Getty Images

2018 World Cup: Breakout stars

Leave a comment

Each World Cup there are always players who emerge to steal the show as they become superstars not only in their homeland but across the globe.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]  

The tournament in Russia this summer will be no different.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Below is a look at some of the potential “breakout stars” you should keep a close eye on throughout the tournament.


Hirving “Chucky” Lozano (Mexico and PSV Eindhoven)
The El Tri star had a stunning first season in Holland, winning the Eredivisie title and lauded for his speedy attacks out wide. Chucky scored 17 goals in 29 league games and bagged 19 in 34 games in all competitions for the Dutch giants as big clubs across Europe keep a close eye on him. Lozano has already scored seven goals in 26 games for Mexico since making his debut in 2016 and big things are expected from the 22-year-old speedster this summer.


Trent Alexander-Arnold (England and Liverpool)
At just 19 years of age the Liverpool right back has been thrust into the spotlight for club and country in recent months. At the start of the 2017/18 season TAA hadn’t even played a league game for Liverpool but Jurgen Klopp put his faith in the youngster and injuries to Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez have him a chance to shine at Anfield. He grabbed that chance with both hands and played well in the UEFA Champions League final as well as being called up to the England squad for the first-time ever for the World Cup. He will battle with Kieran Trippier for the right wing-back role and his attacking talents mean he is a real threat, even though he’s a little raw defensively.


Leon Goretzka (Germany and Bayern Munich)
After a fine season for Schalke which sealed a move to Bayern Munich (official on July 1), Goretzka rode the positivity surrounding him after his fine displays in the Confederations Cup last summer for Germany. At 23 years of age he is ready to contribute for Die Mannschaft across midfield and his well-time runs from deep make him so tough to track. Goretzka has scored six goals in 15 games for Germany and is a key man for Joachim Low.


Daniel Arzani (Australia and Melbourne City)
The youngster player at the World Cup, Arzani is just 19 years old and has a bright future ahead of him. Bert van Marwijk sprung a bit of a surprise but selecting the Iranian born winger who is able to take on players easily and has something a little different compared to Australia’s other attacking options. If he gets the chance to dazzle on the big stage then Australia could have a new soccer hero to take over the reins as Tim Cahill gets set to depart the game.


Timo Werner (Germany and RB Leipzig)

SOCHI, RUSSIA – JUNE 25: Timo Werner of Germany leaves the pitch after winning the FIFA Confederations Cup Group B match between Germany and Cameroon at Fisht Olympic Stadium on June 25, 2017 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Lukas Schulze – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

A lethal predator in the box for Leipzig and Germany, Werner also made his name in the Confed Cup last summer and has scored seven goals in 13 games for Germany since making his debut in 2017. Werner, 22, has scored 21 goals in each of his last two seasons with Leipzig and despite a slight dip in form in 2017/18 Germany are counting on him to finish off the countless chances he will provide. When you think of Werner as a player, think Miroslav Klose but a little quicker.


Jesse Lingard (England and Manchester United)
Yes, he is a little older than most of the other entries in this list but he is pushing Dele Alli all the way to be a starter for England in midfield. He may well end up playing alongside Alli in a more attacking lineup for the Three Lions and Lingard’s penchant for popping up with big goals in big games at club level will give Gareth Southgate faith he can deliver the goods for England.


Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia and Lazio)

The 23-year-old has been linked with moves to Manchester United and Lazio and the two-way midfielder will be given the keys to Serbia’s hopes. Milinkovic-Savic can pick a pass and stride forward in attack but is also able to sit back and do his defensive work. If he has a good World Cup you expect his transfer fee to rise beyond $175 million. Lazio’s recent resurgence has been led by his displays in central midfield.


Rodrigo Betancur (Uruguay and Juventus)
In his first season at Juventus he made 27 appearances in all competitions and won a Serie A and Italian cup double after joining from Boca Juniors. Betancur, still just 20 years old, is able to play anywhere in midfield but will probably start on the left a three-man Uruguayan midfield. Betancur is calm on the ball and snaps into tackles which fits in nicely with La Celeste’s playing style.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.