5 underperforming players at the World Cup
With daily thrillers, classics and most importantly giant-killings, this World Cup hasn't disappointed. The play has been focused more on scoring than parking the bus. We have been entertained. That said, it hasn't been perfect. When there are surprises, it usually means the players from whom you expect the most are not delivering. There has been plenty of that in Russia.
Here are five players who have underperformed at the 2018 World Cup.
David De Gea has been regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world for a while now, ever since Manuel Neuer was seriously injured. But the Spaniard failed to prove his credentials on the global stage. He was far from his best self.
Known to perform in the big games for Manchester United, De Gea exhibits nerves of steel. Against Portugal in the opener, steel turned to butter. As in fingers. He couldn't have done much to stop Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty or freekick, but allowing the second to bounce off his hands into goal was the last thing anyone expected from De Hero. The error exposed uncertainty in the 27-year old. Even when he guessed right in the penalty shoot-out against Russia, he couldn't keep the ball out. He was fingertips away from saving at least 2 penalties, a shin away from another. Hopefully, he puts the mistakes behind when he returns to Old Trafford.
The Argentine centre-half came to the World Cup off the back off his best season ever, winning the Premier League with Manchester City. There were big hopes for Otamendi to replicate his success with the national team. He couldn't have performed any worse.
A disastrous game against Iceland, wherein he couldn't impose himself, began his tournament He gave Luka Modric more than enough space to shoot for Croatia, then let his temper get the better of him against Nigeria and France. His volatile behaviour was shameful. Plus, his antics only motivated Kylian Mbappe. Overall, he was slow in possession and reverted to his error-prone nature.
In truth, Otamendi was simply exposed. The opposition didn't fear Argentina the way they worried about Manchester City. Otamendi may be a modern ball-playing defender, but he shouldn't forget how to defend.
Joshua Kimmich was another who had a fantastic season for his club, this time Bayern Munich. Many heralded the young German as the new Phillip Lahm. Kimmich ultimately suffered from the hype. Like many teammates, he faltered under the pressure to defend their title and endured a frustrating World Cup.
Kimmich did register an impressive 11 key passes, but those weren't enough to salvage his tournament. He even came very near to scoring himself, but just couldn't. Too many enterprising efforts failed to come off. He was playing as a right-winger rather than a right-back. Mexico's Hirving Lozano had him on toast in the opener. The Bavarian ignored his defensive duties. Whether it was a tactical decision or the player going rogue, opponents knew the way to die Mannschaft's goal was through him. His tackle success rate was a meagre 50%.
The World Cup has humbled many; Kimmich is the latest. Hopefully, he learns, matures, and returns as a complete player.
I could add the entire German team, but Thomas Muller makes it ahead of everyone other than Kimmich. He was another reason why the Champion's Curse fell on the Germans.
After scoring five and assisting three in each of the previous two World Cups, Muller neither scored nor created a single goal at Russia. That is not the Thomas Muller we are used to seeing. He was deployed as a right winger in the first two games, then dropped in the third game after poor performances. He wasn't effective as a winger at all.
Der Bomber was not clinical, couldn't find space or the final ball. Some wonder whether it was burnout. Are we witnessing the decline of the Raumdeuter?
Here is the one player who may have a chance to turn his World Cup around. That's if manager Tite isn't yet convinced he should be starting Roberto Firmino. Gabriel Jesus was tipped to win the Golden Ball at Russia. Instead, his goal-total in Russia even trails another player you probably expected to see on this list, Lionel Messi.
Fans were excited for the Selecao to have two genuinely talented number nines after the horror show that was Fred in 2014. As it turns out, Fred did more in that tournament. Jesus hasn't scored once, although he has registered a solitary assist. It was the only moment of quality the Manchester City youngster has displayed in four starts. The service to him hasn't been great, but that should be no excuse for not getting involved in the build-up play or to stop making runs. Maybe it is time for Firmino.