco has been absolutely superb in helping Spain dominate their way through games, and let’s hope he continues it.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal have been pretty bad so far in this tournament. Their midfield contains a 30 year old Moutinho and William Carvalho, a player not known for his ability. Someone along the lines of Ruben Neves or if Danilo was available would have been much better. Even in attack they haven’t been too great. Guedes is a player I really like, but so far hasn’t shown that same ability he did at Valencia. However there is always one player Portugal can always rely on to drag them out of any situation, and that is Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has always struggled in World Cups. The Balon d’Or winner only managed a measly 3 goals in 3 different world cups for his country. However after his success with the national team and with his club, he seems more motivated than ever to finally do it on the big stage. He doubled his overall tally in the first game, scoring a hat trick against their neighbours Spain, including a fabulous free kick where Ronaldo finally learned how to take free kicks again. He then got the goal that helped seal the win against a much better Morocco side on the day. What is most impressive is his shot numbers. Ronaldo seems to be taking less shots but taking them in much better places. His shot numbers have dropped from 6.3 to a 5. While that is still incredibly high, it is showing how he knows that taking the right chance in a much inferior team is the right thing to do. Ronaldo will always be that player who keeps impressing me in some way, and he has done it again.

1. Luka Modric

My love for Luka Modric is so hard to put in to words. If someone asks me what a perfect midfielder is, I simply ask them to watch Modric. He can simply do everything a midfielder can do. He can tackle, read the game, dribble, create, dominate, shoot, he is simply well rounded in every department. Croatia themselves have a pretty great team. They have the best midfield in tournament, with Modric playing alongside Rakitic, Brozovic and Kovacic. They have a midfield full of players who can do different things, and it gives them plenty of options. Modric scored the penalty that won Croatia their first game of the tournament, and then put in a man of the match performance to beat a very poor Argentina team. He dominated that midfield with so much ease and continued to show his class. Throughout this tournament he has done so much defensive work, putting in 4.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, a vast improvement from his 2.7 for club. But it goes to show why Modric is just so good. He never had to do that defensive work because Casemiro would do that for him at Real Madrid, but at 32 he still shows that he can do anything without hesitation. His creative numbers have dropped as a result of his defensive work, with his key passes dropping from 1.5 to 1 (this could also be due to a small pool of evidence). His goal against Argentina just showed his pure elegance. He just bends it on the outside to fool Caballero and win the game for Croatia. He is such a huge part to this side and if Croatia do anything significant, it will be because of their midfield maestro.

Honourable Mentions: Aleksandr Golovin, John Stones, Jose Gimenez, James Rodriguez.

5 Talking Points from England Vs Tunisia

I’ve said before that I genuinely believe this England team is a very good team, and while I am not an England fan myself, it was good to see all these talented players get some real credit. Let’s go through 5 talking points from last night’s game.

A rocket of a start

England began the game brilliantly. They pressed high up the pitch and and quickly moved the ball up the pitch. It was the way they were bound to play. With players like Lingard, Alli, and Sterling, you are given players who are great at finding space and at moving zones. The first 10 minutes were great signs. Lingard has a couple of chances which he probably should have stuck away, but it was different to what I have ever seen an England team do, have a plan. My issue with England over the past 16 years is they seem to not have any sort of tactic on how to approach the game. They seem to just rely on star players like Beckham and Gerrard, hence why they seem to jam them all in a team even though it didn’t work. This England team however has so much balance. The midfield highlights that pretty well. You have two solid defensive midfielders in Henderson and Dier, two good ball carriers in Lingard and Loftus-Cheek, an energetic midfielder in Delph and a good creator in Dele Alli. This midfield worked so well and it is mainly because of a certain Geordie.

Henderson – MOTM?

While Kane will get all of the headlines, and rightly so, Henderson does definitely deserve a lot of credit. Henderson is a player I have never loved, but I do understand why managers seem to like him. In this game he showed why. His passing was very impressive. Whether it was a simple ball to Alli or Lingard, or a long ball straight to the full back, he constantly kept things ticking. It was great to see him do so well. I’ve also mentioned how I don’t understand why Shelvey was even considered an option. Henderson had a much better pass accuracy and completed the most passes in the premier league last season. He has the quality and gives England a real shield for the defense. While I like Dier’s tenacity, Henderson definitely has been the right pick.

Solid Defense?

On paper, a 3 man back line of Maguire, Walker and Stones would be okay, and it was. The biggest positive with all three of these players is their ability on the ball. All definitely have confidence when in possession, and are able to carry the ball out effectively. This could be seen multiple times, with Walker slipping in a very good ball to Trippier in the first half, and John Stones always keeping that back four very calm. However there were moments that did show their inexperience. Kyle Walker had a moment of madness and elbowed the Tunisian forward, and Maguire misplaced a simple that could have lead to a goal. This back four contains a defender that has a never played at the top level, another who is still very young, and another who usually plays fullback. It will have its sketchy moments, but overall very positive.

Harry Kane

The new captain began his first world cup with a bang, and scored 2 goals that won his team the game. Before this tournament, Kane has been very decent for England. He managed to get only 5 goals in qualifying. This was a very low number when comparing to other top strikers, with Lewandowski banging 16, and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 15. Like England, he wasn’t too impressive. But tournaments can bring the best out of a player, and so far it has. While Kane’s involvement in the game was pretty limited, with most of ball going to the two central midfielders or the full back, he still managed to get in that right place at that right time to back both goals. We always want the modern striker to get involved in the game and keep the ball to assist teammates, but sometimes a pure goal scorer is what they need. If he keeps it up, he could be remembered just as fondly as Lineker or Shearer.

Positive changes

I was very impressed with Southgate’s changes in the game. He took of Sterling, who didn’t have the best of games, and brought on Rashford. The United winger had a great impact on the game and gave England so much energy and was willing to take on players with his speed and strength. The next change was Loftus-Cheek for Dele Alli, who got a slight injury in the game. He gave quite the direct replacement, offering an incredible dribbling ability, and because of his size, was so hard to get off the ball. Dier for Lingard was right at the end, but that was just to waste time. Overall I thought Southgate is making the right decisions regarding making changes to the game.

4 Players Who Will Hope To Have a Good World Cup

The World Cup is full of stories. Whether it is a team defining the odds, a player performing at a level never seen before in his career, or in this case, proving his doubters wrong. There are players going to this world cup who are currently being questioned by their fans and experts alike. Let’s look at some of these players.

Andre Silva

Andre Silva has had one crazy year. While his time in Milan has not been as well as he had hoped. However his form for Portugal has been brilliant. He scored 9 goals in qualifying, which is the 5th most in Europe, behind his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. Silva for Portugal has shown to be a real number 9, and ensures that the country has a ready made forward for when Ronaldo eventually finishes his career with the national team. So why does he hope to have a good world cup? He only scored 2 league goals for Milan, and he needs to show the world that he is in fact a great number 9. He was brilliant for Porto, and needs to rediscover that form. While his Serie A form was poor, his Europa League form was actually very good. He scored 6 in 8 games for the Red and Black. He took 2.1 shots per game in the Europa League, and 1.5 in Serie A. The most important thing to take from this is where he was shooting. He was taking 1.6 shots in the 6 yard box when playing the Europa League, and 1 in Italy. It’s clear that he suits playing against European opposition, instead of Italian opposition. It could also help explain why he has been so good in qualifying. If he continues his form into the World Cup, he may remind everyone why £30m was spent on him. It is clear, with the links to Wolves, that Silva does want out of Milan. They are currently in a huge mess and still recovering. If Silva performs, he will be going to another club, and not a newly promoted one.

Olivier Giroud

France’s squad is full of talented players, but the one most consider one of the least talented would be Olivier Giroud, yet he has recently equalled Zinedine Zidane’s scoring record. Didier Deschamps is probably the weakest component of the squad, and his reliance on Giroud could be another weakness. France have so much more talent. His trust in Giroud means Mbappe, Ben Yedder, Griezmann and Lacazette all do not get a chance to start as the number 9. It would make France flow much better in attack, and make them more of an attacking threat. This isn’t to discredit Giroud however. I think he has a very useful set of skills for a team, but to be starting for this team might be a bit too generous. He will hope to have a good world cup because of this trust in him. He has to excel to remind doubters, such as myself, that he is indeed the best option.

Jonas Hector

As mentioned when discussing Leroy Sane not being picked for the World Cup, I mentioned Joachim Low’s trust in certain players. Jonas Hector is the definition of this trust. He has been playing in a poor Koln team, which finished bottom of the Bundesliga. While he definitely wasn’t the worst player in the team, he still didn’t perform to the same levels as last season. One reason for this would be how often he has been moved around. Out of the 20 games he played, 8 of those were at left back. He will be starting for the defending champions in a position he has not even been playing half of his games for. Joachim Low has chosen to take Hector and Plattenhardt, and while I like both, Philipp Max should definitely be on the plane. He has been such a brilliant attacking threat and was in the top 10 in Europe for chances created. I am aware of Low’s loyalty, but taking a player who would add a great attacking threat. Hector needs to have a good world cup to prove that he was right to be selected, and he was right to be chosen over players who are a much better attacking threat.

Raheem Sterling

While the other players are usually favourites for their respective managers, Sterling is here for a more social reason. A certain mainstream newspaper wrote a hitpiece accusing Raheem Sterling of having an inappropriate gun tattoo. This began a huge wave of hate towards the winger, with personalities like Piers Morgan believing he should be dropped from the squad. I’m absolutely tired of this. This country has a problem and it doesn’t get addressed enough. Our media is so focused on getting clicks and getting attention, that it doesn’t even make the time of day to give players the support they need before a major tournament. Sterling has been a target for this certain paper for years now, with articles criticing him for shopping at discount stores, taking regular plane travel and driving a fancy car. He has done nothing wrong to deserve this. Many have said that all this hate is from the colour of his skin, but I would to believe that. I am not an England fan, but for this world cup I am an England fan for Raheem Sterling. I hope he smashes it in Russia and proves to that certain paper that criticism towards him is beyond ridiculous. I would love to hear an apology to all of his doubters.

Football Opinions I Disagree With

With so many different platforms to express opinions, it gives people the opportunity to give their opinions on certain topics, and with football, it’s ever present. With so many opinions, it also offers many responses, and here are mine to some topical issues in the world of football, ranging from pundits to popular fan opinions, let’s go through some popular opinions.

Defenders aren’t as good as they used to be

One that many of the old school pundits love to throw around. They come to these opinions because of lack of top defenders on the market. That isn’t because of the lack of defenders, as many want you to believe, it is because of the qualities defenders need to have now, compared to 20 years ago. In the Premier League for example, many will say players such as Keown, Adams, Bould and Pallister were some of the best the Premier League, while the likes of Otamendi, Stones, Lovren and Christiansen earn plenty of criticism. We look back at those players in positivity because they were good defenders, but the game has evolved. All defenders during that time had to do was be solid in the air, and have some ability in reading the game. Expectations of defenders have changed massively. Not only do they need those qualities, be need to be comfortable on the ball, able to have a quick turn of pace, able to play as either a sweeper or a destroyer, and man mark certain players. They have such responsibility now that it is no wonder that old defenders get so much more praise. There are a few modern defenders who will go down as some of the best in their position. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Vincent Kompany, Matts Hummels and Leonardo Bonucci could all easily fit into any greatest eleven.

What pundits also fail to mention is the improvement in attack. The likes of Keown, Neville and Adams like to bring up how they played against some of the best players around in Ronaldo, Crespo, Kaka and Zidane. But while they bring up players, they fail to bring up systems. Ever since Pep Guariola changed how a team should attack, it has made defending against these teams so much harder. They seem to care more on criticism, rather than complimenting the attack.

Jonjo Shelvey is a great passer of the ball

One opinion that has suddenly came out, and of course a bit incorrect. Every ex England player under the sun said not taking Shelvey was a mistake, because he’s the best passer of the ball England have. While not going into the obvious things like not knowing Southgate’s system, his teammates or his role, let’s look into why he should go. The Newcastle midfielder is always called the best passer England have. It’s simple to explain why. Shelvey averages a below average 72% pass accuracy. If we compare that to the player pundits like Shearer and Murphy want him to replace, Jordan Henderson. The captain has a solid 81% accuracy, much higher than Shelvey. Defenders of Shelvey would say it is because of Shelvey’s more dynamic passing. This is also incorrect. Both Shelvey and Henderson average just over 5 long balls per 90, showing they have a similar range of passing. The only area where Shelvey betters his ex Liverpool teammate would be key passes, where he has 1.4, compared to Henderson’s 0.8. But that can be explained by their roles in their teams. Shelvey has Moh Diame next to him, who has been doing much of his defensive work for him, while Henderson has a more reserved role. Shelvey is a typical match of the day player, and the fact that people thought he should start seriously makes me question these “experts.”

Leroy Sane should be going to the World Cup

While on the surface, not choosing the PFA young player of the year is a strange decision. But this is Joachim Low we are talking about. This is a manager who in my opinion, gets way too much praise. His loyalty to certain players and his overall mindboggling decisions make me question why Germany can’t do better than Joachim Low. Even looking at their world cup winning campaign, he chose to play Lahm in midfield, leaving a huge weakness on the right side. He refused to take Marcel Schmelzer when he was in top form (we’re seeing this again with his refusal to take Philipp Max. He even tried to play Mario Gotze as a false nine, which doesn’t work. But regarding Leroy Sane, I think he is actually right. Low’s decision to take Brandt, Draxler and Reus over the City winger do make sense. Even with his injuries, Reus is a proven world class footballer. Julian Brandt has been with the setup since the beginning, and has performed for Germany. Julian Draxler is another play Low seems to favourite, with the manager choosing Draxler as the captain for Germany in their confederations cup. Sane has played 12 games for Germany, and has failed to score. The manager, and the senior players have even mentioned that some of the younger players seem to be missing what it means to play for Germany. Sane decided to have surgery during an important qualifying game. Not a single manager likes it when a player refuses to play, so in this circumstance, Low is right, and Sane needs to change his attitude regarding the national team setup if he wants to be remembered fondly by his fellow countrymen.

Salah deserved the PFA Player of the Year

While this could be surprising, I do think Salah didn’t deserve to win the player of the year. It’s a combination of two things. The first being he plays in a Liverpool team where any good forward has the chance to excel in a system where they are the focus. That isn’t to take away from his achievement. I thought he was excellent last season and helped drag Liverpool in some key games (the home games against Spurs and Roma stick out). The second being my pure fondness for Kevin De Bruyne. This isn’t a case where I think there is anything wrong with Salah winning. I am indeed fine with that. But De Bruyne helped carry City to a title, and proved to have one of the best individual seasons for a midfielder I’ve ever seen. His contribution to that title winning season was world class to say the least. He contributed with 8 goals and assisted 16, which almost beat his record for last season, 18. The Belgian is at a point where he is competing with himself. While Salah played in the best front three in Europe, De Bruyne played in the best midfield in Europe. By April, he created the most chances in Europe, with 102. He has also registered the most assists in Europe since arriving in England. Not only has he been brilliant in a creative sense, averaging 3.2 key passes per game, 1 more than David Silva, he also has been solid defensively. He’s averaged 2.4 tackles and interceptions per 90, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering he also creates the most in Europe, it is still impressive. This is definitely an opinion not many will agree with, but my appreciation for midfielders will always favour them over attackers.

Wilfred Zaha is ready for a bigger club

Another opinion I am pretty against, Wilfred Zaha should definitely not be moving this summer. His dribble numbers might be outrageous, but his finish of 9 goals and 3 assists just aren’t enough to warrant a move to a big club. If you compare him to Mahrez, it is clear who is ready for the step up. Mahrez ended the season with double figures in goals and assists, in a Leicester team that was on and off throughout. Zaha played for a Palace side that had plenty of attacking quality. For a player who can be good to watch, he just isn’t ready for that next step up.

4 Best Individual Performances in The World Cup (2002-2014)

After talking plenty on what to expect in the 2018 world cup, let’s go back in time and look at 4 of the best individual performances we’ve seen in the modern era of world cups. This competition gives a platform for players to show the world what they can offer. It has given players, managers, and fans some memorable moments. Let’s look at the players who have given them these memories.

Diego Forlan

Diego Forlan is a perfect example on how some players just don’t work in some leagues. While United fans remember him in a fond way, with his famous brace at anfield, the rest of the premier league thought his time in England was a forgettable one. But that was until his move to Villarreal, which transformed the forward. He was absolutely brilliant in the 2004-05 season, where he won the award for most goals scored in La Liga, scoring an incredible 25 in 38, which also was the joint highest in Europe, sharing it with Thierry Henry. In fact he was the last player to win the Pichichi award before Messi and Ronaldo won it for 10 years straight, up until Forlan’s international team mate Luis Suarez broke ended their reign of goals in 2015-16. Forlan however did drop off in his next two season, but he wasn’t to blame for that. The Yellow Submarine did have many changes in the following season, including players and managers. He did score 19 in his last season, before his move to Atletico Madrid. He led the line brilliantly for Atleti. Scoring 23 in his debut season, and creating a deadly partnership with a young Sergio Aguero. In his following season, he won the Pachichi award again with a ridiculous 32 in 33 games. In the season leading up the World Cup in South Africa, he scored 28 in all competitions as Atletico Madrid won the Europa League. Forlan went into the world cup in great form, and among one of the deadliest forwards to watch, with David Villa, Wayne Rooney, Drogba and Robben, all in great form leading up to the World Cup. Forlan was easily the best forward at the competition. He scored a solid 5 goals in 7 games, with his incredible volley against Germany winning him the goal of the tournament. He partnered a young Luis Suarez and showed him a real striker’s performance. He captained the side in every sense of the word. He would drop deeper to to retrieve the ball, he would take the short free kicks, which lead to another brilliant goals against Ghana, and was still able to show his great ability in the box. His moments of magic even helped him equal a record for most goals scored outside the box, with three. Forlan carried that Uruguay side, winning the game with 2 goals against the host nation, scoring against Ghana to take the game to penalties, and almost won the final game against Germany. He won the golden ball for the tournament, and will go down as one of the most spectacular performances in World Cup history.

Fabio Cannavaro

Italy went into this tournament in a very peculiar way, right after the Calciopoli Scandal. Many teams in playing in Serie A, including Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio, were all accused of match fixing, painting a very negative image of Italian football. They were the villains of football and the expectations for the Gli Azzurri were very low. The whole country’s morale was at an all time low, but all that changed. Italy showed the world that they are still an excellent team, despite all of the negativity surrounding them. They went into Germany full of league winning players. The best goalkeeper of all time in Gigi Buffon, a brilliant midfield in Gattuso and Pirlo, and brilliant forwards in Del Piero and Francesco Totti. While all of these components were brilliant, it was the defence that stole the show. Italy have always been known for their solid defenders. The likes of Nesta, Baresi, and Maldini all will be remembered as some of the best in their positions. But the one I will be highlighting is a certain Fabio Canavarro. Canavarro was an ever stay in Serie A. He begin at Napoli as a youth player, before moving on to Parma in 1995 and making over 200 appearances, forming a brilliant defensive partnership with Buffon and Lillian Thuram, before a big move for €23m to Inter Milan in 2002. His time at Inter however was not as successful. His first season was relatively successful, finishing runners up to Juventus and getting to the semi finals of the champions league. However his second season was not as successful. Cannavaro struggled with injuries, and when fit was playing out of position. All this factored into the Italian looking back at his time at Inter as a failure. After 2 season he then went on to Juventus, which brought life back into Cannavaro. He won defender of the year in both of his seasons in Turin, and in his second season won player of the season. Cannavaro went into this tournament in his peak, and showed the rest of the world why he was the best defender in Italy. Italy through out the tournament only conceded 2 goals, one against Mexico, and the other against France in the final. In fact his performances against France and Germany were some of the best performances from a defense in history. He commanded his back line with such authority, and went into every single tackle as if the game depended on it. His leadership and ability to lead from the back gave Italy the confidence and motivation to get to the final and win the whole thing. The confidence and form of the captain showed with him overcoming his weakness, his height. Cannavaro is actually quite small for a centre half. Standing at just 5’9, he is at a real disadvantage compared to other defenders, but when watching him play in those last two games, you would have never known. He was still winning the ball from two touch opponents in Klose and Henry. He was able to still keep those two out. He ended that year with not only a World Cup, but also the Balon d’Or. He was by far the best performer of the tournament and one of the best defenders of the 2000s.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo will always go down as one of the best footballers of all time, while also going down as a player who didn’t quite hit his peak. If he didn’t suffer those severe injuries at Inter Milan, he would have easily went down as the best footballer of all time. It’s very fascinating to look back at his career. He actually was in the world cup winning squad of 94, but because of his age, didn’t get a look in. He then arrived in Holland to play for PSV, which began his goalscoring greatness. He scored a whopping 42 goals in 46 games. After 2 seasons, he then left for Barcelona in 1996, where his career really kicked off. He was only 20 when he arrived, and in his only season there he scored 34 in 37 games. He then left for another challenge, Inter Milan. He arrived for a world record fee of $27m. His time at Inter was a clear success, scoring 49 in 68. This was the start of a clear issue for R9, being his injuries. In his youth he was a fast, explosive and powerful player, who could tear apart any single defence in the world. At Barca and his early years at Inter, he was a complete forward. He was able to hold the ball up, able to drift out wide to stretch a defence, or even stay on the last man. But those two knee injuries will go down as some of the most shocking moments in football. A player with that much talent, and with limitless potential, was given a barrier that he couldn’t break. That isn’t to doubt him as a player, in fact he was still a world class player, but not at the same level as he was. Ronaldo ended the tournament with 8 goals, with 2 in the final. The best way to compare both young Ronaldo and older Ronaldo, is his performances in the 98 world cup and the 2002 world cup. In the former, he was at his best. He was using all of his best assets, being his pace, power and explosiveness. While at the 2002 world cup, he had to play more reserved and use his brilliant movement and time his movement perfectly. One plus for Ronaldo was having Rivaldo next to him, it meant Ronaldo didn’t have to focus on connecting midfield to attack, he could just stay central and wait for talented players like Ronaldinho and Carlos to gift him the perfect ball, which worked. The connection between R9 and Ronaldinho was amazing in the final. On so many occasions, Ronaldinho would see the perfect run made by Ronaldo and gift him a great ball. That first goal summed up classic Brazil, with Ronaldo giving one brilliant finish. The ground Ronaldo made for that second goal, to get on the end of Kahn’s mistake, was perfect once again. Ronaldo transformed his game so effectively in that world cup, and proved while he might not be as explosive, he was still just as talented in front of goal as ever.

James Rodriguez

And finally the one player who is still currently playing at the top level. James Rodriguez is one of the only players to have his career completely transform after the world cup. Before the cup started, football experts new the ex Porto midfielder very well, after his big money move to Monaco. But both of those clubs do not play on the big stage, meaning many of the mainstream football audience did not have a vast knowledge on the Columbian. The difference between Rodriguez and the rest of the players on this list, is the timing of their world cups. Forlan, Ronaldo and Canavarro were all in their prime and had shown the world before how good they were. Rodriguez on the other hand was only 22. He still had his whole career ahead of him. Rodriguez won the golden boot that tournament, with 6 goals. While it doesn’t sound incredible, Columbia only reached the quarter finals, which means it’s even more impressive how good he was. Rodriguez won best player after the group stages were over. With his incredible 8 goal contributions in 2 starts, James proved that Brazil was going to be his tournament. He then scored one of the greatest goals of all time against Uruguay, with a volley so perfect, it could never be replicated. Even after all the brilliant performances he put in, he was still not able to take Columbia past a very average Brazil side. His huge influence at that tournament was exactly what Real Madrid needed. They needed a big Galactico to help remind everyone that Madrid are still the top dogs. While he stint in Madrid might not have worked out, he still averaged a goal every 3 games. He is now currently playing at Bayern Munich, where he has added an extra bit of class to a position they didn’t have many reinforcements. Let’s hope James can replicate that same form in the world cup in Russia.