The World Cup was brilliant, but it has absolutely wrecked most Premier League clubs’ preparations for the new season.
The four semi-finalists of England, France, Belgium and Croatia had 39 players between them contracted to Premier League clubs, meaning several clubs were without key men for a large part of pre-season.
Not only is that bad for the clubs, it also makes it incredibly difficult to select your first Fantasy Football team of 2018-19. With that in mind, here are nine to swerve…
Ah, good old Slabhead. Off the back of a sensational World Cup, Harry Maguire has catapulted himself into pole position in the list of Premier League players that rival supporters openly like.
The likeability factor isn’t the only allure of selecting Maguire, though, as he proved at the World Cup that he is a mammoth threat from set-pieces. He somehow managed more attempts on goal than Kylian Mbappe.
Unfortunately for Leicester City, a herculean effort from Maguire at the World Cup means he is yet to return to training and as such is highly unlikely to feature in their opener against Manchester United – who, of course, want to sign Maguire themselves.
Slabhead isn’t the only one causing Claude Puel a headache, with everybody’s favourite partygoer and port-drinker Jamie Vardy also rated doubtful for the Foxes’ trip to Old Trafford.
Vardy didn’t play nearly as much as his team-mate during England’s run to the last four, but he did tweak a hamstring during the last-16 game against Colombia and at 31 might need a little extra TLC.
Puel said of Maguire and Vardy: “If we are serious I think they cannot participate in the first game, with just five days training with the team.”
It could be classic managerial double-bluff, but considering Puel is as straight as an arrow, we’d avoid picking either of these two.
Somewhat surprisingly, Dejan Lovren was the only Premier League-based player in Croatia’s squad this summer, but he featured prominently as they made their way to the final.
Sadly for Lovren, Croatia’s 4-2 final defeat to France meant he joined probably the worst exclusive club in football: those to have lost both Champions League and World Cup finals in the same summer. Perhaps Michael Ballack will invite him out for a drink.
More than most, the past few months will have taken plenty from Lovren both physically and mentally, and Jurgen Klopp may want to ease him back in gently. Nevertheless, he is worth keeping on your shortlist as £5m for a regular top-four defender is a snip.
You’ll want to get him in at some point, of course, but Harry Kane looked more knackered than most during England’s games in the latter stages of the World Cup.
Mauricio Pochettino leans heavily on Kane but he will be sure to manage his prized asset carefully, particularly as he struggled towards the back-end of last season with an ankle problem.
And don’t forget that even if Kane does play, he has a hex hanging over him preventing from scoring a goal in August. Somewhat bizarrely, he is without a single Premier League goal from 44 shots across 13 appearances in August.
Chances created at the World Cup: Kieran Trippier (24), Kevin De Bruyne (23), Neymar (23), Luka Modric (18), Eden Hazard (15)… Lionel Messi (10). Nope, this is not a hoax.
No England player enhanced their own reputation as much as Tottenham’s right-back, who emerged as some sort of set-piece demigod in Russia, even scoring an outrageous free-kick in the semi-final vs Croatia.
Those performances certainly didn’t go unnoticed, as evidenced by the fact that he is currently the top-picked defender on Fantasy Football and in 26.8% of all squads.
Similarly to Maguire and Vardy, though, Trippier had a late return to his club, and in his absence, both Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters have impressed in pre-season, meaning there is no need to rush him back.
Olivier Giroud did his very best Stephane Guivarc’h impression this summer by failing to score a goal despite leading the line for a triumphant French side. He didn’t even manage a shot on target in Russia, weirdly enough.
There were murmurings earlier in the summer that Alvaro Morata could be on his way out of Stamford Bridge, which could have opened up some space for Giroud to play, but Maurizio Sarri has dampened talk of the Spaniard leaving.
Although Giroud represents a fairly cheap option on Fantasy Football, he doesn’t really fit the profile of striker that Sarri tends to like, and it would be a surprise if he is anything other than a rotation option this season.
Of all Belgium’s top performers in Russia – and there were a few – Eden Hazard was the best of the bunch, twisting and turning away from the best defenders on the planet for fun.
When on song as he was at the World Cup, Hazard is one of the most electrifying footballers around and a joy to watch. IF he stays at Chelsea, it will be fascinating to see how he adapt to ‘Sarri-ball’.
That is a big if, however, with both his and Thibaut Courtois’ futures currently up in the air. By the time the season starts, Hazard may not even be a Fantasy Football option, but even if he is, he may need a bit of time to get up to speed under his new boss.
Hugo Lloris had an uncomfortable moment in the final when he tried to dribble around Mario Mandzukic only for the striker to tackle him and score, but he was otherwise exemplary between the sticks for France.
Pochettino will be hoping he can carry his pre-final form into the new campaign but may be tempted to allow him a week or two off with Michel Vorm a more than able deputy.
A superstar for Manchester City during their romp to the title last season, Raheem Sterling has seen his price surge to £11m on Fantasy Football this year as a result.
That isn’t the reason to avoid picking him entirely, although it might be beneficial to bide your time before signing him. After all, Pep Guardiola is unlikely to risk Sterling given Leroy Sane had the summer off and he now has £60m Riyad Mahrez to choose from, too.
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