Sean Sullivan

World Cup Talk

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World Cup Watch - Forwards

Monday, June 11, 2018


World Cup Watch


With 736 players headed to the 2018 World Cup, which individuals could make a big impact in Russia?


Don’t worry, my World Cup Watch series has you covered!  


These positional previews will pinpoint stars, underrated assets and lesser-known players poised to make a big splash during the tournament.  Since this series will feature a wide range of players, those included will be assigned one of three straight-forward classifications…


Star Watch  - High-profile players

Underrated Asset -  Well-known, undervalued players

Rising Stars  - Lesser-known talents you’ve most likely never seen play

 

So, let’s get down to business with a look at some strikers and wingers.

 


Star Watch



Timo Werner, Germany - Striker 


Tasked with replacing Germany’s most prolific goal-scorer, Miroslav Klose, Timo Werner will be given his chance to shine when he leads the line for the defending champions in Russia.  There are many statistics that justify why he is being hailed as the next elite German striker, yet the following two figures seem most fitting. Werner is coming off back-to-back 21-goal seasons in all competitions with RB Leipzig. Only Robert Lewandowski (59) has scored more goals in the Bundesliga than Werner (34) over the last two seasons.  In addition to his scoring record, Werner became the youngest player to make 150 career German top-flight appearances at the age of 22 this past March.


Skeptics may claim that Werner’s limited experience on the international stage gives him only an outside shot at winning the Golden Boot.  However, those who have monitored his progression from a winger at Stuttgart to a number nine at Leipzig will tell you otherwise. Werner has found the back of the net eight times in 14 caps and finished as Germany's top-scorer at 2017-18 Confederations Cup.  He’s not Klose yet, but that doesn’t mean the pacy Leipzig hitman can’t make a major splash at the World Cup.




Sadio Mane, Senegal - Winger 


Having been part of a Liverpool attack led by Mo Salah this past season, Sadio Mane will be the feature threat for Senegal at the World Cup.  The 26-year-old scored 10 goals and provided seven assists in 29 Premier League appearances but shined brightest in the UEFA Champions League. He scored 10 goals and recorded 38 successful dribbles in 11 matches, ranking co-second and third, respectively.  Mane’s electric pace and elusiveness in one-on-one situations will make him one of the toughest attackers to mark throughout the tournament.

 


Underrated Assets



Dries Mertens, Belgium - Striker 


With Russia 2018 set to showcase the “golden generation” of Belgium players, it is easy to overlook their 31-year-old sharpshooter Dries Mertens.  The Napoli ace rivals teammate Eden Hazard with his skill on the dribble and, given his size and dead-ball prowess, possesses similar traits to former Dutch international Wesley Sneijder.  


Mertens enters the tournament having been his nation’s top-scorer on the domestic front since 2016, with 56 goals and 27 assists in 95 total appearances for Napoli.  But what is truly impressive about Mertens is his success since transitioning from a winger to a false nine. In 63 appearances playing through the middle, he has returned 43 goals and 17 assists.  As the third piece of potent attack alongside Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, the stars are aligned for Mertens to be one of the top chance-creators throughout the tournament.



Florian Thauvin, France - Winger 


Found among an attacking group with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, France have a heck of a right-winger in Florian Thauvin.  The 25-year-old is coming off the best season of his professional career in 2017-18, during which he scored 25 goals and assisted 13 times in 51 total appearances for Marseille.  Known for his creative and ball-striking abilities, Thauvin ranked eighth in dribbles (3.4) and 11th in shots (3.7) per game across the Top 5 European leagues last season.


France boss Didier Deschamps will have his hands full figuring out how to manage one of the deepest attacks in the tournament.  With Griezmann expected to play through the middle, chances are high Mbappe will be shifted out to the right-wing. This means Thauvin may have to settle for being an impact substitute, or try to beat out Thomas Lemar and operate on the left-wing.  If Thauvin manages to earn a starting role, he’s the most intriguing Golden Boot long-shot at +8000 (80/1) odds.


Rising Stars



Sardar Azmoun, Iran - Striker 


Touted to become Iran’s most successful footballer, Sardar Azmoun is a name you can expect to hear a lot at the World Cup.  If you’re not familiar with Azmoun, he is a pacy forward who scored 30 goals in 29 appearances as a youth international for Iran. His goal record for the senior squad is equally impressive, with 23 goals in 32 matches, making him the most effective forward in Iran’s history on a goals-per-game ratio.  While his international resume speaks for itself, it has been Azmoun’s displays in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage that truly put him on the map. On loan at Russian Premier League side Rostov, he scored against Atletico Madrid and added a stellar solo-effort in a historic 3-2 win over Bayern Munich.  

Having drawn Spain, Portugal and Morocco, Iran aren’t favored to survive Group B.  Nevertheless, Azmoun will still be one of the lesser-known forwards to keep a close eye on.  He scored 11 goals in 14 appearances during qualification, which already places him eighth in World Cup qualification Asia’s list of all-time leading goal scorers.  



Kasper Dolberg, Denmark - Striker 


In short, Kasper Dolberg is the real deal.  Standing at around six-feet tall, the 20-year-old is a rising talent with the skills to become one of the best modern-day center-forwards.  Dolberg’s mixture of power and pace is complimented by his clinical finishing and positional awareness in the final third. The Ajax Youth Academy product showcased all of these traits when he broke into the first-team two seasons ago and returned 23 goals and eight assists in 48 appearances.  The stand-out element of Dolberg’s 2016-17 campaign was his form in European play, as he lead Ajax to the Europa League final by scoring six goals in 13 appearances, including four in the knockout stages.

Denmark enters the tournament without first-choice striker and folk hero Niklas Bendtner, who was left out of the final 23-man squad due to an injury suffered in the final match of the season for his club Rosenborg BK.  The absence of Lord Bendtner means head coach Age Hareide will need to select an alternative option to spearhead his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Center-forwards Nicolai Jorgensen and Andreas Cornelius are ahead of Dolberg on the team sheet, meaning the youngster’s chance to shine will likely come as a substitute.  Regardless of how the playing time comes, expect him to leave a lasting impression.

 

 

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Mexico - Winger 


An out-and-out winger with a long list of admirers, Hirving Lozano is one of the best young stars headed to the World Cup.  The 22-year-old began his rise to stardom when he guided Mexican side Pachuca to victory in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions, a tournament in which he was voted Best Young Player and finished as the top scorer with eight goals in eight appearances.  His stellar form continued when he joined Dutch side PSV Eindhoven last summer, scoring 17 goals and tallying 11 assists to help PSV win the 2017-18 Eredivisie title. Diving into his deeper metrics, "Chucky" ranked fourth in shots (3.4) and sixth in key passes (2.6) per match in the Dutch top-flight.

 

A right-footed left-winger who loves to cut inside, Lozano will team with Javier Hernandez, Gio dos Santos and Carlos Vela to form Mexico’s attack.  Having been his nation’s top-scorer with four goals in World Cup qualification, the youngster is a forward on the cusp of international stardom.




Email :Sean Sullivan





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