Thursday, June 14, 2018
World Cup Watch
With 736 players headed to the 2018 World Cup, which individuals could make a significant 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 the three following classifications.
Star Watch – High-profile players
Underrated Asset – Well-known, undervalued players
Rising Stars – Lesser-known talents you’ve most likely never seen play
The fourth and final edition of World Cup Watch is a selection of four goalkeepers.
Alisson, Brazil Goalkeeper
Despite fierce competition from Manchester City star Ederson, Alisson will be Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup. Why? Roma’s ace kept 17 clean sheets and conceded only 28 goals in 37 Serie A appearances in 2017-18. He made more saves (47) than any keeper in the Champions League and had the second-best save success rate in Europe’s top five leagues (80.1%). For as good as Alisson was this past season, his numbers for Brazil are even better. Since his debut under Dunga in 2016, he has recorded 17 clean sheets and conceded 11 times in over 2,000 minutes of international play. As the leading man during World Cup qualification, he topped all South American goalkeepers with nine shutouts in 16 starts.
Based on domestic and international form, Alisson is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world outside of David de Gea. Two significant figures support this bold statement. The 25-year-old hasn’t conceded a goal in over 520 minutes. Furthermore, he’s claimed 15 clean sheets in 20 starts under manager Tite. As the anchor of a highly-talented and experienced defence, Alisson is well-placed to become Brazil’s first-ever Golden Glove winner.
Fernando Muslera, Uruguay – Goalkeeper
Concerning underrated goalkeepers, Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera checks all the boxes. At his first World Cup in 2010, Muslera was a vital piece of the Uruguay side that reached the semi-finals and finished fourth in South Africa. The shot-stopper kept clean sheets during all three of Uruguay’s group stage matches—France, South Africa and Mexico—and didn’t concede until the 68th minute in the Round of 16 against South Korea. At his second World Cup in 2014, he kept a clean sheet against Italy in the group stage and played every minute as Uruguay reached the Round of 16. With 11 World Cup appearances to his name, Muslera will be the second-most experienced goalkeeper in Russia. Only German’s Manuel Neuer (13) boasts more World Cup appearances than the 31-year-old.
Uruguay is one of the best long-shots considering their favourable group (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia) and sharp attack. In addition to Luiz Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front, they have two elite defenders in Atletico Madrid centre-backs, Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. If Muslera can find his form from 2010, Uruguay could make a deep run in Russia.
Jordan Pickford, England
While you can argue for Jack Butland and Nick Pope, who were both named in the final 23-man squad, Jordan Pickford seems sure to be England’s number one in Russia. Despite Pickford’s relative inexperience at the senior international level, the 24-year-old is a proven shot-stopper. During his breakout season at Sunderland in 2016-17, he averaged 4.65 saves per game and led the league in total saves (135). Again under fire this past season at Everton, he still managed to post ten clean sheets and 121 saves. In total, over the past two seasons, he made more saves (256) than any other Premier League keepers.
Pickford, who became the fourth-most expensive goalkeeper of all time when Everton paid Sunderland 30m for his services last June, will need be at his best if England hopes to have a successful tournament. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli headline Gareth Southgate‘s squad. However, scoring goals is only half the battle. For England to win Group G, it will require Pickford keeping a clean sheet against Belgium.
Mathew Ryan, Australia
Mathew Ryan has been Australia’s first-choice goalkeeper since 2012 when he took over for long-time starter Mark Schwarzer. Ryan had a forgettable campaign between the sticks at the World Cup 2014, conceding nine goals across losses to the Netherlands, Chile and Spain. However, his prospects are much brighter in Russia. Ryan, who was named the Best Goalkeeper at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, is coming off a strong debut season at Brighton & Hove Albion. He kept ten clean sheets in 38 starts and averaged 3.26 saves per game. Of all Premier Leauge keepers, he ranked third in saves with 124.
The 26-year-old, with 44 caps, heads to his second World Cup where he will encounter three potent attacks. In the opening match against France, he will have his hands full with Griezmann, Mbappe and Giroud. Christian Eriksen headlines a Denmark side with underrated, but powerful, attackers. As for Peru, captain Paolo Guerrero spearheads a front line comprised of Jefferson Farfan and Andre Carrillo. Concerning saves per game, Ryan must lead the tournament during the group stages for Australia to advance.