Player – Leander Dendoncker
Position: Defensive Midfielder
Caps: 5 Goals: 0
Leander was selected in the Belgium squad ahead of much more experienced players such as Steven Defour and Radja Nainggolan. He is the only player in the Belgian squad still playing in his home country where he captains Anderlecht, having made 125 appearances and scoring 9 goals for them. He also helped his club to win the Belgian Pro League in 2017 by scoring 6 goals. Dendoncker is joined in the squad by several teammates who have also come from Anderlecht’s academy such as Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku. He made 44 appearances this season as Anderlecht qualified for the Europa League group stages. Dendoncker also has Champions League experience having played in all 6 group games this season against Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich and Celtic.
Chance of game time: He will start on the bench and may come on to replace fellow defensive midfielder Axel Witsel or join him in midfield if Kevin De Bruyne is pushed further forward.
Why we’re following them: As another player to come out of Anderlecht’s notable academy, Dendoncker could be one of the next Belgian stars in the Premier League.
This video highlights Dendoncker’s ability to shoot from range and win the ball in deep positions.
Player – Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Position: Central Midfielder
Caps: 4 Goals: 0
Ruben was picked in the squad due to the injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere’s lack of form. He made his debut in the friendly against Germany where he was named the man of the match. He has previous international tournament experience having been part of England U21’s 2016 Toulon Tournament victory, scoring 3 goals including one in the final and later being named Player of the Tournament. At his club, Loftus-Cheek has struggled for appearances for Chelsea despite being well regarded by coaching staff. This season he moved on loan to Crystal Palace where he made 24 appearances, scoring 2 goals despite suffering an ankle injury which kept him out for several months.
Chance of game time: As one of England’s only creative midfielders, Loftus-Cheek could be fielded in England’s 3-1-4-2 system alongside the more attacking Jesse Lingard or Dele Alli. He is well suited to be able to link the play between the Defensive-Midfielder, Henderson or Dier and the attack of Kane and Sterling.
Why we’re following them: Loftus-Cheek’s lack of game time with Chelsea could mean that he moves on from the club he has been at since the age of 8. Impressive World Cup performances could attract interest and Loftus-Cheek could become one of a growing number of English players moving to continental Europe.
This video from England’s pre-tournament friendly against Costa Rica showcases Loftus-Cheek’s ability to quickly turn defence into attack through his passing and dribbling.
Player – Fidel Escobar
Caps: 21 Goals: 1
Fidel Escobar is one of the younger players in the oldest squad at World Cup 2018. Despite this, he has racked up 21 caps since making his debut in 2015 and has also scored a goal, the winner against Honduras in CONCACAF qualifying. The Panamanian currently plays for New York Red Bulls and their reserve side in the USA, alongside teammate Michael Amir Murillo. Fidel is currently on loan from Sporting San Miguelito who play in the Liga Panameña de Fútbol having previously played for San Francisco and Sporting CP’s B side. He was missing as Panama were beaten 6-0 by Switzerland which shows how vital he is to their defence. As part of a five-man defensive unit, he is able to dribble with the ball out from the backline and strike powerful right-footed shots.
Chance of game time: He should start in Panama’s 5-4-1 formations alongside Roman Torres and Adolfo Machado, Luis Ovalle and club mate Michael Amir Murillo.
Why we’re following them: If Panama are to have any success at this tournament their defence will have to perform exceptionally and with Escobar as part of that backline, his performances may draw interest.
This video highlights Escobar’s ability to defend against balls on the floor and in the air. It also shows how he can work in tandem with the other defenders in the five-man defence of Panama.
Player – Naïm Sliti
Position: Attacking midfielder
Caps: 16 Goals: 3
Born in Marseille, Naim Sliti has played for a variety of clubs in French Ligue 1 and 2 such as Sedan, Paris FC, Red Star Paris and Dijon where he is on loan from Lille. He plays alongside squad mate Oussama Haddadi and this season helped Dijon secure a solid mid-table finish by making 27 appearances and scoring 5 goals. Naim made his international debut in 2016 and went on to score his 3 international goals in the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifying. Unlike others, Sliti has been fully committed to Tunisia and had no hesitation in joining up with the Eagles of Carthage.
Chance of game time: The injury to Youssef Msakni has increased Sliti’s importance to the side meaning he should start throughout the group stages supporting Wahbi Khazri in attack from either the left or behind him in attacking midfield.
Why we’re following them: While Dijon hope to keep him after his loan spell, good performances could interest French clubs in the higher reaches of Ligue 1.
The goal in this video against Olympique Lyonnais shows Sliti’s finishing ability. It also shows how Sliti might play with Tunisia on the counter-attack against England and Belgium.
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