Portugal vs Switzerland – UEFA Nations League 2019 Semi-Final Preview

With my focus recently being on improving teams throughout Europe and bringing attention to players who have had stand out seasons, it can be easy to forget that the UEFA Nations League games were taking place this week. I have been a massive advocate for the idea of the Nations League. they have brought purpose to those pesky international breaks that would stop the flow of the club football, at a time where looking away from your television was impossible. UEFA seemed to introduce this new competition to give hope to smaller nations in qualifying for Euro 2020 and future tournaments. I’ve spoken to many fans regarding the Nations League, and a majority are very supportive of it. While slightly confusing, it has added a reason to care about these breaks. The standards of the games have increased because these teams are playing for something, instead of just preparation. We’ll be previewing the two big semi-final games and the final, to see which team will come out with the trophy, starting with Euro 2016 winners Portugal and a solid Switzerland side.

Starting with Portugal, who will go into this tie as the favourites. Their World Cup outing wasn’t as impressive as many hoped. While they progressed to the Round of 16 unbeaten, they only managed to win a single game. They were beaten by a poor Uruguay side thanks to a brilliant performance by Edinson Cavani but it was a tournament that ended with more questions than answers for Portugal. They’ve had to continuously rely on their older players in defence with the lack of defensive prospects coming through their youth set-up. While that is an issue that Fernando Santos cannot do much about, it is his team selection in attack where my issues begin to surface. He was playing players in the wrong positions throughout the tournament. Bruno Fernandes, one of the best young attacking midfielders around, was forced out onto the left side. After one game, in which he was poor, he went on to not start a game for Portugal in Russia again. Gonzalo Guedes was another to suffer thanks to Santos. He had a fantastic season prior to the World Cup, playing on the left of a 4-4-2. However, he was playing up front with Ronaldo for his national team. I can understand why he was playing there. He was there to do the off the ball work that Ronaldo has never done throughout his career. He had to sacrifice his own game for the sake of the team, and he suffered for it.

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In the end, Portugal’s issues always seem to come back to their biggest strength, Cristiano Ronaldo. We’ve seen the sacrifices Juventus have had to make to accommodate one of the best talents of his generation. Dybala looks to be leaving the club after Ronaldo’s arrival and Juventus have generally looked worse this season. When you have Ronaldo, all of your chance creation is solely for him. You begin crossing the ball more and playing a less attractive, but more effective style of football. Portugal needs to start thinking about the future of this side once their greatest ever player retires.

They have already briefly shown what life could be like without Ronaldo. In their 3-2 victory over Poland earlier in the season, they played a 4-1-4-1, with Andre Silva leading the line. They generally played with a lot of speed, with a lot of quick exchanges between players. They had a lot of pace in players like Rafa Silva and Cancelo while having technically superb players in Bernardo Silva and Ruben Neves to keep possession while under pressure. A team should never rely on individuals, and it’s a stage Portugal need to move past. However, with the inclusion of Sousa from Braga, replacing Andre Silva in the squad, it paints a picture of a side who are looking more at the short term, instead of choosing players who will have a future for the national side.

Portugal’s biggest threat in the game, excluding Ronaldo, has to be Bernardo Silva. While the race for the PFA player of the year was primarily between Raheem Sterling and Virgil Van Dijk, Bernardo Silva was the best player in the Premier League. He went from a good winger into a fantastic central midfielder. He filled that De Bruyne-shaped gap that was left while adding more defensive work and a player who leads the press for his side. While I think he great on the ball, it’s his engine that is most impressive. During their title-defining 2-1 victory over Liverpool, Bernardo Silva was everywhere. He covered 13.7 kilometres, at that point a record for most distance covered by a player last season. He was halting Liverpool constantly, through interceptions and smartly placed fouls. Bernardo is one of my favourite players in the league. A midfielder who possess such intelligence and ability, yet is comfortable in doing all the off the ball work that one of the most demanding systems require. His chance creation for Portugal has been key. He ranks top of the team for key passes with 2.3 in the Nations League. Portugal will constantly get him on the ball. Silva is fantastic at retaining the ball and helps them transition the ball. He has even been showing the same work rate and defensive work he offers for his club. Silva is third in the side for tackles per game with 1.7. While Portugal are most likely include Ronaldo in these games, Bernardo will remain vital for his side in defence and attack.

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Their opponents, however, are no walk in the park. Switzerland is a nation who have surfaced as one of the best teams in Europe throughout the decade. They rank 8th in the FIFA world rankings and looking at the talent in their squad, are likely to improve. Their showing in the World Cup was solid, but nothing exceptional. They finished 2nd in a difficult group containing Brazil, Serbia and Costa Rica. While they weren’t the best to watch, they were solid in defence and were efficient in attack. Their defeat to Sweden in the round of 16, however, showed their weaknesses. They lack many players with pace and relied heavily upon Shaqiri. Since he was playing out on the right wing, he was left isolated throughout their defeat. While he did create 4 chances, he failed to get a single shot on target. Petkovic regularly deployed Behrami and Xhaka together. Both lack energy and drive in midfield. While Xhaka is an elite passer and Behrami puts in a lot of defensive work, they cannot play together without someone who can play that box to box role.

While they did struggle to reach their potential in Russia, their Nations League qualifying campaign was a massive success. They scored 14 goals in 4 games, 9 more than they managed at the World Cup. There are a handful of reasons for why they saw such an improvement. Starting with their midfield, Behrami was replaced by Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria. The young midfielder still gave that defensive presence in the midfielder, as his former teammate did, while adding that little bit extra in the final third. He was creating 1.3 chances per game, while also taking 1.8 shots. He was making those runs into the box, to help give his teammates extra options. Xhaka still remains to be the player who keeps things ticking in midfield, completing 90 passes per game, but he has been given a partner who is able to cover the distance in midfield while also aiding in attack.

The Shaqiri problem was also resolved, simply by moving him into attacking midfield. This fixed two major problems. Shaqiri wasn’t left so isolated anymore and neither was Seferovic. He’s now taking more shots, creating more chances and is getting on the ball more than he has ever been before for his country. It also makes Switzerland less predictable. Shaqiri will drift across the pitch to involve himself in the game, and it has made his side more difficult to deal with. Shaqiri has taken his game to another level and will key in this semi-final.

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Their midfield and attack have both improved, but their defence also deserves a mention. Petkovic has changed his personnel, with Lichsteiner and Djourou being replaced by the likes of Elvedi and Mbabu. They still remain solid at the back. Akanji and Elvedi are great passers, while Mbabu and Rodriguez are full backs who are able to cover large areas of the pitch, while also helping their team on the attacking front. While their defenders aren’t on the same level as the likes of France or Netherlands, they could form a very good defensive unit with time on their side.

While Shaqiri and Xhaka have already been mentioned when looking at key players for the side, Haris Seferovic will be important. The forward has struggled to establish himself at the top level, playing for Fiorentina, Real Sociedad, Eintracht Frankfurt and now Benfica, where he has arguably been the most successful. In 29 appearances in Liga NOS, he has scored 23 goals and assisted 5. In a season in which has seen Jonas struggle for minutes, Seferovic stepped up for Benfica. While he did impress at club level, it was during the Nations League group stages where he arguably put in his best performances. He scored 5 goals, including a hat trick against Belgium. He’s good at finding space in the box, which was perfect against a Belgium side which aren’t exactly organised. He links up with Shaqiri well and he’s taking 3.5 shots per game, a solid number for a striker. He excels when the team are using him as the focal point. Petkovic has gotten the best out of the striker and will need him if Switzerland hopes to progress to the final.

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If Portugal wish to reach the final, they will need to take advantage of two things. The first being Granit Xhaka. He is a great passer of the ball but lacks the mobility to be an effective central midfielder. He is poor defensively, with teams throughout the Premier League noticing how bad he is at tracking runners. I’d personally deploy Bernardo Silva in midfield to deal with Xhaka. He can keep pressure on him, while his intelligent movement will help him find space behind the Arsenal midfielder.

If Switzerland want to progress to the final, they will need to target the centre backs. Shaqiri and Seferovic need to be smart and look to drag the defenders in areas they will feel most uncomfortable. One of Pepe or Fonte will play, who are both over 33. Diego Costa had a fantastic game against Portugal last summer, with Pepe unable to deal with him. Seferovic needs to look at what Costa was doing, and try and replicate the damage the Spaniard was causing.

It’ll be a close game, but I think Switzerland will progress. While Portugal have a lot of talented players, their reliance on Ronaldo and their weakness at the back can leave them to be both predictable and vulnerable. The Swiss have balance throughout the side, and Petkovic has taken the steps in the right direction for transitioning this side to its next generation. This could be the tournament where the rest of Europe sees this.

 

 

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.

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.

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.