The excitement is building – with only one sleep before it all kicks off in Russia: I mean, the World Cup and the football. As the 32 nations compete for the most prestigious honour the Sport has to offer, fans from outside of those participating nations still try to find ways to connect with teams and certain players to root for and get some joy out of in seeing them win or worse – despair out of seeing them not win.
For Manchester United fans outside of this World Cup bubble, it is all about hoping the 11 Manchester United first team members in Russia – spread across 7 different countries and 6 different groups – make a good fist of the tournament, learn and grow from a unique experience that only International football can provide.
Not often does one get to carry the hopes of an entire country united in its desire to achieve ‘a goal’ but playing for a national team in a World Cup can give one that opportunity.
On that note, here is part one of my five picks for players who – I think, the Manchester United fans will be eager to watch put on their best foot forward (literally) in Russia.
5. Victor Lindelof – Sweden (Group F)
Lindelof, the Swedish centre-half has had a mixed debut season for United. The 23-year-old will be playing in his first World Cup – and in a group alongside one of the tournament favourites Germany, Mexico and South Korea – it is fair to say Sweden could realistically be looking to finish first in a race for second against Mexico and South Korea. Lindelof has not had a run of games at Manchester United under Mourinho yet – with the defender making 17 appearances in the Premier League (13 starts) and 5 appearances in the Champions League (5 starts).
Barring the two individual mistakes at Huddersfield that frankly – cost Manchester United all 3 points on the day – Lindelof has been quite solid. He rarely made defensive errors – partly because he rarely made a rash judgement. Always calculative when defending in small spaces, Lindelof brings a calmer head that his peers do not possess at Old Trafford. Neither do they bring a sense of comfort on the ball that he often does, when in possession.
It is worth noting that out of all the centre-halves at Manchester United Lindelof averaged the highest number of touches per game (47 in all competitions) – with the highest pass accuracy (90%).
But we have not seen much of any of those under Mourinho – and it will be interesting to see if his chances of making it at Manchester United as a first-team regular greatly improve after a positive outing in Russia with his national side.
4. David De Gea – Spain (Group B)
It is fair to say that – in the last two years, given the consistently elite level performances he has put in for Manchester United between the sticks – bailing out a defence that is only as good as it looks on paper, far too often in England and Europe, the Spaniard could indeed be the best goalkeeper in the world, right at this very moment you are reading these words.
De Gea has, in recent seasons, particularly in 2017/18, made a mockery of statistical predictions based on mathematical models which are quite exhaustive in its construction and complexity – by exceeding all sorts of expectations and limitations that seemed to exist when it came to goalkeeping.
His performances with the national side, however, do not really get the attention that his astonishing displays at Manchester United get, almost on a weekly basis – which is probably why I think – this is the World Cup David De Gea really gets the recognition that his talent and level of football merits – at the highest level.
Having already lifted the World Cup eight years ago in South Africa under the leadership of a legendary goalkeeper in Iker Casillas – the pressure is enormous as De Gea is set to take the field in Russia as Spain’s new ‘numero uno’ for the foreseeable future.
But if he cannot succeed, then who can?