It's nearly four years since Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach, as he guided France to their second success on football's grandest stage.

The target now for Les Bleus is to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their crown, and that journey begins on Friday with the draw for the group stage of Qatar 2022.

Four years is a long time to wait for anything, but the draw for the World Cup is always a milestone event that sees the anticipation taken up a notch.

The eyes of the football world will be on the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center, where the eight groups will be drawn and potential routes to December's finale can start being plotted.

But there is a little more to the draw than that…

 

How will the draw work?

Most of us have seen a draw and understand the general premise, but there's a lot of detail to consider before we end up with our completed group stage.

For starters, Friday's draw (19:00 local time) will only include 29 qualified teams, with the other three spots to consist of a couple of intercontinental play-off slot placeholders and one UEFA play-off slot placeholder, with those nations to be determined later in the year.

The qualified teams will be sorted into four pots of eight, with their FIFA world ranking determining which they enter – joining Qatar in pot one will be the top seven teams, while the nations ranked eight-15 will be in pot 2, and so on. The three play-off slot placeholders will be drawn from pot four.

There will also be eight pots representing the groups, A to H. Each group pot contains four balls with position numbers, ranging from one to four, which correspond to the teams' respective starting position in the tables and subsequently impact their fixture schedule.

Team pot one will be the first to empty, with Qatar automatically drawn into slot A1. The other sides from pot one will go straight into position one of the remaining groups.

From then on, a ball is drawn from a team pot and followed by one from a group pot, determining that team's position – for example, the second nation drawn into Group A could be placed in slot A4. The process continues until each team pot is emptied, with pot four the last to be drawn.

Where possible, no group will contain more than one team from the same qualification zone, with the exception of Europe – so anyone hoping for an encounter like Brazil v Uruguay will have to wait for the knockout stage.

Thursday's release of the latest world rankings confirmed the make-up of the respective pots, so, without any further ado, let's take a look through them…

The Pots

Pot One:

Qatar (hosts)
Brazil
Belgium
France
Argentina
England
Spain
Portugal

 

Pot Two:

Denmark
Netherlands
Germany
Mexico 
USA
Switzerland
Croatia
Uruguay

Pot Three:

Senegal
Iran
Japan
Morocco
Serbia
Poland
South Korea
Tunisia

 

Pot Four:

Cameroon
Canada
Ecuador
Saudi Arabia
Ghana
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 1 
Intercontinental play-off placeholder 2
UEFA play-off placeholder

Luck of the draw!

It goes without saying that, theoretically, being in pot one means you would be favourites to win your group. But that's the beauty of football; practically anything can happen once you're on the pitch.

If we look back to the last World Cup four years ago, defending champions Germany were top of the FIFA rankings and in pot one, but then failed to get through the group stage for the first time ever.

 

But just as being in a higher pot is no guarantee of going deep into the tournament, who's to say how eventual 2018 champions France would have fared had they been in pot two?

Les Bleus were ranked seventh at the time so squeezed into pot one ahead of Spain. While that arguably gave them a trickier route to the final in the knockout phase, perhaps the tests posed by Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium were what kept them sharp all the way to the end?

This time around, Spain do appear in pot one. Portugal do as well, with Fernando Santos' men benefiting in that regard from European champions Italy's shock absence.

Nevertheless, there are some powerful teams in pot two. The Netherlands and Germany are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch there, both of whom will provide a stern test for any of the teams in pot one. Brazil v Die Mannschaft in the group stage, anyone?

There's a chance we could even see a repeat of the 2018 final in the group stage, with Croatia (pot two) able to come up against France in the opening round, while an England v United States showdown would surely capture the imagination of fans on both sides of 'the pond'.

We can expect to see plenty of quality in pot three as well, especially with Serbia, Robert Lewandowski's Poland and African champions Senegal present.

Among those in pot four are Canada. They may only be competing in their second World Cup and first since 1986, but John Herdman's team have won plenty of admirers en route to winning the CONCACAF qualifying section and reaching a record high of 33rd in the rankings.

 

Excitement, expectations and exoduses as Ronaldo and Messi look likely to bow out

Whether watching football on TV or from the stands, it can often be easy to forget that our heroes are just ordinary people as well. They are individuals who in all likelihood had the same hopes and dreams as many of us as children.

The glitz and glamour surrounding professional football can lead us to put footballers on a pedestal, but behind the sport's shiny facade, our teams are made up of – and coached by – people who are just as obsessed with the idea of the World Cup as anyone else.

England manager Gareth Southgate encapsulated the excitement earlier this week, as he said: "[The World Cup evokes] a different sort of feeling, but it's still a tournament we all watched as kids, we all filled our wallcharts out, we all hoped and followed when England were there that we would do well. And it's a unique chance to make history, so that of course is massively exciting."

Of course, that innocent excitement harbours expectation and hope for many, for others there will be a feeling of responsibility to amend the wrongs of the past.

This time around, that's arguably truest when looking at Germany, with Manuel Neuer fully appreciating he may not get another opportunity to put things right.

"I know that I will probably not get to play many more World Cups, so after crashing out in 2018 in Russia and our exit against England [at Euro 2020], it's important that we show a new version of ourselves and visualise success," the experienced goalkeeper said.

That finality Neuer alluded to is another key aspect of the World Cup. Given the four-year cycle of the tournament, every time we bid a fond farewell to a few greats of the game who opt to take advantage of the cyclical nature and end their international careers.

 

This time it looks as though Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who for so long battled out their own personal 'Greatest of All-Time' rivalry – may be among those appearing on the World Cup stage for the last time.

"Goal achieved, we're at the Qatar World Cup. We're in our rightful place!" Ronaldo's Instagram post after Portugal's play-off success focused on the positive, but at 37, Qatar 2022 will surely be his final appearance at the tournament.

As for Messi, he said last week: "I don't know, the truth is I don't know. Let's hope [Argentina's preparations] go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Exoduses after major international tournaments are common as teams reset or rebuild, but given what Messi and Ronaldo have represented on the pitch and the fact they've appeared at each of the previous four World Cups, their appearances at Qatar 2022 need to be savoured.

It all begins with Friday's draw, when narratives and talking points that'll live longer than any of us will start to take shape with the unscrewing of a few shiny plastic balls.

Luis Enrique believes Spain have what it takes to win the 2022 World Cup, but adds his side will still have to contend with luck after a 5-0 rout against Iceland.

Braces for Alvaro Morata and Pablo Sarabia, plus Yeremi Pino's first goal for his country, helped La Roja to a runaway victory against their visitors at the Riazor.

After struggling to break through a stubborn Albania on Saturday, Tuesday's performance fell more in line with the high-energy performances of Euro 2020 last summer.

With a semi-final finish at their last major tournament as incentive, Luis Enrique certainly feels he has the players to help him go one step further and claim victory in Qatar later this year.

"We are capable of fighting anyone," he stated. "We are going to be competitive, for sure.

"The luck factor is important, as we saw in South Africa, and we hope to control everything that does not depend on that luck factor."

With several names pressing for inclusion, Luis Enrique further admitted whittling his squad down from the roster of players in contention for a place will be just as tough a task in itself too.

"It's going to be tough," he added. "26 [players]? Only 11 play. What I can say is that this team is going to compete with anyone and put anyone in trouble.

"But make no mistake, anyone can beat us. The atmosphere that lives in this team is very special. The base you know what it is.

"We will assess when the time comes. What matters is the mentality of adding. My parameters are not going to change."

Alvaro Morata feels the future is bright for Spain thanks to their young talents, after the forward bagged a history-making brace in Tuesday's 5-0 win over Iceland.

The Juventus forward netted a first-half double to set up a Roja rout at the Riazor, while goals from Yeremi Pino and Pablo Sarabia completed the victory after the interval.

In doing so, Morata has become only the eighth player in Spain history to hit 25 goals for the men's national team, while Pino has become their second-youngest scorer for a decade-and-a-half.

But speaking afterwards, the former was happy to deflect attention away from his own feats, to lavish praise on his young team-mates and what they could offer going forward.

"There are many young players [among the squad] to look forward to the future with optimism for," he stated.

"It doesn't matter who scores the goals. I'm very happy for mine, but I'm very happy for those of Sarabia and Yeremi too."

Villarreal winger Pino, one of Spain's rising generation who hope to be in the frame for the World Cup later this year, bagged on his first senior start for La Roja.

The teenager admitted he has taken strength from manager Luis Enrique's faith in him, and says the team already have an eye on how far they can go in Qatar.

"I'm very happy, the coach has given me enough confidence," he added.

"The desire is there, we don't take any game as a friendly. From Albania, we are already thinking about Qatar."

Alvaro Morata's first-half double helped Spain to a rampant 5-0 win over Iceland on Tuesday, as the hosts signed off the March international break in style.

The striker netted a close-range finish and a penalty in a five-minute burst before the break at Riazor, to join an elite band of players in reaching the quarter-century goal mark for La Roja.

Yeremi Pino's effort and two goals from Pablo Sarabia in the second half made it a handsome victory for Luis Enrique's hosts, who looked a class above their frequently overwhelmed visitors.

With just two shots to their name throughout the entire match, Arnar Vidarsson's side seldom troubled their hosts, whose performance offered a timely reminder of their Qatar 2022 credentials eight months out from the World Cup.

Having struggled to carve Albania open until the last quarter-hour in their friendly on Saturday, Spain initially looked in similar trouble over the opening 30 minutes in A Coruna once again.

But with over 80 per cent of the ball to their name, it felt like only a matter of time before they found the opener, and Morata duly provided nine minutes out from the interval.

The Juventus striker latched onto Hugo Guillamon's pass, stepped over by Carlos Soler in a superb feint, and smuggled home a finish at the left post past Runar Alex Runarsson.

Morata was on hand to double Spain's lead three minutes later when Dani Olmo was fouled in the box by Birkir Bjarnason, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way with a cool finish from the spot.

Iceland's hopes of a fightback looked particularly remote at merely two goals down, but they became nonexistent when Pino nudged home at the left post moments after the interval.

Sarabia's subsequent header around the hour mark, followed by a simple tap-in from the same player, added gloss to the scoreline in a supreme Spanish performance.

 

Spain coach Luis Enrique sees plenty of room for growth in Barcelona star Pedri, suggesting he "can improve everything".

Pedri announced himself on the international stage at Euro 2020, where he made the most final-third passes (177), before achieving the same tournament-leading feat with the Under-23 squad at the Tokyo Olympics (83).

The midfielder also started in the 2-1 friendly win over Albania on Saturday, his 11th consecutive appearance under Luis Enrique without losing for Spain, only Jose Gaya (15) boasts a longer such streak.

Former La Roja midfielder Cesc Fabregas heaped praise on the 19-year-old, in an interview with Marca, while praising Barca head coach Xavi for trusting Pedri when others may favour a more "combative" player.

Luis Enrique echoed Fabregas' sentiments at Monday's pre-match news conference ahead of a friendly with Iceland, but claimed the teenager can still develop all areas of his game.

"Sports players are talented athletes, we do not care about age, or physique," the Spain boss said when asked about Fabregas' comments. "If we had that idea, Pedri would not play a single minute, nor would he be in the squad. Here what we're looking for is football talent, it's very easy.

He added: "The first time I saw Pedri was when he was playing with Las Palmas, already at that age we saw that he was something special.

"What does he have to improve? Everything. He can improve everything. With that ability and talent, even his defending, he can improve everything.

"You have to let him grow and develop. We have always liked players with that football brain and tactical profile."

Pedri joined his coach at the news conference and suggested he does not feel the added pressure on him as world football hails his potential.

"I am aware. I take it very calmly, I have to take the weight off myself. The team is more important than a player," he said.

Pedri and Barca team-mate Gavi have drawn comparisons to Blaugrana greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta, but he acknowledged it will be difficult to emulate the legendary pair.

"Xavi and Iniesta? Hopefully," he responded. "It's very difficult to do what they did. I have a spectacular relationship with [Gavi], I have a special appreciation for him and I think he has very good potential."

Fellow Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets remains captain of the national team, but Luis Enrique suggested the 33-year-old must continue with his performance levels to keep the armband.

"No one is irreplaceable. We are all aware of the importance he has in the national team," he said of Busquets. "If his level is the same as always, he remains captain and gives us everything he gives us.

"His behaviour is exemplary but also [Jordi] Alba and Koke, they perform a similar role and are important."

Speculation has persisted over Luis Enrique's future, with suggestions he may soon opt for a role in club football. However, the former Barca coach was quick to reiterate his desire to work with the national setup.

"I've explained it to you so many times and in different ways," he told reporters about his plans. "It's up to you. In Qatar? Sure, I will be in charge. I want nothing more than to represent my country at the World Cup."

Luis Enrique promised Spain would not wait another 18 years before playing in Catalonia again after a noisy home crowd roared his team to a 2-1 win over Albania.

La Roja had not played in the region since February 2004, when they tackled Peru in a friendly at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, so Saturday's game was significant from that perspective.

With many in Catalonia harbouring hopes of independence from Spain, Saturday's match at Espanyol's RCDE Stadium was a test of what loyalty there remained to the team.

Head coach Enrique was pleased it proved overwhelmingly positive, and late goals from Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo, either side of a freak equaliser, carried Spain to victory.

"The people deserved that joy," said the Spain boss. "Barcelona likes the national team and the national team likes to come to Barcelona.

"I have been here for many years, and they have always treated me with respect and affection. Catalonia always respects."

 

Luis Enrique – who previously played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, and coached the former from 2014 to 2017 – added: "It would have bothered me a lot not to win, because of the unique atmosphere that we have experienced.

"I don't remember a game, where I have played or coached, in which the fans have been so decisive. It is impossible that we will be another 18 years without coming here."

Spain remain a work in progress, and they struggled to convert possession into clear-cut chances for long stretches of this friendly fixture. They had 81.5 per cent of possession and played a startling 948 passes to 212 by Albania.

From this they attempted 13 shots, and their expected goals total – reflecting the quality of chances – was a modest 1.7 against a team ranked 65th in the world by FIFA.

Substitute Yeremi Pino created the 75th-minute opener by winning possession from dawdling defenders and threading an ideal ball that Barcelona forward Ferran Torres cracked beyond Etrit Berisha.

Pau Torres then headed a long ball against Albania's Myrto Uzuni and the ball squirted past goalkeeper David Raya to bring Albania level with five minutes remaining.

Olmo had the final say, however, with the RB Leipzig man curling a fine finish into the top-right corner.

"There is a lot of room [for improvement] because we are one of the youngest teams," said the coach. "We do a lot of things well, but we still have a way to go."

Dani Olmo hit a late stunner to spare Spain's blushes and secure a 2-1 win over Albania in a friendly that began in drab fashion but ended in high drama.

Ferran Torres tucked away a pass from substitute Yeremi Pino in the 75th minute to make the breakthrough at Espanyol's RCDE Stadium.

Spain were then stunned when Pau Torres headed a hopeful long ball against Albania's Myrto Uzuni and the ball trickled past debutant goalkeeper David Raya for a freak equaliser.

Yet there was still time for a classy goal from Olmo in the 90th minute, as Spain earned a victory in their first match in Catalonia for 18 years.

Jordi Alba marvelled at the maturity of young Barcelona team-mates Pedri and Gavi because he was playing at a significantly lower level at their age. 

Gavi became the youngest player to make a senior appearance for Spain when he featured in their Nations League semi-final win over Italy last October aged 17 years and 62 days. 

Pedri, meanwhile, started all six of La Roja's games at Euro 2020 and was named Young Player of the Tournament. He only turned 19 last November. 

When he was 18, Alba was playing for Cornella in a regional league in Catalonia. He did not make his Spain debut until he was 22, two years after his first top-flight appearance.

"They are very mature for their age. When I was their age, I was lucky that experienced people helped me adapt, whether it was to the national team, Valencia or Barcelona. I try to do the same," Alba told a news conference when asked about Pedri and Gavi. 

"We are lucky that many high-level players have come from Barcelona and that they are Spanish. 

"At their age, I was playing at Cornella and they are playing European Championships and the World Cup. It's wonderful to watch them play." 

Alba will captain Spain when they take on Albania in a friendly at RCDE Stadium in Cornella de Llobregat on the outskirts of Barcelona. It will be La Roja's first match in Catalonia since 2004. 

"I expect a spectacular atmosphere, like in all the cities in Spain we visit," said Alba. 

"We haven't seen the national team in Barcelona for a long time. I'll be able to enjoy it with my people. Hopefully the party moves onto the pitch and we'll achieve our goal of winning the game." 

Spain do not have any members of their World Cup-winning side from 2010 in the squad during this international break, but Alba has no doubts about the ability they possess. 

"They talked about it during the European Championship and we did well because there are very young people but with experience, and with the ability to play a World Cup," said Alba. 

"People are leaving the national team due to their age and young people arrive. The work of the coach and his staff in that aspect has been spectacular. 

"Whoever comes into the national team will respond, will do very well. Unfortunately, the European and world champions are retiring and those who come in will do very well." 

Luis Enrique explained his reason for not signing a new contract as Spain coach is so that it is easy for him to depart if La Roja disappoint at the World Cup.

The 51-year-old former Barcelona player and coach returned for his second stint in charge of Spain's senior side in November 2019.

Five months earlier, he had stepped down for "family reasons" that were later confirmed to relate to his young daughter suffering with cancer. She died in August 2019.

When Luis Enrique made his return to the Spain setup, he only signed a three-year contract that would keep him in charge until the end of the 2022 World Cup.

Since then, he has led Spain to Qatar 2022 and presided over La Roja's run to the semi-finals of Euro 2020, impressing neutrals throughout the tournament.

However, despite what has been a largely positive spell at the helm, there remains a degree of doubt over Luis Enrique's future, which he was refreshingly honest about.

Asked why he had not yet signed a new contract beyond the World Cup, Luis Enrique – who has recently been linked with Manchester United – said: "I'm in heaven.

"Not renewing, I've done it for you [the media]. As I'm not going to have a contract [after the World Cup], if things go wrong in the World Cup, you won't have to ask me to be fired any more."

But his amusingly frank response was qualified by an insistence that there is no issue between himself and either Luis Rubiales or Jose Molina, respectively the Royal Spanish Football Federation's (RFEF) president and sporting director.

"I feel super supported by both the president and Molina," Luis Enrique continued. "They signed me not once but twice.

"In the circumstances in which I came back, I will never forget it. I am going to fulfil my commitment, which is until after the World Cup."

Spain's preparations ahead of the World Cup continue with a friendly against Albania on Saturday at Espanyol's RCDE Stadium in Cornella de Llobregat, near Barcelona.

It will be Spain's first match in Catalonia for 18 years, having last played in the region in February 2004 for a friendly with Peru at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium.

La Roja and Catalonia have had a rocky relationship over the years, but Luis Enrique is excited for such a momentous occasion.

He said: "It's going to be a party. I hope we're at that level. Eighteen years is a long time... We already know the circumstances surrounding this type of occasion, but we face it with great enthusiasm.

"I took it for granted that [the stadium] was going to be full. The last time I played [for a Spain team] in Barcelona, it was the final of the [1992] Olympics and it was full.

"It was one of the best matches of my life for the gold medal. I have no doubts, I hope we can do it, turn it into a party."

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has been left out of the latest Spain squad by Luis Enrique, while Barcelona's Sergio Busquets is "rested".

La Roja play friendlies against Albania and Iceland during the upcoming international break, and Luis Enrique has replaced De Gea with another goalkeeper from the Premier League, Brentford's David Raya.

From the previous squad for the final World Cup qualifiers in November, in defence, Inigo Martinez and Jose Luis Gaya are replaced by Diego Llorente and Marcos Alonso, while Marcos Llorente and Pedri come in as midfield options in place of Busquets and Mikel Merino.

Raul de Tomas and Ferran Torres are selected among the forwards, with no place for Rodrigo, Pablo Fornals or Brahim Diaz.

Speaking at a media conference after the squad announcement, Luis Enrique said that Busquets' omission was merely to keep him fresh. The 33-year-old has played 39 games in all competitions for Barca this season.

"In the case of Busquets, it is a personal decision," he confirmed. "He is the player who accumulates the most minutes and I want to have the best version of the captain for the games in June, and I have decided to rest him.

"He is having a spectacular season."

The Spain head coach also said the two upcoming fixtures should not be treated like friendlies, and challenged his squad to show their "ambition" and "hunger" as the World Cup at the end of the year draws closer.

He added: "Since November, the wait has been long [to play again]. They are not friendlies for the players nor for us because the World Cup is close. It will help me to see the level of the players, their ambition, their hunger."

Spain squad in full:

Unai Simon, Robert Sanchez, David Raya; Marcos Alonso, Jordi Alba, Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres, Eric Garcia, Diego Llorente, Cesar Azpilicueta, Dani Carvajal; Rodri, Koke, Pedri, Marcos Llorente, Gavi, Carlos Soler; Dani Olmo, Pablo Sarabia, Alvaro Morata, Raul de Tomas, Ferran Torres, Yeremy Pino.

Following up on her podium finishes at the Liga Autonomica de Féminas in Spain on Saturday, Llori Sharpe enjoyed another good day in competition on Sunday when she was second in the U23 category and seventh overall in the Trofeo Dulcinea.

Sharpe, who signed with German cycling outfit Canyon-SRAM Generation in December 2021, tells Sportsmax.TV that both she and her coach, Adam Szabo, were quite pleased with her accomplishments on the weekend.

“I'd say it went pretty well,” she said of how she performed on Sunday. “The weekend, in general, was a great way to start the season. He (Szabo) too said both races went extremely well.”

All-in-all, it was a solid start to her career but Sharpe said there is much to improve upon. 

“I'd say to be more aggressive in the pack and to believe in my capabilities more,” she said about what she took away from her race on Sunday.

On Saturday, on what was her professional debut, Sharpe finished in third place in the Elite Category and second place in the Under 23 Category.

She now looks forward to her next race which comes up on the weekend.

It was with a sense of disbelief that Llori Sharpe stepped onto the podium in Spain at the conclusion of the Liga Autonomica de Féminas in Spain on Saturday.

In what was the first race of her professional career, Sharpe finished in third place in the Elite Category and second place in the Under 23 Category.

Her Rwanda teammate Valentine Nzayisenga finished in fifth place from a line-up of 110 riders. The 79 km, three-lap event included 6 km of gravel.

Sharpe signed a one-year contract with the German cycling team Canyon-SRAM Generation in December 2021, becoming the first Jamaican cyclist to sign with a European ream. On Saturday, the former triathlete began repaying their faith in signing her.

Still, it was a surreal moment for the 21-year-old Sports Science student at the University of the West Indies.

“When it just happened, I honestly couldn't believe it, but it has finally sunk in and I'm really proud of myself and my efforts today (Saturday),” she told Sportsmax.TV while explaining the successful strategy.

“I think I was able to read the race and my competitors well and just had to make my move when I felt the time was right.”

The success she enjoyed on Saturday, has not come without sacrifices. Sharpe has been living in Spain since mid-January, away from her family and those closest to her. She reveals that it has not been easy.

“Some days I feel really good and on others, I really miss my friends and family back home. The weather doesn't make it any easier since it’s not what I'm used to. But, I think to advance in anything in life whether personally, professionally or otherwise, one has to get out of their comfort zone, so although the adjustment has been tough at times, that's how I'll grow and develop not just in cycling, but as an individual,” she reasoned.

Otherwise, she has been pleased with her progress as she takes the first steps into competition in her professional career.

“Preparations have been going well, I'd say, and I'm glad that I'm now in an environment that's conducive to my progression in cycling,” she said.

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.

Barcelona on Tuesday confirmed they have reached an agreement to sign Ferran Torres from Manchester City for a reported fee of €65million.

The Spain international returns to LaLiga following an 18-month spell in the Premier League and has signed a deal until June 2027.

Barca are said to be paying an initial €55m (£46.7m) and as much as €10m (£8.5m) in add-ons.

The Catalan giants revealed a €1billion release clause has been inserted in Torres' contract and he will be officially unveiled at Camp Nou on January 3.

City initially spent roughly €23m (£20m) to sign Torres from Valencia in 2020, meaning they have more than doubled their money on a player who has never truly been considered a first-choice starter.

Barca had been linked with Torres in pre-season but their crippling financial state meant transfer outlays were implausible.

The club's debts have topped €1.4billion this year and as a result of their financial performance, they saw their LaLiga salary cap slashed by €280m to just €97m, hence their inability to retain Lionel Messi.

That saw Barca slip from having the second-highest wage limit last season to seventh in 2021-22.

 

Speculation ahead of Torres' signing led to many pondering how Barca can suddenly afford such a significant transfer fee so soon, but reports indicate they recently took out a significant loan to ensure they can.

Torres' arrival means new coach Xavi has the type of young, dynamic attacker he had been after, with the 21-year-old capable of playing through the middle and out on the right, where he was most-frequently used at Valencia.

Since Xavi's return to Barca as head coach, he has spoken regularly about a desire to play with classic wingers, while his reluctance to use Luuk de Jong as the focal point of their attack has suggested a preference for a quick and energetic central striker – Torres fits the bill on both counts.

Yet he leaves City as something of an enigma, having only made 15 Premier League starts in 2020-21, and this season Torres has managed just four appearances in the top flight due to a foot injury he sustained on international duty in October.

As much as it feels he has left City before the Premier League truly got to know him, in his limited time Torres has made an impact on the pitch for City.

Among City players to feature for at least 1,000 minutes across all competitions since the start of last season, Torres' 0.55 goals per 90 minutes is the highest and none of his strikes have been from the penalty spot.

 

His average of 2.8 shots (per 90) is third only to Kevin De Bruyne (3.3) and Riyad Mahrez (3.2), and his expected goals on a per-90-minute basis of 0.44 is bettered by just Raheem Sterling (0.47), showing that Torres' high goals frequency comes from being a consistent threat.

Torres' 1.1 chances created on average is well down the list at City, however. While this may partly reflect the fact he has featured as a central striker often, perhaps greater productivity in this area would have seen City put up more of a fight to keep him.

Nevertheless, the signing represents something of a coup for a Barcelona that just a few months ago was incapable of paying for players of such a calibre.

Barcelona on Tuesday confirmed they have reached an agreement to sign Ferran Torres from Manchester City for a reported fee of €65million.

The Spain international returns to LaLiga following an 18-month spell in the Premier League and has signed a deal until June 2027.

Barca are said to be paying an initial €55m (£46.7m) and as much as €10m (£8.5m) in add-ons.

City initially spent roughly €23m (£20m) to sign Torres from Valencia in 2020, meaning they have more than doubled their money on a player who has never truly been considered a first-choice starter.

Barca had been linked with Torres in pre-season but their crippling financial state meant transfer outlays were implausible.

The club's debts have topped €1.4billion this year and as a result of their financial performance, they saw their LaLiga salary cap slashed by €280m to just €97m, hence their inability to retain Lionel Messi.

That saw Barca slip from having the second-highest wage limit last season to seventh in 2021-22.

 

Speculation ahead of Torres' signing led to many pondering how Barca can suddenly afford such a significant transfer fee so soon, but reports indicate they recently took out a significant loan to ensure they can.

Torres' arrival means new coach Xavi has the type of young, dynamic attacker he had been after, with the 21-year-old capable of playing through the middle and out on the right, where he was most-frequently used at Valencia.

Since Xavi's return to Barca as head coach, he has spoken regularly about a desire to play with classic wingers, while his reluctance to use Luuk de Jong as the focal point of their attack has suggested a preference for a quick and energetic central striker – Torres fits the bill on both counts.

Yet he leaves City as something of an enigma, having only made 15 Premier League starts in 2020-21, and this season Torres has managed just four appearances in the top flight due to a foot injury he sustained on international duty in October.

As much as it feels he has left City before the Premier League truly got to know him, in his limited time Torres has made an impact on the pitch for City.

Among City players to feature for at least 1,000 minutes across all competitions since the start of last season, Torres' 0.55 goals per 90 minutes is the highest and none of his strikes have been from the penalty spot.

 

His average of 2.8 shots (per 90) is third only to Kevin De Bruyne (3.3) and Riyad Mahrez (3.2), and his expected goals on a per-90-minute basis of 0.44 is bettered by just Raheem Sterling (0.47), showing that Torres' high goals frequency comes from being a consistent threat.

Torres' 1.1 chances created on average is well down the list at City, however. While this may partly reflect the fact he has featured as a central striker often, perhaps greater productivity in this area would have seen City put up more of a fight to keep him.

Nevertheless, the signing represents something of a coup for a Barcelona that just a few months ago was incapable of paying for players of such a calibre.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.