My beloved Blues currently have 11 players going to Brazil this summer, with loaned-out Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, and Christian Atsu, PSG-bound David Luiz, out-bound Frank Lampard, and likely in-bound Diego Costa, making it a total of 17 players. Today we’ll look at each player and discuss their role for their respective team this summer.
Oscar (Brazil) – After a stellar season with the Blues, Oscar is expected to thrive as a playmaker in the Brazilian midfield this summer. In Brazil’s two pre-World Cup friendlies, Oscar played a total of 110 minutes (64 against Panama & 46 against Serbia) while assisting on a Dani Alves goal in their 4-0 win against Panama. With Brazil’s solid back four, and reliable holding midfielders, Oscar will not be expected to provide as much defensively, so he can focus on distribution to Neymar, Fred, and Hulk on the counter attack.
Ramires (Brazil) – Ramires was a frustrating player to watch as a Chelsea fan in 2013-14. Aside from the obvious position (striker), defensive midfielders were Chelsea’s biggest area for improvement. Ramires is an absolute workhorse, but lacks creativity and discipline (see: this, this, this and this). In Brazil’s pre-World Cup friendlies, Ramires played 46 minutes (all against Panama) without recording any tallies on the scoresheet. While Ramires certainly won’t be nominated for a Humanitarian of the Year award, he’s going to have to show coach Luiz Scolari that he can play an integral role in Brazil’s World Cup run.
Willian (Brazil) – Willian’s 2013-14 season started with his controversial transfer to Tottenham, errrr, Chelsea. Despite fans’ complaints about the depth on the wings at The Bridge, Willian proved everyone wrong, showing that he can player anywhere in the attacking midfield portion of Jose Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 formation. His ability to play on the wing and in the center of the attack may be the very reason players like PSG’s Lucas Moura were pushed out of Brazil’s World Cup squad. In Brazil’s pre-World Cup friendlies, Willian played 70 minutes (26 against Panama and 46 against Serbia) after being subbed on for Oscar in both matches. He notched one goal in their 4-0 win against Panama. I expect Willian to play a huge role off the bench for Brazil this summer. As one of Brazil’s few players that can fill in the attacking midfield slot, Willian will need to continue his great run of form to maximize Brazil’s success for the next month.
David Luiz (Brazil) – David Luiz was one of the most entertaining players for the Blues in 2013-14, both on- and off-the-field. Whether it was openly laughing in the faces of opposing players, superb free kicks, fantastic interviews, or even the David Luiz Defensive Midfielder Project, he always played with his heart on his sleeve. With Chelsea confirming his move to Paris, it’s time for me to pick a new favorite Geezer (which is apparently just someone who is happy). I digress. David Luiz has been somewhat of a mainstay in Brazil’s back four leading up to the World Cup. He played 160 minutes in Brazil’s pre-World Cup friendlies (70 against Panama and 90 against Serbia). Although he was absent on the scoresheet, he played a vital role in Brazil allowing zero goals in their pre-World Cup friendlies. David Luiz will likely split time with Dante, and will get to play alongside his 2014-15 PSG centerback partner Thiago Silva.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) –In 2005 he claimed “I’d rather sell groundnuts in my village than to play for a pathetic club like Chelsea.” For those who don’t remember, that was right before Chelsea’s 4-2 shellacking against Eto’o’s Barcelona side in the second round of the Champions League. Oh how the times have changed. Fast forward to 2014. After coming to Chelsea from Anzhi Makhachkala, Eto’o had somewhat of a re-emergence under Jose Mourinho (despite Mourinho claiming Eto’o was older than his official age). He tallied 12 goals in 30 appearances (Premier League and Champions League) and was a vital part in Chelsea’s below average depth at striker. Eto’o appeared in just one of Cameroon’s four pre-World Cup friendlies – a 2-2 draw against Germany where he played nearly the entire game (subbed off in stoppage time) and netted a goal in the 62nd minute. Despite his single pre-World Cup friendly appearance, he is expected to be Cameroon’s target man in Brazil. In a group where 2nd place is seemingly up-for-grabs, Eto’o will need to very solid performances against Brazil, Croatia, and Mexico if Cameroon has any chance of making it past the group stage.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Spain) – He won the Chelsea FC Player’s Player of the Year award. He is a natural rightback, but in 2013-14 he filled in for an injured and out-of-form Ashley Cole at leftback, and never looked back. Azpi proved his versatility in 2013-14, and not just in the back four. He played in the midfield in Jose Mourinho’s park-the-bus formation in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid. He seems to be Mourinho’s favorite player – Mourinho claimed that “Azpilicueta is the kind of player I like a lot. I think a team with 11 Azpilicueta’s probably could win the competition (Champions League) because football is not just about pure talent. Football is also about character and personality and Azpilicueta has all those traces of a winning personality.” During Spain’s pre-World Cup tour, Azpilicueta played the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 win against Bolivia and sat the bench during their 2-0 win against El Salvador. Spain is not short of high-quality options at rightback, with Azpilicueta and Juanfran at their disposal. At this point, you could say that it is a toss-up. My prediction: Azpi gets the job.
Fernando Torres (Spain) – Despite battling some minor bumps and bruises in 2013-14, Torres had a sub-par season at The Bridge. In 37 appearances (Premier League & Champions League), he tallied nine goals. After his career started going downhill, his performance with the Spanish national team has stayed at a high level. He played just 61 minutes in Spain’s two pre-World Cup friendlies (all in their 2-0 win against Bolivia) and scored on a penalty kick. Torres’ success in Brazil is most likely dependent on Diego Costa’s hamstring. If Costa is deemed “fit” (not Atletico Madrid’s definition of fit, but actually fit enough to play a full 90 minutes), Torres’ time may be limited beyond the group stage. If Costa’s hamstring continues to act-up, I truly believe that Torres has a legitimate chance of winning the Golden Boot. Spain is built with plenty of playmakers such as Xavi, Iniesta, Santi Cazorla, and David Silva. With so many playmakers on the field, someone has to get the goals. Torres is fresh off a Golden Boot award last summer in the Confederations Cup (thanks Tahiti). If Spain can win Group B, they have a solid chance of making it to the finals. If they finish second, they could face off against Brazil in the Round of 16 and potentially have an early departure. Nonetheless, it is looking like there will be games-aplenty for Spain and Fernando Torres.
Diego Costa (Spain) – It is all but confirmed. Regardless, I am confident enough that Diego Costa will be calling Stamford Bridge “home” in 2014-15. After a break out year with Atletico Madrid, winning La Liga and scoring 35 goals in 44 appearances (La Liga and Champions League), I am chipper at the idea of having a go-to striker donning the Chelsea kit. During Spain’s pre-World Cup, Costa played 74 minutes (all against El Salvador) and was invisible on the scoresheet. Just like Torres, Costa’s impact on the team is dependent on his hamstring. If he can play, Costa’s chances of winning the Golden Boot are extremely high. Key word: if.
Gary Cahill (England) – Cahill had a break out year in 2013-14. He was perhaps the most improved defender in Europe last season. He was a mainstay in a back four that conceded a League-low 27 goals (next-lowest was Manchester City with 37), and was very good individually – he had 216 clearances, 29 interceptions, and 21 blocks. In England’s pre-World Cup tour, Cahill played in two of their three games – playing all 90 minutes against both Peru and Honduras, picking up a goal and an assist in their 3-0 win against Peru, and conceding a yellow card in their 0-0 draw against Honduras. Although Cahill only picked up one Premier League goal, he has the ability to be a threat on set pieces, and is obviously very sound defensively. Although his club and international centerback partner John Terry will be absent from Brazil, Cahill will be the key player in England’s back four, and will have to right the ship if England wants to make it out of their group of death.
Frank Lampard (England) – Do I really need to say anything about this man? The greatest player in Chelsea history is on his way out (and hopefully on his way in to NYCFC). 211 goals in 648 games. That’s all as a midfielder, by the way. Nonetheless, my thoughts on Frank Lampard’s career at Chelsea are saved for another day. In 2013-14, he was the 5th-leading scorer during Chelsea’s Premier League campaign. During England’s pre-World Cup tour, Lampard appeared in two of their three friendlies – calculating 97 minutes (90 against Ecuador and 7 against Honduras) and nothing on the scoresheet. This will be Lampard’s last World Cup, and can play a vital role in England’s path of surviving their group of death. Whether Roy Hodgson rolls out a 4-3-3- or 4-2-3-1, there will always roles in the midfield that Lampard will be able to fill in.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) – Mikel’s future at Chelsea seems uncertain. He received his fair share of appearances, but isn’t getting enough playing time for his liking. With David Luiz and Frank Lampard departing, 2014-15 may be much more kind to John Obi Mikel. Nonetheless, Mikel played a key role coming off the bench when Chelsea were parking the bus, errrr, protecting the lead (tomato, tuh-mah-to). He was very good shutting down the middle of the field and clearing the ball when Chelsea were facing pressure in their defensive third. In Nigeria’s three pre-World Cup friendlies, Mikel totaled 190 minutes (54 against Scotland, 90 against Greece, and 46 against USA) and held scoreless. Mikel can play anywhere in the center of midfield, for 90 minutes, and is going to be vital if Nigeria wants to beat out Bosnia & Herzegovina for 2nd place in Group F.
Victor Moses (Nigeria) – Moses was seemingly pushed away from much playing time during his season-long loan spell at Liverpool, mostly because of the form of players like Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, and Phillipe Coutinho. When he came off the bench, he was far from impressive. He appears to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge, despite his claims that he will be returning to Chelsea and fighting for his spot. Jose Mourinho has better, brighter options – plain and simple. Despite his less-than-average 2013-14 season, Moses always shows up for his country. During Nigeria’s pre-World Cup tour, Moses played an integral role in the squad. Moses played all 90 minutes in friendlies against Greece and USA, and came off the bench in the 62nd minute against Scotland (208 minutes total). He tallied an 86th minute penalty kick goal in their 2-1 loss to the United States. Moses is expected to be the key player in the midfield for Nigeria. Expect him to be all over the field, both down the center and on the wings. He should be a fun player to watch this summer.
Andre Schurrle (Germany) – Schurrle was Chelsea’s second-biggest signing in 2013-14, right behind Nemanja Matic. He became somewhat of a rockstar at Stamford Bridge, coming off the bench to provide support, and giving the likes of Hazard & Oscar rest when needed. Schurrle was like the Energizer Bunny for Chelsea this season, providing plenty of offensive support while not shying away from defensive runs. His biggest weakness at Chelsea is Eden Hazard. Schurrle’s strongest position is on the left side, and has thrived when having the ability to cut inside on his stronger foot, but Eden Hazard is, well, Eden Hazard. Schurrle has showed his versatility with the German national team. His ability to play striker is what sets him apart from the already-crowded midfield of Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and co. In Germany’s two pre-World Cup friendlies, Schurrle played a total of 107 minutes – 32 minutes as a striker in Germany’s 2-2 draw against Cameroon and 75 minutes as a right midfielder in their 6-1 win against Armenia, and notched a goal in each of the friendlies. Jogi Low has many talented midfielders at his disposal, and Schurrle is expected to play a major role in Germany’s attack this summer, whether it be in the starting 11 or off the bench.
Christian Atsu (Ghana) – It was a bit of a head-scratcher when Chelsea brought in the Ghanaian midfielder last summer. It may have been even more of a shock when Chelsea sent him away on loan to Chelsea B, otherwise known as Vitesse. Atsu had a very solid season in the Eredivisie. He faces a similar challenge that many of his Chelsea counterparts are facing this summer: a crowded midfield. In Ghana’s two pre-World Cup friendlies, Atsu played 80 minutes (46 in their 1-0 loss to the Netherlands and 34 in their 4-0 win against South Korea) and was blank on the scoresheet. I would expect that, at the very least, he will play somewhat of a role off the bench. He split time with Kevin Prince Boateng during Ghana’s pre-World Cup tour. Even if he does not make it on to the field, being at the World Cup will be a great experience for the 22 year old.
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) – Perhaps the biggest reason Atletico Madrid had as much success as they had in 2013-14. In 37 La Liga appearances, he recorded 20 clean sheets, and five clean sheets in 12 Champions League appearances. Perhaps it was a back four of Juanfran, Diego Godin, Miranda, and Felipe Luis that is to take credit for Coutois’ performance in 2013-14. Nonetheless, I believe that he deserves to be the man between the pipes at Stamford Bridge in 2014-15, regardless of how impressive Petr Cech was in 2013-14. Courtois made just one start and appearance in Belgium’s three-game pre-World Cup tour, recording a shutout in their 1-0 win against Tunisia. Courtois will be Belgium’s starting goalkeeper this summer, so don’t look too much in to Courtois’ single appearance during Belgium’s pre-World Cup friendlies. While any back four will be tough to match Atletico Madrid’s from 2013-14, Belgium’s back four is vulnerable. Courtois will need to be on the top of his game if he wants Belgium to succeed in their role as a dark horse.
Eden Hazard (Belgium) – This man was an absolute star in 2013-14. Though he played on the wing, he was all over the field, all game, every game. He cemented himself as one of the best players in the Premier League. After months of transfer talk, Eden Hazard will indeed be wearing a different jersey in 2014-15: the #10 for the Blues. He recorded 16 goals in 44 appearances (Premier League and Champions League), but his goal tally isn’t what’s important. His distribution and footwork is out-of-this-world, and totally deserving of the number 10 sweater from Chelsea in 2014-15. Hazard has the same role with Belgium. He played 200 minutes during Belgium’s pre-World Cup tour (46 against Luxembourg, 80 against Sweden, and 74 against Tunisia) and recorded one goal (against Sweden) and zero assists. Hazard is without a doubt the best player on the Belgium team, and will be key to Belgium making a run towards the finals.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) – After yet another successful loan spell away from Chelsea, Lukaku’s future at The Bridge is in question. With the likely transfer of Diego Costa, Lukaku’s playing time is going to get extremely limited. In 2013-14, the 21 year old scored 15 goals in 31 Premier League matches. During Belgium’s pre-World Cup tour, Lukaku thrived after the injured Christian Benteke was ruled out from the World Cup. In their 5-1 win against Luxembourg, Lukaku recorded a hat trick in the 61 minutes that he was on the field. In their 2-0 win against the Zlatan-less Sweden, Lukaku played 74 minutes and scored a 34th minute goal. In their 1-0 win against Tunisia, Lukaku came off the bench in the 62nd minute and was blanked on the scoresheet. Four goals in 163 minutes is not too shabby. Lukaku will be the target man in Belgium’s attack, and will be relied on to head some crosses on target and fight off defenders. Lukaku is part of the talent train that is coming through Belgium at the moment, so you better jump on the bandwagon now (or caboose in this case).
As you can tell, the Blues will certainly leave an impact on the 2014 World Cup, and many players have a good chance at bringing home the World Cup Trophy.
*2013-14 stats provided by www.squawka.com
**Pre-World Cup stats provided by http://www.soccer24.com/world/friendly-international/teams/
***Rosters provided by http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/27388351