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USMNT’s $72M Pulisic amongst top eight U-21 values in world

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USMNT and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic is among the most valuable U21 players in the world, according to a new study.

Pulisic’s value of $71.7m is eighth-highest in the world, and he is the first American to be named to the list.

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The group SoccerEx uses data driven by Prime Time Sport’s Football Value Index, and it has issued U21 value reports for about a half decade. Previous winners are Dele Alli, Anthony Martial, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling.

The report deals with players born after Jan. 1, 1997, and claims to account for “personal attributes and pitch performances, using player’s current personal information and the performance of both current season and the previous one.”

That does answer the question of whether being American and carrying interest from a massive country might bump up the value a bit, though there’s little doubt Pulisic is a star (though media value is just a small part of their formula).

It comes as little surprise that PSG’s Kylian Mbappe is No. 1, coming off an amazing season for club and country which could see him win the Ballon d’Or.

Pulisic is ahead of Top 20 players Cenzig Under (Roma), Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan), Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid), and Premier Leaguers Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham).

The seven ahead of Pulisic: Gianluigi Donnarumma (7, AC Milan), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Malcom (Bordeaux), Gabriel Jesus (Man City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), and Mbappe.

This is not meant to be the latest in an eternal list of shouts at the USMNT, but imagine how high Pulisic could’ve ranked had he been able to take the stage at the World Cup in Russia.

World Cup Most Disappointing XI players

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With the final around the corner, we here at ProSoccerTalk already put together a list of our World Cup Team of the Tournament. With stars like Luka Modric, Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane, and K’Golo Kante headlining the list of players performing at the highest level on the biggest stage, the summer has no doubt proven as exciting as ever.

[ MORE: PST Writers pick their World Cup Best XI ]

However, there’s always another side of the coin. Many top teams disappointed heavily this summer, and with that comes poor individual performances from those expected to have a major impact. This summer has seen players who may have slipped from stardom to obscurity due to age or poor form. So who was the most disappointing? Some of us here put together a starting lineup of players who have underwhelmed compared to expectations.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Teams such as Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina are heavily represented, as are other European nations like Denmark, Switzerland, and Poland who would have expected to perform better given their lofty FIFA rankings. Finally, the African nations will be disappointed to not reach the knockout phase, and make an appearance as a result.


Without further ado, here are some of our Disappointing Teams of the Tournament:

Kyle Bonn (4-3-3 formation)

GK: David De Gea (Spain)
DF: Alba (Spain), Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), Gerard Pique (Spain), Lukasz Piszczek (Poland)
MF: Sami Khedira (Germany), Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
FW: Gabriel Jesus (Brazil), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Thomas Muller (Germany)

Matt Reed (3-4-3 formation)

GK: David de Gea
DF: Joshua Kimmich (Germany), Nicolas Otamendi, Gerard Pique
MF: Bernardo Silva (Portugal), Javier Mascherano, Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Mesut Ozil (Germany)
FW: Gabriel Jesus, Timo Werner (Germany), Robert Lewandowski

Daniel Karell (3-4-3 formation)

GK: David de Gea
DF: Gerard Pique, Nicolas Otamendi, Mats Hummels (Germany)
MF: Marco Reus (Germany), Javier Mascherano, Antoine Griezmann (France), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)
FW: Neymar (Brazil), Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Nicholas Mendola (4-3-3 formation)

GK: David De Gea (Spain)
DF: Jerome Boateng (Germany), Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal), Sergio Ramos (Spain)
MF: Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Sergej Malinkovic-Savic (Serbia), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Bernardo Silva (Portugal)
FW: Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Timo Werner (Germany), Raheem Sterling (England)


The goalkeeper is a consensus pick in Manchester United’s David de Gea, who has won countless awards in the Premier League over the last few seasons with the Red Devils and has been linked for years with a move to Manchester United. His exploits in Russia this summer, however, were far from the standards he has set for himself in England.

In defense, there are also a pair of consensus picks in Argentina’s Nicolas Otamendi and Spain’s Gerard Pique. Otamendi was fabulous for Manchester City in their runaway title chase this past season, while Pique has been one of the best defenders in the world for years with Barcelona. Neither was up to their usual standards as both teams proved leaky at the back. Also appearing is Germany’s Mats Hummels and Joshua Kimmich, who both failed to meet expectations in a wildly disappointing group stage exit.

In the middle of the pitch, Javier Mascherano is a consensus pick, with the 31-year-old starting each and every game of the Argentina’s World Cup yet failing to cover the back line effectively at an advanced age. Jorge Sampaoli’s faith in him proved to be a big reason for Argentina’s early exit. Germany’s Sami Khedira suffered a similar fate, although at least Jogi Low had the sense to bench him quickly. Others appearing here include disappointing attackers Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Iwobi. Eriksen was consistently double-teamed with Denmark offering little else up front, and they were left unable to threaten opposing defenses with any regularity. Ozil has been criticized often over the years at Arsenal, and he failed to provide much for Germany in creativity. Iwobi is a youngster who had been pegged as a potential breakout star at the World Cup, but he failed to deliver and the African teams left much on the table. Even Antoine Griezmann, who some have labeled a potential Golden Ball candidate, makes an appearance as the Frenchman has often struggled with the final ball up front and he occasionally appears unable to operate on the same page as his teammates.

Finally, up front brings us consensus pick Robert Lewandowski, who yet again failed to come up clutch on the big stage. He has gone missing recently in big European games for Bayern Munich, and he was unable to engineer anything special at the head of the attack for 8th ranked team in the world. Brazil youngster Gabriel Jesus makes a pair of appearances, having disappointed mightily up front for Brazil playing the central striker role. There were louder and louder calls to start Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino in his place as the tournament went on, but those fell on deaf ears with manager Tite. Germany’s pair of Thomas Muller and Timo Werner represent other disappointments, with the hero of the 2014 World Cup final and the country’s young new talisman both putting forth forgettable performances. And finally, yes, Argentina superstar Lionel Messi makes the cut. While many claim his team weighed him down, there is no debating Messi’s tournament was one to forget. Altogether, the six strikers that appear here combined for just one goal in the entire tournament, from Messi.

Mahrez, Man City share No. 1 goal: Win Champions League

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After winning the Premier League in historically dominant fashion last season — Pep Guardiola‘s second at the club — every new signing Manchester City make from here on out will be made, and judged, with one goal in mind: winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Southgate “the backbone of this team; the man’s a gentleman” ]

Guardiola and Co., won’t be splashing out $80 million for a player with the lowly intent of consolidating domestic power and merely hanging on to the PL title, Riyad Mahrez, who completed his transfer from Leicester City for that very fee on Tuesday, knows it. It’s why he’s at the club.

Having already led the Foxes to the unlikeliest of PL titles two seasons ago, Mahrez has bigger fish to fry, and his targets are perfectly aligned with those of his new employer — quotes from the BBC and the Guardian:

“The Champions League is for big clubs, they’re a big club, they have everything to try to win it.

“City have ambition to go further than the Champions League quarterfinals like they did last season. I made the decision to come here because I want to be part of that.

“Pep [Guardiola] is a big manager, he’s won a lot of things and made history with this club. I’ll give my best to achieve for the club.”

“I haven’t talked about my precise position with the manager yet, but City wanted me and that means a lot. The price tag doesn’t affect me — fees for players have got very big in the last couple of years. I am very happy to be here and will try to give my best for the club. I thought what City did last year was amazing, it was unbelievable to break all those Premier League records, but I am confident about myself. I want to help this team improve and I believe that is what the manager wants.”

“Players at top clubs always have to face competition for places, it is normal for big clubs to have a lot of great players and City are a big club with a big manager.”

Mahrez is an ideal signing for a side with Man City’s ambitions and embarrassment of mega-bucks talent. Sure, he cost the club $80 million — a club-record fee — and you can say that he won’t get enough games with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Bernardo Silva also in the team, but injuries will inevitably rear their ugly heads, and Mahrez’s presence will make City two-deep at three positions behind strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.

[ MORE: Mourinho: England needs to keep coaches for next World Cup ]

The goal is to win the Champions League while retaining the PL title as an absolute bare minimum expectation. They made it look easy in 2017-18, but their pursuit of all-time records likely played a part in coming up short in European competition. City have an unfair advantage in terms of resources and weapons, but winning a treble (or a quadruple) would amount to a massively unfair achievement.

Belgium headed to World Cup semis after beating Brazil

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Belgium are headed to a World Cup semifinal for the first time since 1986 after knocking off Brazil, a side which hadn’t lost a game — competitive or otherwise — in nearly 13 months, in Friday’s thrilling quarterfinal clash in Nizhny Novgorod.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Kevin De Bruyne scored the latest stunner in a 2018 tournament full of them (WATCH HERE), to add to an early own goal, before Brazil fought back valiantly but ultimately fell in the end, 2-1.

Fernandinho opened the scoring, into the wrong goal, in the 13th minute (WATCH HERE). Vincent Kompant, Fernandinho’s teammate at Manchester City, rose above the scrum to get his head to Nacer Chadli‘s corner kick, but didn’t make the cleanest of contact. The ball appeared headed across the six-yard box, until it made contact with the arm of Fernandinho and eluded a flailing Alisson in goal.

The 1-0 scoreline didn’t last long, as Belgium doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark. Romelu Lukaku picked the ball up inside his own half and surged forward, past a handful of defenders, before the ball was knocked away but fell to De Bruyne to Lukaku’s right. Three touches later, De Bruyne had the ball on his right foot with far too much sight of goal. The laser which ensued was un-savable (WATCH HERE).

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

For the ensuing 45 minutes, the Belgian defense appeared impermeable, thwarting anything and everything Brazil through at them. Even a pair of penalty-kick claims, from Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, fell on deaf ears.

Everything changed in the 76th minute, when Philippe Coutinho curled the perfect ball toward te penalty spot where Renato Augusto was waiting and anticipating. The Beijing Guoan midfielder applied every bit of contact and power he could muster with his head to beat Thibaut Courtois inside his left-hand post.

Fewer than five minutes later, it was Augusto who had Brazil’s first golden opportunity to draw the five-time world champions level, but he dragged his shot wide from just outside the box, letting the Belgian backline off the hook for a failed clearance.

Coutinho badly skewed Brazil’s next chance high and wide. Neymar beat his man to the endline and cut back inside before laying the ball back for the late-arriving Barcelona man, but Coutinho got his first-time effort all wrong and Belgium again went unpunished.

Once more, Brazil threatened in the 94th minute, but Courtois made a seemingly impossible save to tip Neymar’s curling shot just over the crossbar.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Up next for Roberto Martinez’s side will be a highly anticipated semifinal matchup with their southern neighbors, France, the last remaining pre-tournament favorite still breathing.

Tite faces first true tactical test as Brazil meets Belgium

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With the Round of 16 complete, Brazil is one of the few favorites in the 2018 World Cup to have earned that nomenclature thus far. Germany slumped out in the group stage, Spain looked lost without its manager and bowed out in the Round of 16, and France still seems yet to put together a truly complete performance.

Now, staring down a quarterfinal date with Belgium’s “Golden Generation” on Saturday, Brazil faces its first true test. Manager Tite has yet to find himself truly challenged tactically over his two-year tenure with the national team, breezing through CONMEBOL qualification in a South American confederation that appears weaker than usual given its combined performance in the World Cup thus far.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Brazil sailed through qualification with a week one loss the only blemish along entire way, and to this point in the big dance they’ve done enough to push by Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia, and Mexico with few truly shaky moments. Now, Tite finds himself tasked with halting the seductively free-flowing Belgian attack that has multiple strengths with which to threaten an opposition.

In a vacuum, Tite wouldn’t have much to think about, his first-choice Brazilian side built well to handle an attacking juggernaut like Belgium. However, the numerous circumstances surrounding Saturday’s quarterfinal make this an exceedingly difficult prospect for Tite – his first truly mountainous trial.

The biggest concern Tite must to overcome is the loss of central midfielder Casemiro to yellow card suspension. The World Cup’s excessively strict yellow card policy sees players who accumulate a second caution before the semifinal suspended for the subsequent match, and thanks to Casemiro’s booking in the 59th minute of the 2-0 win over Mexico for a foul on Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Brazil is without the Real Madrid rock.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Casemiro is essential to Brazil’s structure and shape, and protects a back line better than any number 6 in the world. His performance against Mexico was as stout as any, but it’s not a good illustration of his true abilities given how Mexico intentionally targeted Brazil’s flanks as their preferred outlet of attack. Instead, one should look to Brazil’s comfortable 2-0 win over Serbia to discover Casemiro’s true worth. Against the big, physical presence of Serbia’s attack, Casemiro was vital in preventing them from circulating through the middle. The 26-year-old completed six of eight tackles attempted, contributed four clearances, recovered nine balls, and went toe-to-toe with Serbia’s exceptionally physical presence winning three of his seven defensive aerial duels. He effectively forced Serbia’s attack out wide, where they are not nearly as dangerous. Below is their attacking dashboard, where you can see the void in the middle as opposed to the traffic out wide.

Serbia attacking dashboard vs. Brazil in Group E play of 2018 World Cup (dashboard via StatsZone app, statistics via Opta).

As you can see, they were completely neutralized in the center of the pitch. With this in mind, Serbia was forced to take a mammoth 26 crosses, of which they successfully connected on just four.

Casemiro’s suspension will be a massive loss for Brazil against Belgium’s impressive attacking assualt. In the Red Devils’ 5-2 demolition of promising African nation Tunisia, they were relentless down the middle. Roberto Martinez has Kevin De Bruyne playing in a deeper midfield role with Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens ahead of him in the attacking midfield, and the Manchester City playmaker has been able to marshal the Belgian buildup from deep. Against Tunisia he created five chances and was given free reign through the middle of the field to control the pace of play. That ultimately saw Belgium’s attack bask in plenty of sunlight through the central areas.

 

Kevin de Bruyne’s complete dashboard in Belgium’s 5-2 win over Tunisia in Group G play (dashboard via StatsZone app, statistics via Opta).
Belgium’s attempted take-ons in the 5-2 win over Tunisia in Group G play.
Belgiums attacking third passes in the 5-2 win over Tunisia in Group G play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this in mind, Tite will be forced to counter the loss of Casemiro. With Paulinho deployed next to Casemiro thus far throughout the World Cup, it’s unlikely Tite would want to leave him on an island against Belgium. The most likely scenario is the addition of Fernandinho in Casemiro’s place, with the Manchester City holding midfielder a fitting selection to deputize against his Belgian club teammate with the Premier League title winners. Fernandinho was fabulous last season for his club, a big reason why Manchester City was able to win a championship in record-setting fashion. He was the 12th best player in the Premier League last season according to Squawka Statistics as he executed Pep Guardiola‘s tactics to perfection. However, the biggest weakness for Fernandinho is his defensive ability, with the 25-year-old making 5.3 defensive contributions (tackles, interceptions, clearances, blocks) per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season compared to Casemiro’s 9.1 in La Liga play.

Instead of Fernandinho, we could see the likes of new Manchester United signing Fred or veteran Renauto Augusto if Tite wants to be more aggressive, which may be a preferable tactical choice given Belgium’s weak defensive midfield that Japan exploited in the first half of their Round of 16 meeting, before Roberto Martinez shored things up with the introduction of Marouane Fellaini.

Another conundrum Tite must solve is the looming question up front: what to do with Gabriel Jesus. The 21-year-old attacker impressed in his first season in England, but has proven underwhelming in Russia this summer. He has been upstaged by Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino late in World Cup games, most recently watching from the bench as Firmino iced the Mexico game with a late goal. There are calls to replace Jesus with a more centrally inclined striker like Firmino in the starting lineup, and it is Tite’s job to deduce whether Firmino is a fitting replacement for Jesus from the get-go, or if his success is molded by his use as a late sub against tired legs. If his Champions League performances are any indication, Firmino is more than capable of causing problems for opposition defensive structure for an entire 90 minutes at a high level, and his World Cup performances seem to suggest he has a better understanding with Neymar than Jesus has shown.

Finally, Tite has issues to solve on the back line as well. Injuries have decimated the Brazilian full-back ranks, and while it appears those injured may be somewhat subsiding, there are still lingering questions. Danilo was reportedly fit for the Mexico game, but Tite stuck with understudy Fagner at right-back, who was subsequently torn to shreds by Carlos Vela early and Lozano as the game progressed. Vela created four chances throughout the match – three in the first half – while completing 13 of 16 pass attempts in the attacking third. Lozano, meanwhile, completed six of 10 take-ons including five of his first seven before Brazil’s pressure became too much for Mexico to handle. Meanwhile on the left flank, Filipe Luis was troubled by Mexico’s wide attack as well – although not to the extent of Fagner – and while Marcelo’s presence in the Brazilian lineup would seem a given if healthy, some believe Filipe Luis has performed well enough to keep his place in the eleven.

Brazil has passed every test to this point, but in a World Cup full of chaos and upsets, Tite cannot afford to underestimate any personnel choice or tactical decision, no matter how small. His conclusions over the next few days will shape the 2018 World Cup’s first true heavyweight bout.