Five FPL Players to Watch as World Cup Squads Begin to Take Shape
Stephen Adams, International Correspondent
When the final whistle blew on that October night in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, the World Cup was something that I wanted to avoid thinking about until 2019. With the United States not in the tournament, which I have dubbed the “Summer Soccer Tournament” so as to fool myself into thinking it is not the World Cup, I wondered how I could approach the rest of the Fantasy Premier League season without thinking of the mistakes made by my Yankee brethren at every kick of the ball. However, as the season heats up and enters the final third, there are players across the league who must focus their attention not only on ensuring their teams finish high up the table, but also on securing a seat on the Road to Russia, while helping you win your FPL league. I, Stephen Adams, International Correspondent, have identified five such players who have something to prove in order to find themselves on their respective countries rosters for the World Cu…I mean Summer Soccer Tournament.
*Prices and Fixtures as of the start of GW 25
Juan Mata- Manchester United (Spain)
Perhaps the riskiest of the options given the current midfield situation at Manchester United, Mata will also have contend for a spot on the Spanish national team, with Sergio Busquets, Koke, David Silva, and Isco some of the names that could keep Mata from his third World Cup. With the addition of Alexis Sanchez, the United midfield has become even more congested. Mata, having just signed a contract extension to stay at Old Trafford for an additional year, will need to make the most of his opportunities not only to stay on the team sheet for Jose Mourinho, but to keep his hopes of heading to Russia alive. Having played over 70 minutes in 8 straight GW, Mata will need to produce more than his one goal and two assists that he did over that time to make it worth the £6.8m cost for the tricky midfielder. Fixtures against Huddersfield and Newcastle in GW 26 and 27, respectively, could provide just that opportunity.
Kurt Zouma- Stoke City (France)
The center-back on loan from Chelsea has made only 2 appearances for Les Bleus, but at just 23, could be entering the prime of his career with a World Cup squad place on the horizon. He will need to prove himself with a great last third of the Premier League season to join near-guarantees Laurent Koscielny and Samuel Umtiti in Russia. Zouma has gone all 90 in all but 4 matches this season, but that number matches the low number of clean sheets that the Potters have managed. A promising schedule until a GW 30 matchup against Manchester City could provide clean sheet points for those willing to shell out the £5.4m for Zouma. While not providing much return this season on set pieces, he is a consistent target in the box. Those looking for help on the backline should scoop up Zouma sooner rather than later.
Emre Can- Liverpool (Germany)
The reigning World Cup champions have an abundance of wealth all over the field, including a stacked midfield wielding players such as Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, and Sami Khedira. Can, a defensive stalwart for Liverpool’s midfield, will look to crack the squad with the help of an extremely friendly schedule with only 3 games ranked 4 or higher according to the Fixture Difficulty Rating from FPL. Can has played over 75 minutes in 7 straight game weeks, but Liverpool has been unable to hold a clean sheet in all but one. GW 25 started with not only a clean for the Reds, but Can also found the back of the net and picked up an assist on the way to grabbing 3 bonus points. More performances like this will make the bargain-priced (£4.8m) Can a steal for FPL players the rest of the season.
Christian Benteke- Crystal Palace (Belgium) (7.6m)
The 27-year old Benteke has appeared just 32 times for the Belgians, but has found the back of the net 12 times in those caps. While Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi will likely lead attack for Belgium, Benteke very well could be used to spell Lukaku late on in matches, or could even start one of the three group stage matches if he can keep his form trending in the upward direction. With a slow start to the season in the rearview mirror, his form for Crystal Palace has been red-hot, with either a goal or an assist every week between GW 22 and GW 25, easily worth the £7.6m price tag. Tough matches against Spurs(H), Manchester United(H), and Chelsea(A) loom in the distance, but with Benteke firing up top, points could be returned for those who ride with him.
Daniel Sturridge- West Bromwich Albion (England)
Perhaps no player in the entire Premier League has more to prove both domestically and internationally than the oft-injured, sometimes prolific Three Lions striker who will make the move to West Brom from Liverpool for the remainder of the season. Sturridge will look to improve upon the 1 goal per 214 minutes pace he showed in his limited time with Liverpool, and, according to West Brom manager Alan Pardew, he will get just that chance, with Pardew stating, ” if we can get him fit and anywhere near his best, I am sure (England manager) Gareth (Southgate) will be taking a close look”. A supportive manager and great health will help Sturridge take a step towards Russia, but West Brom’s schedule is a bit tricky as they fight for Premier League survival. England has a world-class striker in Harry Kane, a hungry veteran in Jamie Vardy, and youngsters Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli, but a determined Sturridge (£7.9m) could force Southgate’s hand to include the 28-year old.