With England and Belgium going so far in the World Cup, we got to see plenty of EPL favorites in the limelight, but of course the Premiership’s star power wasn’t limited to those two sides. Naturally some players disappointed, but many came through when it mattered. What takeaways arose from the summer showcase with respect to the upcoming 2018-19 Premier League fantasy season?
Of course, as Stall cautioned in his recent article featuring some early thoughts on Premier League player prices, the brass will surely have their managers resting the star players who went deep into the tournament. Those stars must be worn, both mentally and physically, after playing at full bore for 11 straight months. So while you may wish to avoid a few of them in your teams for the first week or two, you won’t want to forget about them after they get past their World Cup hangover. So let’s take a look at how a number of players’ performances on the big stage impacted our expectations for the upcoming season, whether out of the gate or a couple/few weeks in when they make it back to the pitch.
WHO STARRED AT THE WORLD CUP AND IS SET TO SHINE?
This list has to start with France’s Hugo Lloris. He did not have to make a great number of saves, but when he did, he came up huge for the champions... Huge Hugo? Sure, why not?! Yes, he made an absolutely awful gaffe in the final against Croatia, but unlike when Liverpool’s Loris Karius gifted a goal to Real Madrid in the Champions’ League final, the World Cup capper was already decided in France’s favor. Lloris should return to Tottenham feeling like he can climb even higher in the top tier of Premier Leaguers at the position.
Unlike Lloris, Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois actually did make the most saves of any keeper at the World Cup, and his Golden Glove-winning performance for third place Belgium helped at least somewhat remove the poor taste of a fifth-place finish for Chelsea and subsequently missing out on Champions League. With a new manager coming in and hopefully shoring things up all over the pitch, Courtois should be ready to keep shining.
Elsewhere, England’s Jordan Pickford became a national hero, erasing memories of Aargh! Joe Hart Aargh! (TM Santiago), so he will be revitalized for Everton. Kasper Schmeichel also came up with some amazing stops for Denmark, and you don’t have to be a Leicester fan to think he can prosper again for the Foxes. And while Nick Pope did not make an appearance for the Three Lions, the fact that Gareth Southgate picked him in the squad over Burnley teammate Tom Heaton bodes well for Sean Dyche retaining the youngster in the #1 position at Turf Moor.
England’s defense wasn’t as tight as Southgate would have liked, but the defenders did emerge as an offensive force, with Harry Maguire, John Stones, and Kieran Trippier each starring at the attacking end. It was an especially bold coming out party for Maguire, who may have just found some suitors trying to pluck him from Leicester. Fantasy managers would love it if Stones’ strong (albeit far from perfect) performance cemented a starting spot with Manchester City, but that may be wishful thinking. In many minds, Trippier was below Danny Rose in the pecking order for Tottenham Hotspur, but now he looks to come out well ahead. On top of that, thanks to a wonderful David Beckham-esque free kick goal, Trippier might be able to wrest the occasional 25-yard bender attempt from Christian Eriksen or Harry Kane.
Belgium’s trio of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, and Vincent Kompany (Spurs x 2 + Manchester City, respectively) held down the fort well in the back, while making their own share of offensive contributions. Manchester United are apparently courting Alderweireld, while otherwise Vertonghen and Kompany merely reassured their home sides of their importance.
Getting to the championship game may have changed the way the average Liverpool fan feels about Dejan Lovren, though of course the defender has no problem with confidence. Victor Lindelof also put in a nice tournament for Sweden, perhaps giving him a bit of redemption in the mind of Jose Mourinho.
In attacking midfield, Eden Hazard powered Belgium’s third place run, and came out looking like the Chelsea superstar he is. The question remains: Will he choose to stay at the London side where he’s hoisted two Premier League trophies in the past three seasons, or can the player in his prime stand missing out on Champions League for the second time in four years?
In a star-studded England midfield, Jesse Lingard emerged as the best of the bunch, and he should be able to take that momentum back to Manchester United. Egypt’s Mo Salah did not quite have the breakout performance he was hoping for, but he scored two goals in two games (not bad, eh?) on the bounce from injury (even better). Most importantly, his improving health eased the minds of Liverpool and general football fans far and wide.
Switzerland’s Xheridan Shaqiri enjoyed a strong summer with a goal and an assist, highlighted by the game-winning burst against Serbia that surely helped land his big transfer to Liverpool, who will hope he can be a mini-Coutinho. National teammate Granit Xhaka blasted a thundering strike to start the scoring against Serbia, surely boosting his stock in the eyes of new Arsenal manager Unai Emery.
South Korea wasn’t expected to do anything, so most fantasy managers avoided Son Heung-Min. Though they failed to get out of the group stage, Son did score twice, first a beautiful long-distance strike in a loss against Mexico, and then the capper in the victory over Germany. Not too shabby! Son will have added pressure with more competition for playing time expected from Lucas Moura this season. By outperforming England’s Dele Alli and arguably even Denmark’s Christian Eriksen from the Spurs midfield at the World Cup, Son goes into the upcoming campaign with a huge amount of confidence, and that can’t hurt.
Strangely, the curious omission of Leroy Sane from the German national team may have actually benefited the young talent. He reacted with class at the snub, he avoided the stench of Die Mannschaft’s flameout, and he looked much better in hindsight as somebody who would have made a difference had Joachim Low included him in the side.
Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa exploded with a beautiful brace against Iceland, something that Leicester fans certainly loved to see. With the departure of winger Riyad Mahrez, Musa would love see that prowess carry over, perhaps leading to a more regular pairing with Jamie Vardy (unless of course Musa leaves the Foxes in a big money transfer out of the EPL as rumored).
Of course, England’s Harry Kane was the real EPL star at forward, capturing the Golden Boot with six goals. After losing out to Salah in the Premier League’s 2017-18 golden-boot race, that was just what the doctor ordered as he returns to Spurs. Our one concern might be that Harry couldn’t score from open play in the month of July (his only July goal being the penalty vs Colombia), so he may still be prone to summer doldrums — YMMV.
WHO SPUTTERED IN THE SUMMER & MAY SUFFER A LETDOWN?
Premier League keepers generally fared well at the World Cup. But the one who sadly stood out the most on the other end was the least likely to struggle. Not only that, it was an absolute horror show performance! After pacing the Premier League with 18 clean sheets and finishing fifth with 115 saves for Manchester United, David De Gea allowed five goals for Spain (including a howler against Portugal), plus all five penalty kicks in the shootout against Russia, while making only one save in the entire tournament. A stat line like that for such a top notch keeper is simply shocking. De Gea will have to get over it quickly, and all Old Trafford eyes will be on him to see if he can get his confidence back or if he instead follows in the footsteps of Iker Casillas.
The well-regarded trio of Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Manchester United) and Danny Rose (Spurs) didn’t get too much playing time for the Three Lions, and the way things turned out, most observers will not have any problems with Southgate’s line-up choices. In a similar vein, Benjamin Mendy had hoped to have a coming out party for Les Blues, but instead it was Lucas Hernandez who performed brilliantly at left wing back, so Manchester City fans may not rate him as highly as they had thought when he was brought over in a big-money move last summer.
With respect (or disrespect) to Raheem Sterling, has there ever been a greater disparity between performance for club and country?
Premier League career: 49 goals in 192 games (including 31 goals in 97 games the past three seasons with Manchester City).
International career with England: 2 goals in 44 games.
The latter includes no scores (and only one assist) in six games at the 2018 World Cup when Sterling was coming off his best ever Premier League campaign. On top of that, England made it to the semis and scored 12 times as a team. Sterling created plenty of chances, but was comically wayward in attempting to convert them. A la “winter is coming” in Game of Thrones parlance, Riyad Mahrez is coming for Sterling’s starting spot unless Sterling can magically turn the switch back on.
A lot of pundits are giving plenty of plaudits to France’s Paul Pogba. After all, Les Blues took the trophy and Pogba was a big part of the team. But in my mind, he didn’t help his case with fantasy managers, but rather he hurt it even more. After notching 8 goals and 13 assists with Juventus in 2015-16, this is the player who came to Manchester United as the most expensive transfer ever at the time. Of course, he then flopped, with only five goals and four assists in 2016-17. The addition of defensive midfield anchor Nemanja Matic was supposed to release Pogba to bomb forward at will, and Pogba did pick things up a bit with 6 goals and 10 assists. But that was still not quite what was desired from a fantasy standpoint, considering he’s not exactly a bargain.
At the World Cup, France scored 14 goals. N’Golo Kante manned the defensive midfield masterfully, theoretically again allowing Pogba more freedom to bomb forward. Yet Pogba managed only one goal and one assist. Doesn’t that make it look like we should expect more of the same Pogba at United in 2018-19, kind of midfield engine-room-ish, but far from superlative cutting edge?
The same thing happened with Kevin De Bruyne, who surprisingly also managed only one goal and one assist for his explosive Belgium side, which led the World Cup by netting 16 times. I don't know that fantasy managers should panic over that, but it certainly gives at least a small kernel of worry that Pep Guardiola could be tempted to have KDB play deeper as Roberto Martinez did.
After a sluggish season at Arsenal, German fans hoped for more of a spark from Mesut Ozil, and we all know how that turned out. David Silva was coming off an outstanding campaign with Manchester City, but likewise did nothing as Spain exited early. Ozil’s teammate Alex Iwobi was expected to fly with Nigeria, but he was benched after the first game.
Never Manage Alone has had a long, difficult relationship with Romelu Lukaku. Just when we thought he’d shed his “Troll King” label at Everton, Lukaku was atrocious for his inaugural season with Manchester United. He managed only 16 goals, 15 of them against lesser teams (outside the “Big Six”) seemingly cementing his reputation of failing to show up against top competition.
What happened at the World Cup with Belgium? Lukaku bullied a couple of minnows (Panama and Tunisia) for four goals in two group stage games, then failed to score in the knockout rounds in four tries against bigger fish (Japan, Brazil, France and England). If you want to focus on his quartet of goals, that’s your prerogative. For me, the main takeaway is that the big Belgian completely failed to change the narrative over the summer, which makes it difficult to expect a surge in prosperity for his second season as a Red Devil.
Elsewhere, though Neymar was supposed to be the star for Brazil, Gabriel Jesus was expected to shine alongside him. Instead, Jesus was a dud, while Roberto Firmino proved to be a much better option despite coming off the bench. Jurgen Klopp certainly loved seeing that; Pep Guardiola, not so much.
A la Pogba, France’s Olivier Giroud is a world champion. Great for him! But as far as fantasy prospects, his failure to score while Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe were the clear stars of the show will not help his prospects at Chelsea, especially under new manager Maurizio Sarri, who could easily take a run at some new players. After all, the Blues aren’t usually very shy about throwing around money, and a fresh regime often chooses to clear house.
Similarly to Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho failed to make an impact with Nigeria, as Musa starred instead. If you were looking for a springboard for success in the absence of Mahrez, you may have to take a gander elsewhere.
How have players’ performances in the World Cup had an impact on how you rate them for the upcoming fantasy Premier League season? Which players are you avoiding, and whom are you going to be sure to add? Is there anybody not mentioned above who stood out to you at the World Cup? Let us know in the comments!