World Cup wannabes: Tracking the progress of 11 players hoping to be at Qatar 2022

By Sports Desk February 02, 2022

It's officially a World Cup year, that means footballers all over the globe will be hoping to get themselves into contention for their own shot at glory in Qatar.

Back in November, Stats Perform began their one-year countdown to the biggest show in football by identifying 11 uncapped players who could potential break into their respective national squads before Qatar 2022 got under way.

With February now upon us, we have revisited those players to see how they have been faring and whether a trip to World Cup looks any likelier…

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Granada

Having been one of LaLiga's form goalkeepers during the early stages of the season, Maximiano has been a little rocky lately. Since the start of December, he has conceded 10 times (excluding own goals) in the league despite those chances only being worth 7.9 xG – that puts him at least partly at fault for 2.1 goals, the sixth-worst over that period.

 

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Clauss continues to show his worth in Ligue 1. Since December 1, his three assists have been bettered by only Dimitri Payet and Lovro Majer. Granted, the expected assists (xA) value of those was only 1.2, so there's an element of luck or benefiting from expert finishing, but he's still proving himself a good outlet both out wide and from set plays.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Torino managed to keep Bremer in January before they extended his contract by a year to 2024 on Wednesday. Not only does that protect his value to the club, it was also a just reward for his reliable form. Since December 1, his tally of 21 interceptions is the second-highest among Serie A defenders, as is his 28 aerial wins.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Lille

Lille stood firm as Newcastle United tried to prise Botman away in January. Over the past two months, the Dutchman has continued to look an imperious presence at the back – his duel success rate (76.5 per cent) is the highest among defenders with at least 300 minutes on the pitch, while only two of those to have engaged in more than 11 aerials can better his success rate (79 per cent) in the air.

Angelino (Spain) – 25, left-back, RB Leipzig

Spain certainly aren't short of quality options in this area of the pitch, but Angelino is still a standout from an attacking sense. Since early December, his 3.0 xA is the best in the Bundesliga, while only five players have played more key passes than him (16).

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It's not looking good for Puig. It was thought Xavi's arrival might finally be the break he needed, but he has played only 158 minutes of LaLiga football in the past two months, and that was a period that saw Barca under real stress amid an injury and COVID-19 crisis. With players returning to action, including Pedri, few would be surprised to see his minutes reduce even further.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

Nkunku continues to look to be in with a great chance of forcing himself into France reckoning. Since we last checked on him, the versatile midfielder has scored four non-penalty Bundesliga goals, bettered by only four players (all out-and-out strikers), and laid on three assists. Only five players have tallied more goal involvements over the same period.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, FC Dallas

Young talents leaving South American countries for MLS is becoming a recurring them – Velasco is the latest. The young winger became Dallas' record signing on February 1, reportedly costing $7million. He has not played much in recent months due to the Argentinian football calendar, so it will be intriguing to see if he kicks on when MLS starts again at the end of the month.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

The first success story on this list! Cowell was given his international bow in December as the USA beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0. He did only feature for 12 minutes, and it was a partly experimental squad, but a cap is a cap.

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

Gouiri is another who continues to plug away to good effect. He slowed a little, and his return of five goal involvements (three assists, two goals) in the specified period is bettered by as many as eight players, though only Payet has as many as seven. The exciting forward is still doing well, though he could do with another minor boost.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 19, forward, Granada

With the Uruguayan season finishing in early December, Arezo has not played much since his form was last examined – though he did get one more goal to take his seasonal tally to 15 in 29 games for River Plate (URU). That form earned him his shot in Europe, with Granada pulling off a potentially major coup in bringing him to Spain for about €3million. He awaits a first senior cap, though Uruguay are back in an automatic qualification spot.

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    When it comes to recruitment and squad construction, there aren't many clubs – if any – that are run more effectively than Manchester City.

    Their Premier League title success in the 2021-22 season was just another reminder of how good they are on the pitch, yet the people in charge are not the types to simply sit around admiring their achievements.

    Even before winning a fourth Premier League crown in five years – a feat only ever previously managed by Alex Ferguson's Manchester United – it was clear where City were going to strengthen.

    A deal for arguably the most sought-after striker in world football, Erling Haaland, was wrapped up two weeks before the season ended, and then with Fernandinho expected to depart, another central midfielder was to be the second priority.

    Kalvin Phillips proved to be the chosen one, with City confirming on Monday that the England international has completed his reported £45million move from Leeds United, having undergone a medical on Friday.

    It's an impressive statement by City, who have already bolstered their two primary problem areas – if you can call them that – by the first week of July.

    And with respect to Phillips' signing, there's a lot to suggest it's a shrewd acquisition.

     

    Moulded by Bielsa

    Of course, the most obvious – and arguably crucial – link here is Marcelo Bielsa. It was under the Argentinian coach that Phillips has played the best football of his career and cemented himself as an England regular.

    Bielsa is also considered one of Pep Guardiola's greatest inspirations, with an apparent 11-hour meeting between the pair back in 2006 said to have played a major role in the City boss' decision to go into management.

    The similarities between the two coaches' styles of play are significant, and this should facilitate a smooth transition for Phillips.

    Under Bielsa he'll have become accustomed to not only intense training sessions, but also a playing philosophy that revolves around possession-based football and relentless counter pressing.

    In terms of the latter, City are perhaps a little more considered in their efforts compared to Bielsa's Leeds, but either way Phillips has been exposed to the same fundamentals, and that can only be a tick in the pros column.

    After all, a second-season bounce has become commonplace for signings under Guardiola. Numerous players have needed a full campaign to truly get to grips with the demands required by the Catalan coach before going on to show significant improvement and growth thereafter – Phillips might be better-equipped than most to hit the ground running.

    But that brings up a separate issue; what will Phillips be to City?

    Rodri the immovable object

    Having come through Leeds' academy, established himself as a key player and then gone on to be a fulcrum in Bielsa's team, Phillips was the first name on the teamsheet – when fit – for several years at Elland Road.

    Regardless of his suitability for City, it seems unlikely he'll enjoy a similar status in Guardiola's team. Phillips is at his most effective as lone defensive midfielder, but so too is Rodri, and it's difficult to imagine the Spain international being suddenly taken out of the team given how effective he's proven to be.

    Rodri's 2,937 successful passes in the opposition's half since the start of the 2020-21 season is over 400 more than any other Premier League player, and his 577 ball recoveries over the same period is the joint-most alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, though the Dane has played almost 1,000 minutes more.

    Of course, who's to say Phillips couldn't play the role even more effectively? But the key thing to consider is that Rodri has an important function in both keeping City on the ball and then winning it back when they don't, and he demonstrably does both well.

    Nevertheless, Guardiola's proven he's a coach keen to rotate. He gave at least 900 minutes of Premier League football to 18 players last season, with only four teams bettering that, so Phillips can still expect plenty of game time.

    And, to be fair, Phillips might not have even been up to the task of being a regular starter for City given how much time he spent sidelined last season.

    A match made in heaven

    Clearly, then, Guardiola's rotation policy would suggest Phillips will have opportunities to deputise for Rodri and take up the back-up role vacated by Fernandinho, yet there's no doubt he possesses the skillset to also play alongside the former Atletico Madrid midfielder as well.

    First and foremost, he's a more progressive player than Rodri. Over the past two seasons, 28 per cent of Phillips' passes have been forward, the exact same figure as Fernandinho and a fair bit more than Rodri's 20 per cent.

    Similarly, in the same period Phillips has played 3.5 passes into the box every 90 minutes, whereas Rodri has averaged two, and his 1.0 dribble attempts each game is also slightly more than his new team-mate (0.9).

    But in a way it shouldn't necessarily matter which midfield role Phillips plays in, given he has a range of abilities that should suit him either as a number six or a number eight, especially in a Guardiola team.

    On top of that, Phillips doesn't turn 27 until December, so he is very much entering his prime years, and if anyone can squeeze every ounce of potential out of a player, it's Guardiola.

    Then when you consider Phillips' history with Bielsa and type of team he played in at Leeds, everything points to this being a match made in heaven.

  • Man City sign Phillips from Leeds on six-year deal Man City sign Phillips from Leeds on six-year deal

    Kalvin Phillips has signed for Manchester City from Leeds United in a deal that is reportedly worth up to £45million.

    City, who had already signed striker Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, were in the market for a holding midfielder to complement Rodri after Fernandinho confirmed he would be leaving the Premier League champions after nine years with the club.

    Phillips was identified as the ideal replacement and City have moved quickly to sign the England international, who has penned a six-year contract.

    It was reported last month that City and Leeds had agreed a fee of £42m, plus a further £3m in add-ons, and the move was officially confirmed on Monday.

    City director of football Txiki Begiristain said: "Kalvin is a player that we have long admired, and at both domestic and international level, he has proved his fantastic ability and quality over the past few seasons. 

    "His reading of the game, alongside his passing ability, energy and drive make him a formidable talent and he is a player who has a fantastic will to win. 

    "We feel he will be a superb addition to our squad and that he will complement our game perfectly. 

    "Everyone here is looking forward to watch Kalvin play and develop even further over the next few years."

    Phillips came through Leeds' academy and helped the Whites back into the Premier League under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa after a 16-year absence from the top flight.

    The 26-year-old was an integral part of Leeds' success in their first season back in the big time, making 29 appearances as Bielsa's side finished ninth, and the midfielder went on to start every game for England at Euro 2020, with Gareth Southgate's team losing to Italy on penalties in the final.

    However, Phillips' impact was limited in the 2021-22 season as he struggled with injury. He returned for the run-in as Leeds – under Bielsa's replacement Jesse Marsch – managed to stave off relegation.

    Despite only playing 20 league games, he ranked third in ball recoveries (180) among Leeds outfield players while also recording the sixth most tackles (54).

    He will hope to help Pep Guardiola's side retain the league title as well as deliver the club's first Champions League crown after disappointing final and semi-final defeats in the past two years.

    Phillips' arrival at the Etihad Stadium came on the same day that forward Gabriel Jesus completed a £45m switch to fellow Premier League side Arsenal.

  • BREAKING NEWS: Man City sign Phillips from Leeds on six-year deal BREAKING NEWS: Man City sign Phillips from Leeds on six-year deal

    Kalvin Phillips has signed for Manchester City from Leeds United in a deal that is reportedly worth up to £45million.

    City, who had already signed striker Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, were in the market for a holding midfielder to complement Rodri after Fernandinho confirmed he would be leaving the Premier League champions after nine years with the club.

    Phillips was identified as the ideal replacement and City have moved quickly to sign the England international, who has penned a six-year contract.

    It was reported last month that City and Leeds had agreed a fee of £42m plus a further £3m in add-ons and the move was officially confirmed on Monday.

    City director of football Txiki Begiristain said: "Kalvin is a player that we have long admired, and at both domestic and international level, he has proved his fantastic ability and quality over the past few seasons. 

    "His reading of the game, alongside his passing ability, energy and drive make him a formidable talent and he is a player who has a fantastic will to win. 

    "We feel he will be a superb addition to our squad and that he will complement our game perfectly. 

    "Everyone here is looking forward to watch Kalvin play and develop even further over the next few years."

    Phillips came through Leeds' academy and helped the Whites back into the Premier League under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa after a 16-year absence from the top flight.

    The 26-year-old was an integral part of Leeds' success in their first season back in the big time, making 29 appearances as Bielsa's side finished ninth, and the midfielder went on to start every game for England at Euro 2020, with Gareth Southgate's team losing to Italy on penalties in the final.

    However, Phillips' impact was limited in the 2021-22 season as he struggled with injury. He returned for the run-in as Leeds - under Bielsa's replacement Jesse Marsch - managed to stave off relegation.

    Despite only playing 20 league games, he ranked third in ball recoveries (180) among Leeds outfield players while also recording the sixth most tackles (54).

    He will hope to help Pep Guardiola's side retain the league title as well as deliver the club's first Champions League crown after disappointing final and semi-final defeats in the past two years.

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