As the curtain closes on another fantastic summer of World Cup football, it’s time for a little bit of reflection.
Since we support Manchester City and Liverpool, we wanted to highlight the players from those teams who went to Russia for the tournament. City sent 16 players to the World Cup with the Reds sending eight. All the players made differing impressions on the tournament, here is each player’s contribution to the showpiece.
Manchester City (Matt)
Manchester City had an incredible 2017/2018 season which resulted in many of the players being in incredible form heading into the 2018 FIFA World Cup. With 16 players who were sent off to the World Cup, Manchester City was the most represented club at the tournament.
One of Manchester City’s most exciting players who I believe will eventually become one of the best players in the world, Leroy Sane, was excluded from the German side. Putting my bias aside, I completely understand the move. Germany, who were the reigning world champions, have such a deep player pool of talent that someone is bound to get left off who many would believe deserved to make it. Sane has not performed well at the international level in his limited time playing on the team and it resulted in him being left off for wingers like Reus and Brandt. I still expect big things for him in the future with the German national team and Manchester City.
The four Brazilians that were selected for the national team were somewhat underwhelming. Ederson was the backup goalkeeper that did not appear in the tournament, but Allison is a great goalkeeper and I understand the move. Danilo started just one game and did not provide much to the team on either end, which is how I would sum up his time at City as well. He was rightfully displaced by Fagner who I believe was slightly better than he was going forward in attack.
I thought Fernandinho did exactly what he needed to do in the minutes that he played in this tournament. He was mainly used as a second half sub but did well in the minutes he played. I believe Casemiro is among the best holding midfielders in the world and understand why he did not start. I know Fernandinho gave up an own goal in the match that eventually knocked Brazil out, but there was not much he could’ve done to stop that play from happening.
Gabriel Jesus had an interesting World Cup. He started every game as the striker for Brazil but did little to nothing in the attacking third, which is why so many people were critical about his game. I thought he made excellent runs throughout the tournament and did a great job of applying pressure as the first line of defence. Neymar was holding onto the ball one, two, three, sometimes four touches too many and Jesus could not time any runs properly, so I am not blaming him entirely for his lack of production.
The four English players from City all had great tournaments. Fabian Delph was used twice as a sub and twice as a starter and he did a good job of playing all aspects of the game. It is great to have a player who can play in the midfield and defence to provide the versatility that England was lacking in their team.
John Stones emerged as one of the elite central defenders in this tournament. I thought his passing, defensive work, and ability to win the ball out of the air were outstanding. The goal that eventually knocked England out of the tournament can somewhat be put on Stones for a lack of communication with the keeper, but goals are part of the game. You shouldn’t blame Stones for the loss as he was outstanding all tournament.
Kyle Walker was a little indecisive and got into some tight situations but that is how most of his games go. He is solid on the ball, not great, and had to play a ball dominant central defender position that he is not used to. His pace often gets him out of trouble but there are plenty of times where he is prone to make a mistake. I think he was still deserving of a starting position for the English team considering who the people behind him on the squad rotation were.
Lastly, Raheem Sterling, who caused quite a large media stir before the World Cup, played extremely well off the ball. I have been saying this for a couple years now, but if Sterling learned how to kick a football properly, he would be the best player in the world. His pace, awareness, and dribbling allow him to get into pockets of space that he finds as well as anyone. I did not like how England used him as a striker because I think he would have been more effective in a deeper role like where Dele Alli was playing. Having said that, I thought his runs up top and ability to hold up play, considering his size and strength, was pretty good. He really does need to learn how to finish a chance as he should have had multiple goals in the tournament and went home with zero goals.
I was disappointed in how Gundogan played for Germany. The team that surprised and disappointed most people had no defensive midfield structure in the slightest. Because the team pushed so many people forward, it was hard for him to create chances in such tight space. That midfield was lost and he did nothing to help it defensively.
Nicolas Otamendi had a disappointing tournament considering how well he played for City this past season. He is an aggressive centre-back who is very good with the ball at his feet, which works in a Pep Guardiola system where players close down space very fast defensively. As the world found out, Argentina do not close down space defensively. The midfield left Otamendi on an island to defend one on one, which isn’t his strong suit, and he was exploited multiple times.
Sergio Aguero should have started all four games for Argentina but only started two. He scored in the first and last game of the tournament and was the only threat Argentina had in the penalty area. I thought he played well but it is hard for a team to play well collectively when you have a midfield like Argentina.
There is not much more to say about De Bruyne that hasn’t already been said. The world knows that he is one of the premier talents and he showed it at the World Cup. In the group stage, he played a deeper midfield role and performed very well. He was able to create attacks from deep and did a decent job defensively although the opposing teams were not great. In the knockout rounds (especially against Brazil), he had the freedom going forward where he is most dangerous and was creating chances galore. His performance against France was not great, but France had the best team in the tournament and it was understandable that they were able to keep him quiet.
Vincent Kompany had a decent tournament coming off injury (what else is new), but we can all agree his best years are past him. He is a little bit slower now which gives fast attackers a big advantage over him but thought he played solidly, nothing great and nothing too bad.
Bernardo Silva and the rest of Portugal excluding Ronaldo provided little to nothing going forward. thought he would provide great service and creativity on the wing for Portugal considering his form to end the season with Manchester City but that was not the case.
David Silva had a good tournament. His passing was excellent as always, but he is used to running the show with De Bruyne in the City midfield. At the World Cup, it seemed like Spain was Isco’s team and he was running the show.
Lastly, Benjamin Mendy, who was a shock to some for even making the France team, had little impact on the pitch given he only came on once as a sub. I think his personality is great for any locker room and think his impact for the world champions was probably greater in the locker room and training pitch than anything else.
Overall, Manchester City was represented well at this tournament and a lot of that must be credited to Pep Guardiola and what he has taught these players in the last two years.
Mohamed Salah (Christian) – Mo is just fantastic. We all know the quality he brings to any squad he joins. He was playing for one of the worst teams in the tournament and still managed to finish the tournament with two goals in two games for Egypt. He did look a frustrated figure at times, but he was still very active for his team and stepped up to convert his chances when they came.
His time in Russia was cut short as Egypt crashed out of the tournament in the group stage, which is sad considering the expectations the world had for this man. If not for a certain center back who shall remain nameless and injured Salah in the Champions League final, he may have led his side to an opening game win and changed the entire outlook of group A. It was not meant to be, and he will be coming back to preseason early and refreshed ahead of the 18/19 campaign.
Roberto Firmino (Christian) – The Brazilian forward, our Bobby, deserved far more than he got in Russia. He appeared in all five games for Brazil and left the Reds fans scratching their heads and screaming at Tite to put him in the starting lineup. How on earth could Jesus start every match in the World Cup when he continued to lack involvement, consistency, and most importantly, the goals to lead a Brazil team that were FAVORITES to win?
Firmino left the tournament with solitary goals but continued to impress with all 82 minutes he was on the field. He relentlessly pressed the opposition back line, freeing up space for his teammates, and linking up with Coutinho, Neymar, Willian, and Costa repeatedly. Hopefully, Brazilian fans are starting to recognize what Liverpool fans have known all along, Firmino should start for Brazil and may be the most underrated player on earth.
Sadio Mane (Christian) – Poor Sadio. Poor Senegal. Many people rated this side as the best Africa had to offer. They were one of the dark horses in Russia and were expected to at least make the knockouts. The only problem, they were in a very evenly matched group. Sadio was unquestionably the attacking star for Senegal, but he played a team game that saw him not as involved as we would have expected for large periods of time. Mane was still able to get a goal and looked dangerous in other spots but ultimately wasn’t involved enough to lead Senegal to the knockout rounds.
Simon Mignolet (Dave) – Mignolet wasn’t involved in the tournament, but he did make the dreams come true for a kid from Kyrgyzstan, so that was pretty cool. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the story here.
Marko Grujic (Dave) – The young Serbian midfielder didn’t make an appearance at the World Cup, but he’s still only 22 and the experience of just being at the tournament could aid his development.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Dave) – TAA played in 1 match at the World Cup and it was the relatively meaningless 3rd group stage match between England and Belgium. Both sides were already through to the knockout rounds and fielded almost all 2nd choice players. Still, any World Cup experience for a 19-year-old is invaluable and it was great to see Trent playing in the match. He wasn’t at fault for Belgium’s only goal in the match and had a largely uneventful match, which isn’t a bad thing for a defender. Lastly, being a member of a team that made the World Cup Semis can only be a good thing as Alexander-Arnold looks to build on his breakout campaign for the Reds last season.
Jordan Henderson (Dave) – You could make a case that Jordan Henderson was England’s best player at the World Cup. Henderson mainly played as the sole defensive midfielder in a 3-5-2 formation. He showed great leadership qualities, an excellent passing range, and tireless work rate throughout the tournament. Many people will point to the highlight video circulating on social media of Henderson’s overhit passes in the Croatia match as indicative of his poor passing, but that video is taken out of context and wasn’t indicative of his performance throughout the World Cup.
Many were claiming for Dier to start over Henderson before the tournament but Henderson’s performances, coupled with Dier’s shaky performances, sealed Henderson as the best option. The Liverpool captain will now look to keep his spot in the starting lineup after the Reds brought in central midfield reinforcements this window.
Dejan Lovren (Dave) – Lovren’s World Cup mimicked his club season in a lot of ways. He had a relatively inconsistent performance throughout the campaign, seemed overly aggressive at times while performing admirably at other times. Lovren was predictably good in the air but looked poor when he was isolated in 1 v 1 situations against an attacker. He is who he is at this point. I personally rate him as a good centre back. Lovren’s not nearly as poor as most people like to say, but he’s likely not a starter on a Champions League or World Cup-winning side. However, he was a key piece for Croatia as it reached the World Cup Final and I don’t want to downplay that. Lovren deserves more respect than he gets but his comments about him leading Liverpool and Croatia to respective finals may have been a bit much.
Those are our thoughts on the Man City and Liverpool players at the 2018 World Cup. We’ll be posting additional pieces throughout the summer and transfer window, so look for our next article coming soon.
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