2018 World Cup Quarter Finals Preview

As we’re closing in on the final, the stakes are higher, with players feeling the stage getting bigger and the stakes getting higher. Let’s look at the next round of games in this brilliant World Cup

Uruguay vs France

Last time I discussed these teams, I expected them to lose. How wrong I was. France surprised me in that I didn’t expect them to attack in the way they did. My issue was them playing Matuidi on that left side, because it gave them a real weakness on that side when attacking, however I was wrong as usual. Deschamps did this to help overload the midfield and it would also let Griezmann drift in areas where a left winger would usually operate. I still think having a more natural wide player in that position would be better, however it so far has worked in giving them balance to the team. It has also gotten the best out of Kylian Mbappe in a certain way. Throughout the game against Argentina, he was making excellent runs and being that real needle France needed to penetrate that weak defense. Because of Giroud’s selfless style, it gives Mbappe the space for these runs. He ended the game with 2 goals, being the first teenager to score a brace since Pele in 1958. Mbappe is probably the best young player since R9. He’s even better than Ronaldo and Messi were at his age. Mbappe shows incredible maturity and power in his play. Pogba also has been incredible. He has been making those brilliant runs and killer balls we’ve been wanting him to make .

Uruguay surprised me in another way. I had previously criticised Luis Suarez for just not showing his qualities in the tournament. He definitely wanted to prove me wrong, because he was excellent. His hold up play was simply incredible and his cross for Cavani’s first goal was great. While he hasn’t been great in front of goal, he has definitely made up for that by being a great partner for Cavani. Uruguay conceded their first goal of tournament against Portugal. It is simply incredible that it has taken that long for them to concede. It was a pretty bad goal to concede. Pepe and Ronaldo completely outsmarted Godin and it resulted in Pepe being able to run in an open area to head it into the back of the net. While conceding a simple goal could be a worry, the injury to Cavani is so much worse. Cavani was brilliant in the game against Portugal, finishing his game with an honestly brilliant finish. His injury is not good news at all for Uruguay. They have two good players in reserve, being Maxi Gomez and Christian Struani. While both had excellent seasons, with the pair scoring over 10 goals for Celta Viga and Girona respectively, they both haven’t played enough in this tournament. They haven’t been given enough time to be able to fill Cavani’s boots in any way. It’ll be a real concern for Oscar Tavares.

For France to beat Uruguay, they will need to play in a similar fashion to how they beat Argentina. They need to use Mbappe in a similar way and most importantly, get Pogba on the ball as often as possible. For Uruguay to beat France, they need to make sure France to not play in that similar way and Torreira and Vecino need to protect that back four. Suarez also needs to continue in a similar fashion. He needs to get into those position where the centre halves do not want to go, and open space for his partner up front. I think France are too strong however, and will win, but not comfortably.

Uruguay 0-1 France

Brazil Vs Belgium

Easily the best tie of the quarter finals, both teams to into this game having excelled in the forward department.

Let’s start with Brazil, who are easily the favourites for the tournament. While this Brazil team isn’t the best in terms of entertainment, it is certainly the most balanced. The most recent winning Brazil teams always had a solid base, to make the most out of the attack. In 1994, they had Dunga, while he wasn’t a good manager, he was an excellent defensive midfielder. In 2002, they had Gilberto Silva, one of the best defensive midfielders ever. He could just do everything you need in a DM. And now in 2018, they have Casemiro. While the Real Madrid midfielder isn’t exactly an all rounder, he is one of the best destroyers around. He gives that defense an excellent screen and ensures a solid base, something they haven’t had since 2002. Another seemingly controversial issue seems to be Neymar. As the tournament as gone on, his performances have definitely improved. Against Mexico he was a constant threat, with him scoring and putting in a great performance. However it’s his diving that has caused a lot of attention. His reaction to a light tap on his ankle from Miguel Layun was the definition of an overreaction. I can kind of understand why players do this. It’s the world cup and they will do anything to win. However for his own image, it doesn’t help him at all. I have no issue usually when players stay down, but when they do it like Neymar, I start to have an issue with it. Coutinho has also been very good for Brazil. So far in this tournament he has been a real hero for them, scoring their first of the tournament, and the winner against Costa Rica. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the rest of the tournament.

Belgium are a very strange side. On paper they have been excellent, winning all their group games and scoring 3 or more in 3 games. However because of their manager, I still have so many reservations. Japan exposed them very easily so it’ll be interesting to see how they fair against a team with real good attacking players. They also seem to be failing to get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne. While I think the midfielder has been quite good in this tournament, he is definitely not enjoying that deep role. It means he has to come so deep to retrieve the ball, which means he in advanced positions to be able to make those same great opportunities he did for City. Their left wing back position seems to also have some cloud over it. Martinez chose to not take an actual left back because he believed Januzaj, Carrasco and Chadli has wing backs. So far it hasn’t worked. Carrasco looked very poor against Japan. While Chadli did look good when he came on, he has missed many minutes last season due to injury, and he was only used as an impact, so seeing how he would do as a starter would be very interesting. As an actual positive, their forward three have been brilliant. Hazard has been excelling in his dribbling and creativity, successfully completing 4.7 dribbles per 90 and he has already bagged 2 assists. He has been sensational. His partner, Romelu Lukaku, has also been excellent. While he did miss some good opportunities against Japan, he has still been one of the best forwards at the competition.

For Brazil to beat Belgium, Gabriel Jesus and Willian will both be key. If Boyata does not play, Belgium will lose his athleticism once again, meaning Jesus could benefit by making some excellent runs behind the aging back four. Willian will be key in stretching the defense and exploiting the space that the left wing back will leave. For Belgium to beat Brazil, they need to make every chance count. They have had the benefit of playing teams who do not have their same quality. They are playing a team that have been brilliant defensively. They cannot afford to take the same luxuries they have in their previous games. Japan was their warning, so they need to wake up now. I do believe Brazil will win here, and it will not be as close as many think

Brazil 4-2 Belgium

Sweden Vs England

A tie that many are righting off before it has even began. As I have mentioned so long ago, I’ve been rooting for Sweden through out this competition, after Wales’s disappointing campaign, I saw Sweden knock out Holland, and then knock out Italy in the play offs. They have been defying expectations ever since qualifying began, including a victory over France. They have been beating these big teams throughout the world cup. They have also been excellent defensively, keeping 3 clean sheets out of 4 games. Even against Switzerland, their approach was quite perfect. Berg and Toivenen were both excellent in pressing the goalkeeper and ensuring any short passing lane was blocked. It was to ensure that they were always in the game and it definitely worked, with Switzerland struggling to create chances. They also kept Switzerland’s most dangerous player, Xherdan Shaquiri, very quiet. Usually when he had the ball, there would be two players ready to put pressure on him. Their biggest issue is easily converting chances. Against the Swiss, Sweden had some very good chances, including an easy chance at the back post, and Berg in a one on one, but failed to convert the chances. They seem to get in these good areas but then failed capitalise, leaving them always with a worry of falling behind. Marcus Berg has also been quiet poor, being the player to have the most shots without scoring. They need to hope he will be having a good game.

After finally beating a team on penalties, England and their fans are on top of the world. They have a team of players who seem hungry and no pressure is pulling them down. It does help that their captain, Harry Kane, has been putting the ball in the back of the net whenever he can. This team contains a solid blend of defensive workhorses and quality players in the final third, and playing 3-5-2 seems to get the best out of those attacking players. They haven’t been perfect however. England have so far failed to keep a clean sheet, with them giving away goals that should be relatively easy to stop. Worst of all they seem to be failing to use Sterling effectively. I love Raheem Sterling. He gives so much movement in the final third and takes a lot of pressure away from Kane. However against Columbia, he was not given enough support, resulting in him being attacked by 3 different players. If they want to continue to play him, Lingard and Alli need to be giving him runs on the outside, so all of his runs are worth something. Another issue could actually be their fitness. England had to go to extra time against Columbia, and while it might not sound like much, it took a lot of energy out of them. Southgate needs to make sure these players are ready to do another 90 minutes.

For Sweden to beat England, they need to take their chances. As previously mentioned, Marcus Berg has been poor throughout this tournament. Sweden need to hope he can turn up for this game. They also need to be patient and wait for that perfect opportunity. England concede goals and usually have a lot of players attacking at once. The Swedes need to wait for that perfect moment and strike. For England to beat their opponent, they will need to use Alli and Lingard as much as possible. England do not possess a great creator, which means the only way to get past this Sweden team would be to use their dribblers to beat players. If they can beat that first line of defence, then they should be okay. I’m actually going for a draw here, with a penalty shootout occuring again.

Sweden 1-1 England (Sweden to win on penalties)

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.

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.

2018 World Cup Russia Preview: Group A

Group A

Russia

Saudi Arabia

Egypt

Uruguay

From now until the world cup, I’ll be previewing the world cup by analysing each group, starting on A and finishing on I.

Let’s start with the hosts, Russia are a very hard team to predict, because they never went through a qualification stage. Since they are the hosts, they are guaranteed a spot in group A. All I can take from this team is their performance in the 2016 euros, which was poor all around. They were very poor defensively and failed to show any attacking quality. They are also the lowest ranked team at the World Cup. They are the hardest team to predict, and they will also do the worst in this group. They are the lowest ranked team for a reason. The players themselves are very old. The average age of this squad is 28.4. that is absolutely ridiculous. Many players, like Akinfeev, Kudrayshov and Zhirkov. The biggest miss for them by a mile is easily the injury to Kokorin. The Zenit marksman scored 16 in 31, and bagged 6 in 9 in the Europa league. He sustained an ACL injury in the competition in March, ruling him out of the world cup. It’s a big miss for them, but they still have some good options to fill his boots. No they will have to rely on Dzyuba, who has done pretty well for his new club after leaving Zenit, scoring 6 in 10 appearances, Chalov, who has scored 6 in 1020 minutes. And Smolov. Out of the three, he has been performing the best, scoring 26 in 29 for Krasnador. All could fill the boots of Kokorin very effectively. I predict they will finish bottom of their group, because of their aging squad.

Next up is Saudi Arabia, one of many teams no one thought make it. I will not pretend as if I have seen them play, but from looking up how they did in qualifying.They finished top of their group in the second round of the AFC, finishing above the United Arab Emirates, and joining Japan and Australia into the third round. They had plenty of success in the third round, finishing second in group B. They will be relying on their goalscorer Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, who finished top of the whole AFC to help Saudi Arabia quality for the World Cup. They will be hoping he will continue his form into the tournament, but it won’t help another team with a very old squad, only 0.2 younger than the Russians. Third will be their finishing position.

The next two teams will be much easier to discuss, since I actually know players from their teams. Egypt qualified in a very dramatic way, with Mo Salah scoring a 94th minute penalty in the play off game against Congo, to send them through. In fact, the only reason why I think Egypt will do well in the entire Competition, is because of their dynamic forward. He is having a season similar to Messi, by carrying his teams through games with his talent alone. While I do like some of the other players in the squad (Hegazi and Elneny especially), it is all on Salah to pull his team through this relatively easy group. If he has a good world cup, they will finish 1st

Uruguay seem to be getting better by the season. Their heavy reliance on Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani cannot last much longer, with both over the age of thirty. It could be their last world cup. While both are exceptional players, they still have other talents who have had excellent seasons. Torreira has shown himself to be a potential world class midfielder, with him already being linked as Jorginho’s replacement, and Vecino, who has had a very solid time in Milan. While he won’t be starting, Christian Stuani has been excellent for Girona, scoring 16 in La Liga. Even with Suarez and Cavani aging, Maxi Gomez at Celta Viga is starting to look like a real talent. Even in defense we have known that Varela and Gimenez both look like solid players in the team. While their big two players will start to diminish, their future is starting to look bright. While I do like this team, I think Egypt have the momentum from their dramatic qualification still fresh, and that will help them finish above Uruguay.