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Round of 16: A look at the top storylines ahead in the 2018 World Cup

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After 48 games, 122 goals and boat-loads of drama, we’ve made it to the 2018 World Cup knockout stage.

Of the 16 remaining nations, some have seen their stock rise and surprise many to make it to the next round, while others lived up to expectations – even if just barely – to make it out of the group stage.

Regardless of previous performance, it’s a fresh slate for the remaining nations, but now it’s win or go home. Every game is a final, the pressure is raised, and teams will leave everything on the line.

Let’s take a deeper look at the upcoming Round of 16 matches, and their top storylines:


France vs. Argentina, 10:00 a.m., Kazan

The knockout stage kicks off with a match that on paper is worthy of a World Cup final. Lionel Messi and co. take on Les Bleus featuring Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann.

But while both teams are in this round, neither has really lived up to expectations. France barely edged Australia and Peru and then tied Denmark, while Argentina needed heroics from Messi and Marcos Rojo to arrive in the second stage.

It all leads to this crucial match, which could see Argentina’s shaky defense implode once again. It’s perhaps best summed up by Argentine newspaper Diario Ole and French sports giant L’Equipe with opposing covers. “He (Messi) will pass (to the next round) by Ole and “he will not pass” by L’Equipe.


Uruguay vs. Portugal, 2:00 p.m., Sochi

On paper, it’s a battle of Luis Suarez vs. Cristiano Ronaldo, but in reality, this game will be determined by two teams who are much more comfortable while their opponent has the ball, preferring to counter at pace and take advantage of set piece opportunities.

With both teams content to sit and defend patiently, it will be interesting to see how this game pans out. Does Uruguay take the initiative, like they did against Saudi Arabia? Or does Portugal string 10 or more passes together before finding Ronaldo in the middle or Quaresma on the wing.


Spain vs. Russia, 10:00 a.m., Sunday, Moscow (Luzhniki)

The host nation surprised many with eight goals in its first two games to ensure a place in the knockout stage, but now Russia faces its biggest test against Spain.

La Furia Roja hasn’t been at top form in Russia, with Iago Aspas saving Spain in its last match against Morocco with a draw to ensure qualification to the next round. A defeat coupled with an Iran win would have sent Spain home.

That being said, even with an interim manager (Fernando Hierro) in charge, Spain should have enough talent to find a couple of goals and take care of business. But Russia will leave with its head held high.


Croatia vs. Denmark, 2:00 p.m., Sunday, Nizhny Novgorod

The Vatreni have been one of the star nations of the tournament, winning all three matches pretty comfortably and cruising into the knockout round.

Croatia now faces a fellow European opponent with a singular star in Christian Eriksen, and should Croatia mark him out of the game, it’s tough to see Nicolai Jorgensen and Yussuf Poulsen creating chances for themselves. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will meanwhile run the show for Croatia in midfield.


Brazil vs. Mexico, 10:00 a.m., Monday, Samara

It’s the big one.

After two games, Mexico looked like a lock to win its group, but a 3-0 drubbing to Sweden put Mexico on the verge of missing the knockout round all together, and they needed a prayer and two goals from South Korea to get over the line past Germany.

Regardless, if Mexico wants to play in El Quinto Partido (the fifth game), they’ll have to go through Brazil like everyone predicted.

And it’s possible! Brazil hasn’t truly convinced media and fans alike so far at the World Cup, and with Neymar’s antics and tears at the end of the match against Costa Rica, the pressure to win could be getting to him. Meanwhile, Brazil is without Dani Alves and could be without Marcelo, leaving them a bit limited at wing back, an area that Mexico could exploit.


Belgium vs. Japan, 2:00 p.m., Monday, Rostov

After crashing out in the World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil 2014, Belgium looks like the real deal now. Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are in fine form and with other stars such as Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen all playing their roles, it will be difficult to see the Red Devils not getting past Japan.

But the Blue Samurai have been a joy to watch at the World Cup, and even though they edged out Senegal on fair play points, they have shown they’ll give anyone a game.


Sweden vs. Switzerland, 10:00 a.m., Tuesday, St. Petersburg

Like Uruguay, no one defends better to spring a counter attack and win 1-0 better than Sweden. The Scandinavians used their physicality and brute strength – and some clinical finishing – to take down both Mexico and South Korea, while nearly taking a point off Germany.

The game plan is simple and Sweden appear to be able to execute it.

So can Switzerland, made up of a diverse squad filled with creative players, be able to break them down? It will be up to the diminutive but fun Xherdan Shaqiri to find the spaces between defense and midfield, threading passes to Blerim Dzemaili and Haris Seferovic.


Colombia vs. England, 2:00 p.m., Tuesday, Moscow (Spartak)

The one big question ahead of this game could determine its outcome. Is James Rodriguez available to play?

The BBC reported that the Bayern Munich midfielder was to undergo an MRI this weekend to determine the severity of his ongoing calf injury, and if Rodriguez, who was substituted off in the first half of Colombia’s game against Senegal, can’t play, Colombia will be at a severe disadvantage. Juan Fernando Quintero is a brilliant player, but Rodriguez is the heart and soul of this team, and without him, Radamel Falcao may be running circles, waiting for good service into the box.

Meanwhile, Gareth Southgate quietly has England in a fantastic place to make a deep run, should the Three Lions get past Colombia first.

England has looked decent, and certainly clinical at times, though a reserve England lineup couldn’t stand up to a changed Belgium squad last time around. But with Harry Kane on the field, who has scored five goals at this tournament in two games, England always has a chance. Let’s see if the Three Lions can exceed expectations and move on to the World Cup quarterfinals.

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.


3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.


Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Klopp reaction on Thiago debut, Fabinho; loved ‘perfect’ Liverpool’s hunger

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The Klopp reaction from Chelsea v. Liverpool was full of smiles and laughs as he called the win ‘perfect’ in every way.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Jurgen Klopp is a happy, happy man. He usually is, but his side took care of a much talked about Chelsea with minimal fuss at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to make it two wins from two this season for the reigning Premier League champions.

Sure, Andreas Christensen’s sending off right on half time shaped the game but so too did the hunger of Sadio Mane to strike twice early in the second half to secure the win.

[ MORE: Player ratings

A penalty save from Alisson and a debut for Thiago Alcantara made Klopp even happier and as long as captain Jordan Henderson didn’t suffer a serious injury, he said the trip to Chelsea could not have gone better.

Thiago debut showcases why he was bought?

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk after the game via a Zoom call, we asked for the Klopp reaction on Thiago Alcantara’s debut display and if it underlined exactly why he was signed from Bayern Munich.

Thiago came on at half time and completed 75 passes in 45 minutes, a new Premier League record, as the Spanish international slotted in superbly and allowed Liverpool to dictate the tempo of the game against an opponent which sat back deep and was only focusing on defending.

“We signed Thiago for different reasons and only one of them is against deep defending sides. We improved in that department a lot, I have to say, with all of the players who were already there before. But, yes, it is something that suits him. It is natural to him. I like that. Of course it is good. It is one reason of a lot,” Klopp said.

Fabinho dazzles as a stand-in center back; Jurgen Klopp reaction

ProSoccerTalk also asked Klopp about Fabinho’s display, as the Brazilian switched from his usual position of holding midfield to center back due to injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

“Fabinho, yes! If Sadio wouldn’t have scored two goals then I think Fab would have been a proper contender for Man of the Match!” Klopp smiled. “I loved his performance, he played outstandingly well. He helped us a lot, with the ball and in defending as well. A proper performance.”

With Thiago arriving in midfield, Fabinho at center back could be something we see a lot more of this season, especially as Gomez and Matip have a nasty knack of picking up small injuries consistently.

Liverpool send out a message

Klopp admitted that his team are only focused on the three points each week, but when asked about making a statement early in the season by winning at a Chelsea side who has spent over $250 million on new players, the Liverpool boss raved about the performance of his side.

“I liked the performance a lot. We are not playing for two things, for three points and then showing everybody you ‘better be ready when we arrive’ or something. That’s not us,” Klopp said. “The next game will be incredibly difficult for their own reasons because Arsenal is obviously flying since a few months already, it is going to be really tough.

“For ourselves, and that we feel the way we play, with adaptations and improvements, with development, that made us successful and will make us successful if we really throw it consistently on the pitch. This Chelsea game away will, for the next 500 years, be one of the most difficult games you can ever play and it will become even more difficult now when all things things are settled for Chelsea. That is clear. For today, it was difficult enough but we did it and I’m happy enough.”

Chelsea’s Lampard: Happier with play in Liverpool loss than Brighton win

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Like a lot of neutrals, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard feels deprived of what could’ve been a thrilling second half between his new-look Blues and Liverpool on Sunday.

Scoreless heading into first half stoppage time, Andreas Christensen was sent off for a DOGSO tackle on Sadio Mane, who scored twice early in the second half in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool | 3 things ]

“For chances the first half was pretty even,” Lampard said after the game. “The red card changes (the game). Makes me go into a reshuffle and against a team of that quality it’s obviously going to be really difficult. I think it could be given or not, Kepa was coming out. If anything I’m surprised it’s a yellow to start and gets changed.”

While Lampard had questions regarding the red card, he didn’t try to make any excuses for Kepa Arrizabalaga’s second-half mistake that gifted Mane his second goal.

Lampard would not be drawn into discussions on Kepa’s status and the heavily-reported arrival of Eduoard Mendy from France, but he says the goalkeeper error and Jorginho’s late penalty miss take away from what could’ve been a point.

“Big mistake, clear mistake,” Lampard groused. “When you reflect on the half, without that mistake and (if we) make the penalty, it’s 1-1. In lots of ways I’m actually happier than I was after Brighton. Lots of individuals showed me lots of good things.”

Chelsea hosts Barnsley in League Cup action on Tuesday before visiting West Brom on Saturday, two prime chances for Lampard to get his players’ heads right without a top four challenger on the fixture list until Manchester United on Oct. 24.

Player ratings: Chelsea v. Liverpool

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Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings: This game ended up being a very straightforward win for the reigning Premier League champions.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

A red card to Andreas Christensen right on half time swung the game in Liverpool’s favor and two goals early in the second half from Sadio Mane sealed a comfortable win for Jurgen Klopp’s side. With big mistakes and star performance, the Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings are extremely mixed.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Here’s a look Chelsea – Liverpool player ratings as Frank Lampard will be trying to keep things in perspective, while Liverpool and will be keen to keep building momentum.


Chelsea player ratings

Kepa: 3 – Wandering around early on and generally indecisive. Hesitant on the ball over the top which led to Christensen being sent off which forced the decision. Gave the second goal away with a poor mistake. He knows he will not be Chelsea’s goalkeeper with Edouard Mendy coming in soon.

Reece James: 6 – Wasn’t able to showcase his attacking talents from right back and Mane beat him to head home the first goal.

Andreas Christensen: 4 – He was actually playing pretty well until he was sent off right on half time. One long ball over the top set Mane free and Christensen hauled him down with Kepa dallying.

Kurt Zouma: 6 – Steady and tried his best to hold everything together at the back.

Marcos Alonso: 4 – He knows Chilwell is the first-choice left back, and he worked hard but was caught out on a one-two by Firmino and Salah for the first goal.

N’Golo Kante: 6 – One glorious chance to shoot when found in the box but looked for a pass. Struggled to shut Liverpool down.

Jorginho: 4 – A few loose passes, which is unlike him, and the captain struggled to hold down midfield. Missed a penalty kick too.

Mateo Kovacic: 7 – Plenty of mazy dribbles and was the one Chelsea midfield he looked to support the attack.

Mason Mount: 5 – Spent most of his time defending and wasn’t able to impact the game in a positive way.

Kai Havertz: 5 – Some lovely touches and oozes class on the ball, but not involved enough. Subbed off at half time.

Timo Werner: 7 – Always a threat and went close a couple of times in the first half. Caught offside too often. But that’s his game. Won a penalty kick in the second half and never stopped trying.

Substitutes
Fikayo Tomori (on for Havertz, 45′) 6 – Did his best to try and stop Liverpool’s juggernaut and made some decent blocks.
Ross Barkley (on for Jorginho, 79′) N/A
Tammy Abraham (on for Kovacic, 79′) N/A


Liverpool player ratings

Alisson: 7 – Hardly had anything to do throughout the entire game, then he saved a penalty kick superbly. Involved in the red card incident too with his claim and quick throw to turn defense into attack.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: 7 – Always whipping in dangerous balls and a real outlet on the right. Off target with his set pieces.

Fabinho: 8 – Stood in superbly at center back for the injured duo of Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Could he play at center back now that Thiago is around?

Virgil van Dijk: 7 – Did his job well enough and no uncharacteristic mistakes this week. Almost scored from a set piece situation.

Andy Robertson: 6 – Didn’t see much of him as an attacking threat but worked hard, as always.

Jordan Henderson: 7 – Led by example and a lovely ball over the top which led to Christensen’s red card. Subbed off at half time with a small issue.

Georginio Wijnaldum: 7 – Typically robust display in central midfield. Is he really going to be allowed to leave for Barcelona?

Naby Keita: 6 – Always wants to get on the ball but didn’t really happen for him with Kante and Jorginho around.

Mohamed Salah: 7 – Worked hard to conjure space for himself and teammates. Didn’t score but involved in the first goal.

Roberto Firmino: 7 – The Brazilian forward took a while to get into the game, but created the first goal with a lovely one-two and cross.

Sadio Mane: 9 – Great run to force Christensen to foul him and get sent off. Then headed home the opener in style and scored a second as he chased down Kepa’s pass. Incredible desire.

Substitutes
Thiago Alcantara (on for Henderson, 45′) 6 – Did okay on the ball but did give away a penalty kick on his Liverpool debut for a slight trip on Werner. Not ideal, but not disastrous. Showed his quality in possession.
James Milner (on for Keita, 64′) 6 – Solid as ever and helped Liverpool see out the win.
Takumi Minamino (on for Firmino, 86′) N/A