2018 World Cup Round of 16 Preview: Spain Vs Russia, Croatia Vs Denmark

Another day, another round of 16 preview. Let’s take a look at the 2 games on Sunday, where we’ll see the hosts take on the 2010 winners, and a great Croatia team take on an underwhelming Denmark side.

Spain Vs Russia

This could well an truly be the most interesting tie of the day. Both teams have looked very good at points, while also showing some significant weaknesses. Let’s start with Spain, who go into this game as the winners of Group B, winning 1 and drawing 2. Talking about this Spain side without mentioning the early sacking Lopategui is difficult. While you can criticise the decision or agree with it, it has added an unnecessary pressure to this side. They were already tournament favourites for me, but losing the man who cruised them through qualifying and didn’t lose a single game, it will always be a what if. If the new Real Madrid manager was still in charge, would we have seen a much better side than we are seeing? We’ll never know. I think Spain haven’t looked at their best in this tournament. They seem to struggle to break down sides who play a low block, and they seem unable to get the best out of their forward, Diego Costa. Costa is a very specific forward. He is great at bringing in others into play, while also being incredible in the air. The issue is he doesn’t exactly fit into the way Spain want to play. Spain like to play a very patient possession style of football. It’s about overloading the midfield and the more technical players like Isco, Iniesta and Silva. They are all players who are able to find those pockets of space and use pick passes to put defenders in difficult places and exploit them. Costa works better in a counter attacking system. While he isn’t very fast, it’s his aggression and size that are his biggest benefit. You could argue they did overplay it against Morocco. I disagree. It seems to be the best way to break these low block teans down. While Spain haven’t shown their best, they still have been very good.

Russia have easily been the surprise package of this tournament. Even with their very old defense and injury list, they have definitely benefited from being the home team. You could argue that is their biggest strength. They seem to play with this fearlessness, as if every play just want to make their country proud. Their best players have easily been Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev. Both have been the best players Russia have produced over the years in talent. While Cheryshev’s club career did drop off a cliff after his time at Real Madrid, he has definitely performed in this world cup, scoring 3 goals. However while his club career has dropped, Golovin’s is only on the increase. The CSKA Moscow midfielder was sensational throughout the group stages. He did have a very good season for his club, but the issue is it’s hard to judge quality in Russia. However he has proved us all wrong. He has been the centre piece for that team. He has added that extra bit of quality and his ability on the ball has been excellent. He’s been averaging 2.5 key passes per 90, which has earned him 2 assists. His number of passes has dropped from Moscow, but his key passes have doubled. It shows how he is playing in a much higher position, and it definitely has benefited his team. After the 3-0 defeat to Uruguay, there are question marks on whether they can beat the former champions, but being a home nation always gives you that advantage.

For Spain to beat Russia, they need to make those centre halves as uncomfortable as possible. Their age and lack of mobility is their biggest weakness, and having such magnificent technical players could be key in getting right past them. They also have to get Costa on the ball much more. He will definitely help bring others into play and open space for his teammates. For Russia to shock us all, they need to show courage and play in the same mold they have all tournament. Make sure Golovin continues to be key and get him in those dangerous areas. Even if it would work, I still think Spain will get through his tie.

Spain 3-1 Russia

Croatia Vs Denmark

Both teams in this tie have reached my expectations. I expected Croatia to blow their group away, for simply having a great midfield and a solid defense. Denmark escaped their group, however it is clear that their over reliance on Eriksen is a huge issue. Croatia were very good in their group. They were only one of three teams to earn maximum points. They have a very good squad of players, with their midfield being easily their best area on the pitch. Next to Spain, I think Croatia have the best midfield in the tournament. They have a good balance in dictators and ball recovery specialists. Modric and Rakitic are brilliant dribblers and creators, however they struggle to play in a pair. This is wear Brozovic comes in, he has been the hard working player who has given his teammates a solid base, and give Modric and Rakitic less pressure. They dominated against Argentina because they completely outclassed them in that area. It has been excellent to see and why they have seen to be one of the favourites of the tournament.

Denmark actually have some very talented players. They possess some real talent in Pione Sisto, Youssaf Poulsen and Andreas Christiansen. However their best hope of getting anything out of this tournament is Christian Eriksen. He has been excellent for both club and country in the last year. He has contributed to all 2 of Denmark’s goals in the tournament, scoring one and assisting another. They have played some very good football in the tournament, and have used their forwards very effectively. Poulsen seems to play more as a second striker, while Sisto plays more as a traditional winger. It gives them a very good balance, and with Jorgenson very effective in connecting play, it has given them a good approach. I haven’t been paying too much attention to the Danish, so I will be interested in how they approach this game.

For Croatia to secure their place in the quarter final, they will need to take advantage of their midfield numbers. There will definitely be space between the midfield and the defense, with Denmark playing a very attacking 4-3-3. The likes of Perisic and Rakitic will need to get into those half spaces and help move the ball further up the pitch. Denmark have also given away 2 penalties, which means getting these players in bad areas could result in favourable decisions. For Denmark to beat the 98 semi finalists, they will need to take advantage of their more pacey players. Vida and Lovren are not exactly the greatest defenders, so using the pace of Sisto and Poulsen, could put these players in very comfortable positions. Eriksen will also be key for Denmark. Getting him on the ball as much as possible will be beneficial. I can still see Croatia getting through this one very easily.

Croatia 3-1 Denmark.

5 Players Who Could Become Superstars at the 2018 World Cup

James Rodriguez, David Villa, Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder. All players who’s careers were highlighted at the biggest competition in the world. And with the next world cup just around the corner, let’s look at 5 players who become superstars in Russia.

Wilfred Ndidi

When N’golo Kante left Leicester, it left them a hole which was difficult to fill. Leicester played their title winning season in a 2 man midfield. In the modern game, a 2 man midfield can give a lot of weaknesses, and advantages. If you have the right midfielders, it works, and in Leicester’s case, it did. Kante’s best qualities are breaking up play and giving it to a more capable attacking player. He gives such a good shield to the defence and makes the entire team more confident. In the first 6 months following the title win, they struggled defensively and in the middle of the park. They didn’t have any consistency, with Drinkwater, King, Amartey and Mendy all being rotated. In the following January, they signed a young Nigerian from Gent, and instantly became a regular. He added that solid workrate and grit in the centre of the park. His defensive work is absolutely outstanding, averaging 5.7 tackles and interceptions per 90. Those are some of the highest Europe. He also averages 3.5 aerial duels per game, showing his physicality in his defensive duties. He is also playing in a very promising Nigeria side, containing promising talent like Onyekuru, Iheanacho and Iwobi, as well already established players such as Moses and Mikel. It could be his chance to blossom. And with clubs like Lazio, Arsenal, and Spurs maybe needing a solid defensive midfielder, it could be his chance to shine.

Andrea Zivkovic

Serbia are going into the world cup with a relatively good team. They have a solid base in Matic and Fejsa and experienced full backs in Ivanovic and Kolorov. They also have some good players going forward, in Tadic and Mitrovic, who have both been much better in the second half of the season. While Milinkovic-Savic would make the most sense, with his breakout season putting him all over the front pages, with links to Manchester United. But I’m going for Andrea Zivkovic. The Benfica midfielder has been a huge part in their late season revival, playing as an advanced number 8 in the left side of a midfield three. With Pizzi and his fellow countryman Fejsa beside him, it gives him a chance to show his best qualities, being his dribbling and passing ability. He averages 2.5 dribbles per game, with a 68% success rate. He also averages 1.8 key passes per game, showing his involvement in the final third. All of the numbers mentioned shows all of the positive influences he has on this Benfica team, and for only 21, he has a bright future ahead of him. The main reason why I’m highlighting him as a potential superstar at the next world cup because of his efficiency in the final third. With Benfica known for being a selling club, it could be a real chance for a club to pick up a player with some real quality.

Pione Sisto

Christian Eriksen is the big player on the Denmark side, but one person who is also a big talent in that side is Pione Sisto. The Celta Viga winger has been very impressive during the 2017/18 season. He ending the season by scoring 5 and assisting 9 in an exciting Celta team. With other very good players beside him in Maxi Gomez and Iago Aspas, it shows his talent when he can perform at their level. Sisto has been a brilliant attacking threat, he averages 3.9 dribbles per game, with a 56% success rate. It’s his biggest strength by far, while his success rate could be higher, he’s still completing half of his dribbles which is still impressive. Another strength of the Danish international is his key passes. His nine assists have ranked him 5th out of all La Liga, equalling fellow teammate Daniel Wass and one behind Karim Benzema. It shows how much he has evolved as a creator, bettering his very small 3 assists last season. He is showing by each season he is improving and becoming a better player. He averages a solid 1.2 key passes per game. It is much better than his 0.5 last season. He has become a valuable member to his team. His gives his national team a player who isn’t afraid to take on an opposing player, someone who is willing to stretch the play and give his team a cutting edge.

Lucas Torreira

Uruguay are now facing a bit of a crisis. Their best players, Suarez, Cavani and Godin, all are now on the wrong side of 30. This could be the last world cup with these world class players. All hope isn’t lost though. Oscar Tabarez has been selecting younger players. Instead of playing an experienced Max Pereira, he’s choosing a younger Varela. One huge positive for their national team is their midfield. It is the position where they have a real future. Vecino from Inter Milan still has another world cup in him, and Bentacour looked very good for Juventus in the champions league. But the player I am highlighting is Lucas Torreira. The Sampdoria midfielder has been a revelation this season. He has shown to be a real talented box to box midfielder. As mentioned previously with Ndidi, players who are able to do the defensive work and contribute in any sense going forward are in high demand at the moment, with Keita, Fred, Jorginho and Saul all in demand this summer. The difference between Torreira and Ndidi is simple. Ndidi is excellent at tackling, interceptions and aerial duels, but doesn’t contribute much going forward (which isn’t a problem for him). Torreira on the other hand is good at everything, but doesn’t excel in much. His biggest weakness being something he can’t fix. He has a small frame, meaning his aerial duels are very low. His very good season in Italy has really put him on the radar, with Napoli and Manchester United linked to the young Uruguayan. He averages 4.8 tackles and interceptions per game. It shows how brilliant he is in his defensive work. What makes him a great box to box midfielder is he can also contribute going forward. He averages a key pass per game. While it isn’t a big number. It is still impressive considering he also does a lot of defensive work. He also is very tidy on the ball, with a solid 87% pass accuracy. With the solid season he had, he bound to start in that midfield alongside Vecino, and really show the world why he should be at a bigger club.

Bruno Fernandes

Half of this list so far have been players who do all the dirty work, but that is not the main reason why we watch football. The players we remember from the world cup are the ones who give us those moments of magic, and this certain player can deliver on that. Bruno Fernandes is another player who has had one hell of a season. He’s contributed to a brilliant 16 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. Fernandes was signed from Sampdoria for a very small €9.7m. And instantly hit the ground running. He scored 6 in his first 7 for his new club. Most of those goals also came from outside the box, leading to some really brilliant goals. His long shots are a normal part of his game. Out of the 3 shots he takes per game, 1.9 of those are from outside the box. He is also the team’s set piece taker so it might explain why they mostly are outside the box. Not only is he a great goal threat, he also is a brilliant creator. He has been averaging an elite 2.3 key passes per 90, that’s just as much as David Silva. His passing overall is vast. He averages 1.6 crosses and 2.8 long balls per game. It shows how he is able to create from multiple positions. His dribbling ability is also very good. He averages 2.6 dribbles per game, with a 57% successes rate. Because of dribbling, he gets fouled 2.2 times per 90, which clearly isn’t a problem, with his skill from a set piece. His versatility is another big positive. Throughout the season he played 5 different positions. While he usually plays as an attacking midfielder, he can drop deeper if sporting bring on an extra forward for more of a threat. Portugal now possess a player who is able to play in that number 10 position and give them a real creator, something they have lacked in recent years. With Sporting currently in a sticky situation regarding their players on strike after the chairman publicly insulted them, it could be a chance for Fernandes to make a big move after a hopefully successful world cup campaign.