The 2018 FIFA World Cup is now in full swing. We’ve seen each and every side play once as the first round of fixtures have drawn to an end, but who’s impressed the most? As we all know, signing players off the back of impressive displays at international tournaments hasn’t always worked well for the Reds. I mention no names… *Diouf*. However, there’s always that niggling feeling of doubt that the next one may be the right one. With that said, here are five players that have impressed me off the back of their opening displays.
I’m going to start with an obvious shout. The Moroccan has long been linked with Liverpool and now more with than ever following the January departure of Philippe Coutinho and the uncertainty surrounding the Nabil Fekir deal. People that follow my Twitter account will have gathered that I’m a big fan of Hakim Ziyech so this inclusion will come as no surprise. Although Morocco lost their opening tie against Iran 1-0, that can’t be seen as a reflection of Ziyech’s qualities. Whilst it was not the dynamic midfielders best game, there were still moments where it was clear for all to see that he has the ability to deliver for a club like Liverpool.
Early on he had no issues in taking the game to Iran and at times, along with Amine Harit, looked to single handily drive Morocco over the line. Whether it was in tight spaces or raking it across the field, Ziyech broadcasted his wide passing range and ability on the ball. The technique and ability of the Ajax star cannot be ignored. WhoScored highlight Ziyech’s ability to play a splitting pass, dribble with the ball and take dangerous set-pieces as some of his strongest attributes. In the absence of Coutinho and uncertainty over Fekir, those specific characteristics are undoubtedly being sought by Liverpool.
Hakim Ziyech vs Iran: The Moroccan showed off his sublime passing ability and was involved in everything his nation did. A potential Fekir alternative? pic.twitter.com/iIzsQE85Fh
— LFC Comps (@LFCCompsHD) June 16, 2018
Ziyech had an involvement in 24 goals in 34 games for Ajax last season, scoring 9 and assisting 15 which is 7 goals and 7 assists more than former Liverpool target, Thomas Lemar. I’m not suggesting that we opt for Ziyech over Nabil Fekir, but if the situation arises where the Frenchman simply cannot be signed, the Moroccan is certainly one to take a look at. I read something that summed the midfielder up following Morocco’s loss to Iran. It said that the problem Ziyech had was that he wasn’t playing a pass to someone who shared his ability and thus the move broke time all too often. Although he’s been heavily linked with AS Roma, it’s clear to see how Hakim Ziyech could fit in at Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Over the course of the 2017/18 season, I watched Frankfurt on multiple occassions and was largely impressed with two players in particular, Marius Wolf and Ante Rebic. Following the end of the season, the intrigue switched to seeing how the Croatian forward performed on the international stage. It’s fair to say that myself and many others were fairly impressed by the forward following Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.
Throughout his career at Frankfurt, it’s been Rebic’s ability to deliver on the big occassions that has really catches the eye. Despite losing in the DFB Cup final to Borussia Dortmund in 2016/17, Rebic stepped up and delivered by scoring Frankfurt’s equalising goal after Ousmane Dembele opened the scoring. Following the game, the official Bundesliga website described Rebic as “strong, powerful and clinical” whilst stating that the Croatian is the “perfect player for counter-attacking sides” as well as touching on the forward’s incredible work rate. Twelve months later however, Frankfurt and Rebic’s disappointments would not be repeated. Ante Rebic again stepped up and scored twice as Frankfurt beat Bayern Munich 3-1 to clinch the cup and again cementing his ‘big game player’ status.
The Croatian played in four different positions last season for Frankfurt but was deployed predominantly from the left and on the odd occasion, as a central striker. He ended the season with 9 goals and 2 assists in 33 games. That equates to a goal involvement every one in three game. In fact, that figure is even better when you consider that five of those 33 appearances came from the bench. Against Nigeria, many noticed Rebic’s versatility and hold-up play in particular. Whilst he undoubtedly should have bagged himself a goal, the attacker will continue to get chances and impress on the biggest stage in football. If Ante Rebic can continue to impress, then there’s no reason as to why he couldn’t find himself on Jürgen Klopp’s radar.
For many, Pavon may be a name that has cropped up on their timelines for some time now. The Argentine has bags of pace and has been linked with many top clubs in the past, including Liverpool. Over the past season in Argentina, Pavon has directly contributed to a goal every 122 minutes that he’s been on the pitch. In his last 34 games for Boca, the attacker has registered seven goals and eleven assists. Predominantly, Pavon plays from the right hand side but has made a combined eight appearances at left wing and centre forward. It’s clear that Liverpool have been needing more attacking depth with players who are able to play anywhere across the forward line and Pavon could fit the bill.
Although Pavon is often played from the right, at only 22 years of age there’s plenty of time to make him more familiar with various positions across the attacking line. WhoScored highlight that key passes are one of Pavon’s main strengths and that again is something that Liverpool seek in order to break down deep block defences. The young attacker reportedly has a €36m buy-out clause and if he continues to impress like he did off the bench for Argentina against Iceland, then it’s only a matter of time before a big offer is headed his way.
It’s not every day that you score the winner against Germany during your first major international tournament, is it? In itself, that says everything that you need to know about Mexico’s Hirving Lozano. Juan Carlos Osorio, the Mexico manager, believes that Lozano is now ready for the Premier League at just 22 years of age. The tricky winger contributed to 25 goals in 29 appearances in the Dutch league, scoring 17 himself. What’s most impressive about Lozano is his versatility. As mentioned before with Cristian Pavon, Liverpool seek an attacking player that’s capable of playing along the front line to boost options.
— Juan Carlos Martínez (@maninthebox82) June 17, 2018
In just twelve appearances from the left wing, Lozano managed 9 goals and 5 assists which is of course a contribution of over one goal a game. Whilst from the right side of the attack, the young Mexican bagged six goals and assisted a further one goal in 14 games. Although he often didn’t find himself deployed as an out-and-out forward, that didn’t stop the Mexican scoring twice and assisting twice during just three starts through the middle. In Hirving Lozano, Liverpool could be looking at the ideal player. Capable of playing off either flank and through the middle if needed whilst also possessing great pace and direct running, which is something that is vitally important in a Jürgen Klopp system. The young attacker is currently being linked with a move to Merseyside rivals Everton, although I’m sure if the red side of Liverpool came knocking, he wouldn’t think twice.
For those that watch Ligue 1 regularly and more specifically Dijon, Naim Sliti is probably a name that you’re already familiar with. I must admit, personally, I’ve not seen a great deal of him prior to the match against England a few nights ago. However, he made somewhat of an impression on me during those 74 minutes of play. It was clear from the off that Sliti and Khazri were to be Tunisia’s main attacking threats and at times they did cause England problems. At 25 years of age, Sliti has his best years still ahead of him and could yet be in for a move after the World Cup if he continues to put in impressive displays. However it is not just on the international stage that the Tunisian has impressed.
In the French league last season, Naim contributed with six goals across various positions. Whilst the midfielder’s eye for goal is certainly impressive, Sliti picked up 6 assists across 31 appearances, five of which (appearances) were from the bench. Much like Pavon and Lozano mentioned above, Naim Sliti is capable of playing in various positions. Although he predominantly featured down Dijon’s left side, occasionally he was utilised in a more central role behind the striker where he was involved in five goals in five games. The Tunisian’s passing and finishing abilities are some of his stronger capabilities and certainly could be very valuable to many clubs. Much like Pavon and Lozano, if the tricky midfielder continues to impress, then there’s every chance that an opportunity could come his way after the World Cup.