A regular series as part of our World Cup coverage under the Talent Radar banner is aimed at the tons of aspiring football hipsters out there. We will track the progress of all young players at the World Cup, focusing on each and every game and compiling a detailed analysis. The eligibility criteria for this is simple, the player must have been 21 or below at the start of the season (2013-14).
Raheem Sterling shines in defeat to Italy
England took on Italy in the rainforest of Manaus in one of the biggest group stage fixtures of the tournament. England manager Roy Hodgson sprung a surprise in his starting line-up for this crucial contest with the inclusion of 19 year old Raheem Sterling. It wasn’t a massive shock as Hodgson has been a huge admirer of Sterling and has publicly praised him throughout the build-up to this World Cup. But nevertheless, to hand a teenager his first ever England start in possibly the biggest of group stage games was a bold gamble to display attacking intent, one which paid off well despite the defeat as Sterling put on a Lionhearted performance which will surely earn him praise around the world.
♦ Sterling featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014, coming in at #6 in the attackers category
♦ Sterling was at #21 in our list of 25 Talent Radar Young Players to Watch at the World Cup
♦ Head this way for a detailed Scout Report on Raheem Sterling.
♦ Sterling featured in our Team of the Season and Readers’ Team of the Season at our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player Awards (link above)
♦ The youngster was also named in our Talent Radar Premier League Team of the Season.
♦ He was also voted as the Premier League Young Player of the Year in our End of Season Awards.
Hodgson’s inclusion of sterling over the wily playmaker Adam Lallana was also surely influenced by the fact that Italy were devoid of their first choice fullbacks, in an effort to exploit their lack of space. Sterling was deployed behind Liverpool teammate Daniel Sturridge, with a license to roam around in an almost “Unenglish” manner, almost unprecedented for an English team who have used rigid and disciplined tactical systems. Sterling began the game with a high intensity and great flair from kick off, constantly roaming and making excellent pacey runs behind the Italian defence. In the opening three minute mark he sublimely skipped passed Gabriel Paletta and launched a stunning shot from 25 yards out which hit the side netting, exciting even the BBC who enthusiastically awarded England the goal.
It was only the beginning of his fantastic performance throughout the night as he was the active hub in the midfield, demanding the ball and setting up superb attacking opportunities, an aspect of his game which seems to be getting better and better every game. The very next minute he used his space intelligently to lay off Henderson to force a fantastic save from Salvatore Sirigu. 21 minutes in, he flew past fullback Darmian and sent in a beautiful low cross that was inches away from Welbeck. Unsurprisingly he played a huge part in England’s equaliser as he broke free on a counter attack from De Rossi’s tight man marking, to unleash an exquisitely timed pass through to Wayne Rooney who ran in and crossed in to Sturridge for a smart tap in.
His threat was ever constant throughout the first half of the game. In the second half, the Italians were more alert and careful in dealing with him as they frequently closed in and outmuscled him off the ball. Even though his performance going forward began to dry up , another aspect of his game as a willing defender opened up, as he dropped back when maestro Pirlo had the ball, energetically pressing him whenever he could in a vindication of Hodgson using pace to combat the regista’s threat. Early into the second half he pressed Pirlo into an error and set up a speedy counter that could have resulted in a penalty for England. But as the game progressed the Manaus heat was clearly taking a toll on the youngster as he began cramping up and looked out of breath at times. The introduction of Ross Barkley another one on our Talent Radar players who impressed yesterday, saw Sterling move to right wing. Even with fatigue he managed some excellent runs, majestically dribbling and feinting his way past Marchisio and Darmian. In the end, the equaliser was a bridge too far as Sterling undeservedly ended up on the losing side, finishing with outstanding stats such as a 91% pass completion, 58 touches, 2 tackles and even 4 shots on goal.
He is surely one to watch for the rest of the tournament as England are by no means out of the race for qualifying to the next round. Expect more of these exciting performances from this amazingly gifted teenager. (Nikhil Krishna)
Marco Verratti combines with Andrea Pirlo in the Italian midfield
Verratti has long been considered one of the finest young talents in world football, and some even consider him to be the successor to the magnificent Andrea Pirlo. While the latter is open to debate, the former certainly isn’t, as Verratti has shown in his performances for the last couple of years that he is one of the best players of his generation.
At around this time last year, Verratti put in some domineering displays for the Italy U21 team at the Euros. It included a stunning victory over last night’s opponents, England too. While he dominated that performance as the central playmaker for Italy, pulling all the strings and chasing the English players all over the pitch, last night, on his World Cup bow, Verratti played in a slightly more subdued role, and was the supporting cast to the star show that was Andrea Pirlo. Verratti started on the right hand side of what was a 3 man central midfield, partnering Danielle De Rossi, and Andrea Pirlo. The youngster put in a solid performance until he was taken off in the 57th minute for his partner in crime at club level, Thiago Motta. While most are accustomed to seeing Verratti don the role of the main playmaker, he did the job of providing the support to Pirlo very well indeed.
His 61 passes were completed at a 97% success rate, which is very impressive for a midfielder. He backed this up with a couple of key passes as well, picking up the assist for Marchisio’s goal. Essentially his job was to keep the ball moving and give it to the primary playmaker. Verratti to Pirlo was a combination that was seen 22 times, the second highest such ‘combination’ in the match. Defensively too, Verratti did a fair job. While he is a bit frail, what’s impressive is his bravery and willingness to go for the tackle. His positioning was also satisfactory.
Hopefully, we get to see more of Verratti in the upcoming games. His passing, and combination with Pirlo really allowed the Italians to control the game, and dominate England. Similar performances from him will definitely do Italy a world of good. Upcoming games against Uruguay and Costa Rica, which Italy might be expected to win, will give him the opportunity to cement his place in the team. (Vishal Patel / Twitter)
Barkley comes on for a positive showing while Wilshere had little time to influence
With England needing more explosion in their side from youngsters like Sterling, Hodgson decided to throw Ross Barkley into the mix replacing Danny Welbeck. While the moves was appreciated, the decision to take off Welbeck was a bit strange as he seemed to be having a better game compared to some of the others, notably Wayne Rooney.
Barkley’s burst of pace and willingness to go forward was certainly threatening with the Everton man quickly forcing the keeper into a save and creating two other chances. He completed 100% of his passing in his 30 minute display and while this may not be enough to adequately judge him, it’s no doubt that he brings another dimension to the game which none of the others were able to offer, and quite like what Rooney did way back at Euro 2004.
Jack Wilshere was another Talent Radar youngster who took to the field, replacing Jordan Henderson. While the Liverpool man struggled to mark any telling influence on the game, Wilshere did no better in there with the England system to blame rather than the Arsenal midfielder. (Sami Faizullah / Twitter)