Why Madrid Deserved to Lose! Ajax vs Real Madrid – UEFA Champions League Review

I wanted to wait for both legs to finish, to gather thoughts and to reassure that I had the time to get these out. Since doing the previews, I thought it would make sense to discuss the games, starting with by far the most interesting game so far, a battle between underdogs Ajax and holders Real Madrid. We’ll go through each leg and finally discuss the situation of each team.

Let’s start with the first leg, played in the Dutch capital. This was a game many were looking forward for, because of how well Ajax represented themselves in the group stages, where they drew twice to Bayern Munich. Ajax showed this quality against Madrid. They put out a line up similar to their line up against the Bundesliga champions. They played Tadic as a false nine, with Ziyech and Neres adding support from the flanks. While they were the much better side, they struggled to deal with the players in the wide areas of the pitch. Bale, Vinicius, Benzema and Carvahal all cause Ajax a lot of problems. But it didn’t stop Ajax from playing their game. While their forward line deserves a lot of praise just for the amount of chances they were creating, with Neres, Tadic and Ziyech creating a combined 8 chances, Donny Van de Beek deserves a lot of credit. He has been playing as a very hard working number 10, putting in a lot of pressure on the opposition defence, and works to ensure that Madrid were unable to reach Kroos and Modric as easily. He put in 6 tackles and interceptions, with only Mazraoui putting in more defensive actions, and created 4 chances. His workrate and ability to add a bit of grit to a side full of talented players. While they did play well, they just couldn’t get in behind Madrid, and Ziyech was quite wasteful in some areas.

Madrid weren’t great. For a majority of the game, they were without the ball and were mainly focusing on attacking the wide areas. It’s understandable because this is Mazraoui’s breakout season, and while Tagliafico is a very good full back, does focus more on attacking. Mazraoui was excellent in this game, but there were occasions where Vinicius did get the better of him. Speaking of the Brazilian, he was great in this game. He is just so unpredictable, and adds this raw energy to Madrid. He is probably the first player to do so since Di Maria. I do think he is getting way too much praise, but there are signs he could be a player who has a future at Madrid, but doesn’t have the same maturity as a Sancho or an Mbappe. It was such a Madrid performance. They famously never play well in these knock out games, but use their elite players to drag them through these tougher games. Zidane understood this, and while Solari seems to have attempted this, with giving Ceballos and Llorente some chances in the XI. The difference is he doesn’t have the same attackers as Zidane had, making him force to use Benzema way too often. Even though Benzema was okay in this game, he just isn’t good enough to carry this attack, and has never shown the ability to be able to. Their best performer was by far Sergio Ramos. For the past 5 years, they main defensive strategy is to hope that Ramos drags them out of being an awful defensive side. He did this against Ajax, putting in 7 tackles and interceptions and 5 clearances. Ramos has such a presence on the pitch, that it makes him excel when being relied on like this. It left Madrid with an advantage going into the second leg, with the chances of Ajax progressing seemingly very low, so low in fact, that Ramos decided to get himself book delibaretely just because he trusted his side to progress with ease.

Oh how wrong Ramos was. Madrid were outclassed by every sense of the word in this game. Let’s begin with the now former champions, who were just awful in this leg. I mentioned how poor Madrid are without Ramos, and they just showed once again how disfunctional they are without their captain. It’s very reminiscent of their defeat to Juventus last season. If it wasn’t for Benatia losing his head near the end of the game, Ramos would have been at fault for Madrid exiting the competition. It amazes me how he even thinks this was a good idea. I’m not going to blame Solari for Madrid being awful defensively. They’ve been bad in that department since Mourinho left the club. Relying on Sergio Ramos magic is not a way to build a defensive structure. The problem they suffered from was a huge lack of midfield protection. It’s something that has became more apparent as the years are going by. Casemiro was hugely disappointing in this game. He has been one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe since his sudden emergence into the Real Madrid side back in 2015. This was by far one of the worst performances I’ve seen the Brazilian put in. When Kroos and Modric are putting in more defensive actions than him, there is a clear problem. Van De Beek and Tadic were also given so much freedom to move around in the final third, and Casemiro wasn’t being his usual aggressive self. Kroos and Modric weren’t exactly good either. Kroos’s mobility has always been non existent, and when he is making defensive errors, it’s not helping his case. No matter how good he is at transitioning the ball in the final third, it’s getting to a point where his defensive vunerability is starting to get a lot worse. While Modric is an excellent footballer, he is now 33. It’s been shown before with players like Steven Gerrard, Gary Neville and Mikel Arteta, that when you age, your basic football ability just kind of vanishes. Frenkie De Jong was sensational in this game, and was everything Modric wasn’t. Modric didn’t have his usual drive and that bit of everything he offers. It looked as if the batton was passed to the next generation of players.

To move on to Ajax, they put in one of the best performances in the Champions League I’ve ever seen. They approached Madrid without fear and weren’t willing to allow them to get into the game. With Ziyech. Van De Beek and De Jong all made it difficult for Madrid to even transition the ball. By far their best player on the day was Dusan Tadic. The Serbian is having the season of his life after leaving Southampton, and has arguably been the best player in the Champions League, and this performance showed it. The balls he put through for Neres and Ziyech were simply outstanding, and his goal was one of the goals of the season, for the build up and the finish. In this game, Tadic was at his best, creating 5 chances, having 2 shots on target and completing 3 dribbles, numbers of a player who doesn’t know how to slow down.

Madrid massively underestimated Ajax, and it’s hard to even understand why. They showed against Bayern Munich that they can go toe to toe with any side around, but this is Real Madrd we’re talking about. A side full of arrogance, that they have constantly lost games in the Champions League, but thanks to Ronaldo always firing them ahead, it jusified it. Now with him gone, they don’t have that cutting edge anymore, and will now hopefully learn from this mistake. Ajax meanwhile are flying. While their rivals PSV seem to have won their fingers on the Eredivise title, Ajax have done themselves proud in Europe, and it’s good to see the teachers of football give one more lesson.

 

Will Madrid Hold On to Their Title? Ajax vs Real Madrid – UEFA Champions League Preview

While I’ve already previewed 3 very exciting games, with 4 other games which haven’t even been mentioned yet, this game does catch my interest. A game including the current Champions League holders, against former champions Ajax, who are currently having a new lease of life.

Let’s start with Ajax, who after having a disappointing 2017/18 season. They finished runners up to PSV Eindhoven, and failed to even qualify for any European compeition. They saw to quickly fix the problems they had last summer, by bringing in Dusan Tadic and Daily Blind for a combined £24m. They needed to improve their league form, while replacing Justin Kluivert in the process. Both have been very good this season, and when you add that with 2 of the best young talents in world football in Frenkie De Jong and Mattijs De Ligt. It gave them this balance of experience and youth, and showed that they had finally learnt from their past mistakes. Ajax have been simply incredible in the league. While their defeat to Feyenoord wasn’t their lowest point of the season, it has still been a very good domestic campaign. It’s just a shame that PSV have been even better. Nevertheless, they have still managed to score 72 goals, 1 more than PSV and 25 more than Feyenoord. Both top sides are in a league of their own at the moment. The difference between the two this season has so far been the Champions League. While PSV were stuck in a group of death, Ajax were given a group that gave them a chance of getting out. The group included Bayern, Benfica and AEK Athens. They came out of the group as one of the few teams to go unbeaten. Their biggest achievement of their campaign so far was their showings against Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga champions were shown up twice by Ajax, thanks to a tactical masterclass by manager Erik ten Hag. He used Tadic as a false nine, and Bayern has absolutely no idea how to handle him. They have shown enough evidence this season to prove that they can pull off anything, and could truly surprise everyone.

Speaking of Tadic, the Serbian must be recognised as one of his sides biggest threats. He has been magnificient since arriving in the capital, and showed this in the Champions League too. He played every minute of Ajax’s Champions League campaign, scoring 5 and assisting 1, while stats dropped from his numbers in the Eredivise, they were still very impressive. He was creating 2 chances a game, completing 1.7 dribbles and making 1.3 tackles a game. While his shot numbers weren’t great, but as a false nine, his role was more to bring others into play, which worked. He is a very talented player, is finally given the chance to show it in an attacking side. While Tadic, De Jong and Huntelaar have all been stand out this season, there is only one player who stands out, Hakim Ziyech. The phrase “too good for their league” has been used many times over the years. Whether it’s Celtic going unbeaten, Neymar getting a goal a game or Giovinco getting a goal contribution a game in MLS, there are different examples, but the one that cannot be argued is that Hakim Ziyech is way too good for the Eredivise. To briefly go over his numbers, he’s been awarded the man of the match 9 times this season, he’s taking 6 shots a game, making 4 key passes a game, completing 2.7 dribbles and even putting 1.8 tackles a game. These numbers are Messi like. He obviously isn’t nearly as good as Messi, but my point is that he is taking this league for a joke. He’s only 25 and it’s amazed how not a single club is looking at him. He should be starting for an elite side, not playing in a sub-par league. He has still shown his incredible ability in the Champions League too. He’s still taking 5 shots a game, and creating 1.8 chances a game and completing 3 dribbles. He is a superb talent and could cause Madrid massive problems.

Now onto the holders Real Madrid. This season has gone as badly as one could have expected. I’ve discussed previously where everything went wrong with Lopetegui, so how is Santiago Solari doing? Well he’s doing okay. They have risen to 2nd in the table and haven’t lost in the league since the 6th of January. They have gained massive ground on Barcelona, and while that is impressive, context is very important. La Liga has arguably been at its worst for a very long time. Villarreal, Valencia and Bilbao have been rather underperforming or just been plain bad all season. Everything bad with Real Madrid this season jut always goes back to last summer. Their failure to replace Cristiano Ronaldo might be the dumbest decisions of the past decade. The argument was made that the goals would spread out more evenly, thanks to Ronaldo being such a vocal point, that players like Benzema and Asensio eneded up sacrificing their game to help him. The problem with this argument at the time and especially now is the goals they were replacing. They weren’t replacing 20-25 goals, they were replacing 50. Madrid needed to bring in a guy with a huge reputation, like Icardi, Kane, Dybala or even Griezmann. A guy who will take that responsibility and embrace it. They didn’t do this however, and now look like so much less of a threat than they were. With Bale failing to have the impact we all thought he would, it has left Los Blancos with the requirement of bringing in a forward this summer. Let’s quickly touch in Solari. Not much blame can be placed on him, because a lot of the problems all go back to Florentino Perez. Solari has done some good things. Thanks to some of the senior players in the squad rather struggling for form or with injuries, it has left Solari with choosing to bring in the fringe players, to see what they can offer. Llorente, Ceballos and Requilon have all played a decent amount of minutes, and some of them have shown they can have a say in this side. He’s got Madrid winning again, but they just don’t look good doing it. This is a huge game and this could define their season.

Let’s look at 2 of Madrid’s biggest threats, starting with Luka Modric. The debate still continues on whether the Croatian deserved the Balon d’or. The quick answer is always Messi and always will be Messi. If Messi is still playing he should win it every single year. Since there have been 6 occasions of the Argentine not winning it then the award shouldn’t be taken seriously. I am happy he has won it. It was about time that Modric got the credit he deserved for being one of the best midfielders of the decade. He is one of the most complete midfielders the game has ever seen, and while Xavi and Pogba will always be my personal favourites, Modric is right up there. Modric did have a slow start to the season, but he cannot be blamed much for that. He wasn’t given much of a break after his Croatia side’s impressive run to the final of the World Cup. At the age of 33, he needs to be used more sparingly, but it shows just how good he is. Without him, their midfield just doesn’t function as well as with him there. Only captain Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema have started more games in La Liga than Modric. Even after his slow start, he has still been very impressive. He never stands out in any statistic, but he is solid in most departments. Out of the Real Madrid squad, only the full backs complete more dribbles than him. Only a handful of players create more chances than him and take more shots. He adds so much to your midfield that he can just fit into any team comfortably. Even with Ajax’s impressive midfield talent, they will find it difficult to deal with him. Vinicious Jr is a player who does need to be highlighted here, with Isco, Bale and Asensio all having arguably their least productive seasons, and it’s given the young Brazilian his chance to shine. he has been good in his 12 appearances in the league, and shown moments of real talent. While he isn’t as exciting as Mbappe, Jovic or even Sancho, there is definitely a talent here. We can go into the crazy decision to spend £40m on a player who has never started a game of football, but it’s had an effect on him. Imagine having your future planned out, without barely having to kick a ball. His game for me needs so much improving, mostly to do with his movement and his decision making. But he has been getting plaudits for his recent performances, and they are justified. His chance creation and shooting have have made him a useful player for Solari. He’s still so raw and adds this aura of unpredictably. It’s something they havent’t had for a long time, since Ronaldo’s winger days. He could be a real problem for Ajax in the wide areas.

If Ajax want to beat the current holders? They must attack them in the wide areas. If Marcelo starts, it will leave Madrid exposed on his side. While his attacking contribution is still solid, he has been caught out defensively a few times this season, and is finally starting his age. If Neres or Ziyech can just commit to staying wide, it will make their chances of getting through. They also have to play their game. They proved against Bayern that they are able to play against the best around, if they just be confident and believe in themselves, they have a huge chance of advancing. This Madrid side isn’t the same possession side as it was. Ajax can beat them. Get De Jong on the ball and he will drive through that aging Madrid side

But if Madrid want to keep their title, they must play the ball in the air. With Ajax having a small side, it makes them easier to push off the pitch. They are also inexperienced, so make sure to use the dark arts of football at their worst. Ramos does this all the time, so hope, like Liverpool, and will be key if Madrid want to get through. Madrid have never been a side that win pretty, but know how to win. Even on an off year, they have the players to get through these huge games. It’s what they do best. I think they will advance to the next round, but Ajax will really give them a tough game.

2018 World Cup Team of The Tournament – Kante, Hazard, Godin

Now with the tournament coming a close, let’s look at the players who have impressed the most.

Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois

No matter how much I wanted to place Pickford here, I cannot ignore Courtois. The big Belgian has been absolutely brilliant for his team. I have always seem Courtois has just a very good keeper, not on the level of De Gea or Oblak, but still a very solid choice for a top side. However in this tournament, he is starting to make me rethink that. Against Brazil, he made a brilliant 9 saves, which is one of the highest amount of saves in a single game. Compared to his club career, Courtois is making more saves in every area of the pitch, showing how this world cup has brought he best out of him. With Madrid looking for a new keeper, it could be what has given him the motivation.

Right Centre-Back – Raphael Varane

While attacking might be a huge question mark over this current France team, what cannot be doubted is how brilliant they are defensively. A huge part of that has been their defensive partnership of Varane and Umtiti, and while the Barcelona man has been very good, it’s his El Classico rival who has been the most impressive. Varane has been the leader in a back four lacking experience. Having a player so young who has won 4 champions leagues is such a positive for the team. Not only has he been a real leader, he has also lead by example. His biggest strength is his athleticism. He is able to recover the ball so quickly and help in counter attacking situations. His performance against Belgium was especially brilliant. He really helped stop Belgium from getting the goal they so desperately needed. Even against Uruguay, he scored the winner to send France to the semi finals. A great tournament from a great player.

Centre-Back – Diego Godin

By far Uruguay’s best player, Godin helped drag a very poor Uruguay team out of their group. Not only was he solid defensively, but was also trying to drag his team forward on the pitch, because of his teammates’s lack of urgency. Uruguay were so good defensively throughout the tournament, and it was thanks to Godin. He was brilliant in all of the group games, and also against Portugal. The defeat to France cannot be solely blamed on him, but he wasn’t at his best that day. Still, he was exceptional throughout the world cup.

Left Centre-Back – Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire arrived in Russia after playing every single minute for Leicester last season. He showed brilliant positional sense and was very good on the ball. While I did think he would have done fine, I never expected to be as impressive as he was. He was especially great in the knockout rounds, easily being one of the best players against Columbia and Sweden. He won an amazing 12 aerial duels against Columbia, and scored the first goal against Sweden. He was one of England’s best performers, and deserves his place here

Central Midfield – N’golo Kante

It’s a testimont to how good Kante, that we now almost have a ‘Kante Role’ in teams now. Players who are given a license to do their defensive work, without disrupting the teams shape (examples being Torreira, Herrera, Ndidi and Allan). He has shown his usual brilliant energy and tenacity, while also adding some real quality on the ball. His biggest criticism was his inability to distribute the ball effectively, however that has changed. Throughout the tournament, Kante would be seen making these huge long balls and driving the play forward. He is now looking like the perfect box to box midfielder. His performance against Argentina was very good. He really showed his opposition how a central midfielder should play.

Central Midfield: Luka Modric

Not even a debate needed here. Modric has been the key player for Croatia. His ability to dribble out of tight spaces, get into great positions to assist his teammates, and his solid workrate have all came in handy for a team already filled with technical talent. Even with all of Croatia’s games going into extra time, he was still able to play through them all, at 32 years old. An incredible player and he will easily go down as one of the best midfielders to play the game in the modern era.

Right Wing-Back – Sime Vrsaljko

While Trippier would be the obvious pick, I’ll be going for Vrsaljko. The Europa League winner has been a key player for Croatia. Filling Srna’s boots is a hard challenge, yet he exceeded expectations. Even with Modric performing excellently and Rakitic also excelling, Croatia still preferred to play a more crossing game. It didn’t bring the best out of their team in my opinion, but Vsaljko still performed. He was a huge driving force for Croatia and was always helping in attack while doing his defensive work. His only assist in the tournament was for that Perisic equaliser against England. A perfect moment for a player who was brilliant.

Left Wing-Back – Lucas Hernandez

While I think Hernandez did perform very well, he is mainly here out of a lack of options. Just looking at the semi finalists, Young didn’t perform, Strnic was good, but not great, and Belgium didn’t have a stand out left back. Hernandez falls right in here. I’m not taking away from him at all. He, like France, were excellent defensively and he even provided some very good width. Playing as a fullback with an inverted wide player in front of him is very demanding, so seeing in still show some consistency in his performances is really impressive. The young defender was averaging 2.3 tackles per game, just highlighting how good he was in his own half. A good tournament from a player who still has plenty of promise.

Left-Winger – Ivan Perisic

Many journalists and pundits seem to be forgetting about the Inter Milan winger. But Perisic has been stellar. Perisic has all the qualities to be a perfect winger. He’s two footed, a brilliant dribbler, can cut inside and is able to create. He showed all of these qualities in the semi final, scoring and assisting to put his team over the line in a real tight game. While he will be remembered for his handball, he was still excellent for Croatia. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and an assist. A great return for a player who is nearing his twilight years. If it wasn’t for Modric, he would be remembered as the stand out performer for the runners up.

Right-Winger – Eden Hazard

While I am completely fine with Modric winning the golden ball, I do think Hazard was the best player at the tournament. He shined in a very fluid Belgium attack. He was absolutely brilliant throughout for Belgium, and performed in every game for Belgium. In their defeat against France, he was by far their shining light, constantly beating his man and attempting to create for his side. He was excellent in the group stages, putting two excellent performances against Tunisia and Panama. He was averaging 2.5 shots per game, 2.5 key passes, and a monsterous 6.7 successful dribbles per game. He was brilliant in every department. He ended the tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists. A great return from the best player at the tournament.

Striker – Kylian Mbappe

The golden boy winner gets place in this team. While leaving out Griezmann and Lukaku is difficult, Mbappe has to be in this team. He was the pace and power for France, who gave them that extra bit of flair in the forward department. What is so impressive about Mbappe is how direct and mature he is. Just comparing him to young players like Rashford and Werner, Mbappe is so clinical in his finishing. He plays like an experienced forward, instead of a teenager. Mbappe has been key for France throughout his tournament. His perfect runs, no nonsense dribbling, and cool in front of goal. He’s been the spark in an otherwise very pragmatic team. He will become a great of the game.

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.

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.