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World Cup Chat: Semis

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


We’ve reached the semi-finals of the world cup and pickings for your fantasy squad are wearing thin. We’ve got France and three outsiders on the docket leading to my team running five England players. But before we get to the fantasy picks, let’s take a look at how each team got here.


England wasn’t pretty but they made it past Sweden behind goals from Harry Maguire and Dele Alli. England hasn’t created much from open play during this World Cup but the defense and Jordan Pickford has been stout while they have taken advantage of almost every set piece handed to them. Croatia will want to be wary about fouling as England will make them pay.


Croatia finally stopped Russia on penalties in a 4-3 win and they will hope that their team has had enough time to recover after holding up versus the Russian press for 120 minutes. Their midfield has powered them to this point and it will be important to see how they hold up versus the press of England.


France is coming off of a comprehensive win over Uruguay and is top to bottom the most talented team left in the World Cup. Kylian Mbappe is running rampant on teams and you’ll hear a bit more about him later here.


Belgium took down the favorites when the World Cup began in Brazil. They got up 2-0 and held on for dear life as Brazil tried to get back into the game but their front three was too much. Romelu Lukaku is the only striker to score more goals than Harry Kane in open play and will be looking for more to take down France.


Let’s get down to our picks starting with my captaincy pick.


Captaincy pick: Likely young player of the tournament Kylian Mbappe has been destroying defenses for France and I expect that to continue versus Belgium’s weak back line. While I think Belgium wins this game, that doesn’t mean that Mbappe won’t get his in what should be a classic win for the Red Devils.


Budget pick: My Cheapest starter is Jordan Pickford at 5.5m. While that’s not a budget pick for a keeper, we’ve reached the point where you need to pay up to fill your teams and Pickford is worth the extra .5 million.


Anthony O’Shea


Captain Pick


Harry Kane (vs Croatia)

In the quarter-finals, Harry Kane delivered his least noteworthy performance of the World Cup, failing to score and barely threatening the opposition. He actually had just one shot in the game but he was still a useful outlet for Alli, Sterling, and Lingard going forward. Kane still leads the Golden Boot at this year’s tournament with six goals; Romelu Lukaku his nearest rival with four.

When you compare the fixtures, France and Belgium are well-balanced sides where the result is extremely uncertain. Short of penalty goals, scorers are also pretty hard to predict. England on the other hand have a pretty reliable goalscorer in the Spurs talisman. Croatia’s defence has been solid up until Russia overcame them twice in the quarters, but with two nights of 120 minutes in their starter’s legs, extra fatigue may prove a vital factor in aiding England to go one step from ensure that it comes home.


Budget Pick

Mario Mandzukic (8.9)

The notion of a budget pick changes as this tournament goes on. There are a number of goalscorers in every remaining team – Kane, Mbappe, Griezmann, Hazard, Lukaku, Modric, and Mandzukic – outside of those main men, the provenance of returns is a toss up.

With that in mind, I class Mario Mandzukic as bargain at 8.9; he’s the cheapest of those I consider a goal threat, averages 2 shots per game and supplies the odd key pass too. One goal is a poor return from this tournament for the Juventus man, who would be well able to make England pay if one their defenders slip up. I expect the Croatian’s to target Kyle Walker in the middle with Mandzukic, and honestly I think they could have some joy that way. An alternative option is Ivan Peresic (8.5). He has taken more shots per game than any of his teammates, but his finishing has been questionable.

Sean Sullivan


Captaincy Pick: Paul Pogba (8.8m)


Four years ago in Brazil, Paul Pogba was voted the Best Young Player of the tournament.  The then 21-year-old scored a goal from five or ten shots on target and recorded an assist from five key passes.  This time around in Russia, Pogba is yet to score or assist. So far, he's placed just one of four shots on target and failed to grab an assist from five key passes.  In spite of the Manchester United's less than convincing displays in the final third, I'm backing him to show up when France need him most. Selected by 16.4% of teams, Pogba is a differential captain if you need to make up some serious ground.  




Budget Pick: Harry Maguire (4.9m)


Perhaps the best bargain across all positions, Harry Maguire is my anytime goalscorer sleeper pick for England’s clash with Croatia.  The centre-back has displayed his aerial dominance throughout the tournament by winning more aerial duels (33) and heading more shots on goal (5) than any other defender.  As a primary target on set-pieces, the 25-year-old used his head to grab an assist in the group stages and the opening goal against Sweden. If you’re in search of a budget defender, Maguire is too good to ignore.   





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