Manchester City may have romped to the Premier League title last season but their players are mainly having a stinker in the World Cup with Sergio Aguero falling foul of Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli, Gabriel Jesus looking sapped off all ingenuity, and David Silva probing to little avail.
Add the clear frustration of Kevin De Bruyne in a deeper role for Belgium, Nicolas Otamendi dusting off his headless chicken impersonation, and Raheem Sterling misfiring to a nation’s annoyance and it amounts to a collective unravelling of a woven masterpiece of Pep Guardiola’s creation. Indeed only John Stones can hold his head high and legitimately claim that he has carried over his league form that contributed to the Blues winning their third title by a landslide last May.
Why this is so has led many to wonder if Guardiola’s exacting demands are the root cause with the players now mentally exhausted from striving for perfection over a gruelling ten month period. Perhaps. There are certainly too many examples of a dip in standards for it to be coincidental.
Yet whatever the reason we can firmly state at this moment in time that while City were champions domestically in 2017/18 on the global stage their players have been anything but throughout the group stage. And this begs the question: if City’s players are flopping in Russia which club’s players are doing the Premier League most proud?
Before we go there, let’s indulge in some stats.
108 players went from the English top flight to the World Cup and so far between them they’ve made 169 starts with a further 39 appearances coming from the bench. Premier League stars have scored 30 of the 122 goals as the tournament ramps up to the drama of the knock-outs. Just under a third of them have come courtesy of Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku.
Goals aside however the overall input from the division has not been great. On 25 occasions a Premier League player has been substituted while there are numerous examples of players making a solitary appearance, failing to make an impact, and finding themselves dropped for the subsequent game. Then there’s Ozil’s apathetic ambling, and Kyle Walker’s opening game penalty concession, and David De Gea’s howler on the first full day of the tournament.
But enough with the negatives because there are plenty of clubs who can rightly be very pleased with their employees’ displays on the greatest stage of them all.
Huddersfield will have been delighted with Aaron Mooy’s influential performances while Dane Mathias Jorgensen is growing into the competition. Southampton meanwhile have several ticks not least from the consistency of Maya Yoshida and Cedric Soares for Japan and Portugal respectively. Jan Bednarek’s winner for Poland this week was a cherry on top.
Liverpool will overall be smiling with paternal pride as Jordan Henderson finally revises a misconception of his cautiousness while Sadio Mane and Mo Salah both blazed a goal-scoring trail through their groups.
Chelsea too have largely been well represented even if the antics of Willy Caballero against Croatia astounded while Tottenham unsurprisingly have seen their two biggest stars in Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane show their class from the get-go.
As for Arsenal and Manchester United both have produced mixed bags although the latter have far more reasons to be cheerful. Yes Ashley Young has disappointed while David De Gea’s reputation has been chipped away at this past fortnight but Pogba has been energized, Lukaku is scoring for fun, and in Jesse Lingard they have a contender for a midfield slot in the team of the tournament if he continues to pull up trees. As with Benarek and Southampton, Marcos Rojo’s crucial winner this week is their bonus source of pride.
Yet there is one club who has led the rest when it comes to best repping our league. It is a club who are not averse to beating their rivals against expectations. That club is Leicester City.
The Foxes waved off nine players to Russia and none could be said to have let their employers down. More so, in Kasper Schmeichel’s reliability, Harry Maguire’s elevation in stature, and their Nigerian trio of Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Ahmed Musa (presently on loan to CSKA Moscow) showing flashes of excellence in a thoroughly entertaining group Leicester fans have had more reasons than most to enjoy the festival of football served up in Putin’s kingdom.
It’s not quite the fairytale of three years ago but they’ll certainly take it. Meanwhile, City hope their broken pieces mend.