FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART SIX: FLAIR APLENTY

Part six covers a group of players that have a lot of style to offer to their respective teams.

PHILIPPE COUTINHO

27 / BRAZIL / BARCELONA
BY GIANLUCA LIA

It seems like his departure from Anfield in search of more glory has backfired in his face. Philippe Coutinho, 27, has an enormous 2019/2020 season in front of him.

Coutinho

Although he was one of Brazil’s best players in the successful Copa America in June and July, Coutinho was one of the most disappointing players at Barcelona. Simply, at Liverpool he had the world at his feet, and he would create anything with the ball in his possession. However, it seems that at Barcelona he lost that responsibility and that has hindered his confidence.

He is not taking players on anymore, creating chances or simply connecting with his forward partners – when the ball is at him, the action dies. In his defence, he is not a winger as he is actually a natural midfielder, a number 10, the player who has to pull the rabbit from a hat in every game.

However, Ernesto Valverde often utilised the Brazilian as a winger in his traditional 4-3-3 shape and that has forced Coutinho to play out wide which denies him the chance to be more at centre stage. Unless there is a change in formation, it is difficult to see a much improved Coutinho at the Camp Nou. It is safe to say that should Coutinho stay in Spain, this is a make-or-break year for the Brazilian.

GIANLUCA IS THE MEDIA OFFICER AT THE MALTA FA WOMEN’S DEPARTMENT AND SPORTS REPORTER AT THE TIMES OF MALTA. HE ALSO CONTRIBUTES TO INTERNATIONAL PLATFORMS SUCH AS SB NATION AND VAVEL.

KADIDIATOU DIANI

24 / FRANCE / PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
BY JEANNE LOLLICHON

The 2019 World Cup has certainly helped Diani reach the international fame, despite her being at the top of her game with Paris Saint-Germain over the previous season. A large number of people noticed her qualities over the course of the World Cup and were particularly in awe of her when the French took on eventual champions, the United States of America.

Diani

The media often referred to her as “Speedy Diani”, as she showcased her pace down the wings, causing great trouble to the United States’ Crystal Dunn plenty of times and dribbling past her other opponents to create fair goalscoring chances.

However, women’s football followers who keep a keen eye on the French game over the course of the last season could tell that it’s not a surprise that Diani did so well. She is one of the stars of the Parisien team who fell short to the great Lyon side in the title race once again last season. ‘Kadi’ as her nickname says, provided the most assists (12) and was also the third-highest goalscorer (13), behind teammate Marie-Antoinette Katoto (22) and the reigning Ballon d’Or holder, Ada Hegerberg (20)

She is a player who knows how to play with a team, but it has also been noted often that she sometimes shows a lack of altruism, which just about says it all when it comes to Diani.

Often compared to fellow Paris Saint-Germain player Kylian Mbappé, Diani is definitely one to keep an eye out for, and despite already excelling, she has the capability to improve further and become better than she is.

JEANNE IS A FRENCH WOMEN’S FOOTBALL EXPERT AND HAS HER OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL: FOOTBALLHER. SHE ALSO WRITES FOR GET FRENCH FOOTBALL NEWS. AFTER GRADUATING WITH A FOOTBALL BUSINESS MEDIA DEGREE, SHE’S LOOKING TO WORK IN THE INDUSTRY AS A SPORTS JOURNALIST AND HOPES TO GIVE THE BEST COVERAGE OF THE WOMEN IN THE GAME.

LISANDRO MARTÍNEZ

21 / ARGENTINA / AJAX
BY SIVAN JOHN

If Ajax has brought in someone to replace the outgoing Matthijs de Ligt, surely that player must have been doing something special to win the heart of the Amsterdam side. In Lisandro Martínez’s case, they have an exceptional talent coming from Argentina. Here is the reason why.

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At Defensa y Justicia, the left-footed defender has shown his openness to adapt in various formation. Martinez’s phenomenal flexibility makes him comfortable enough to play as a centre-back in a back four or a back three or even be deployed at left-back.

This is evident in the fact that his positioning is remarkable to the point that he rarely needs to make overly hasty challenges. His game is built around making those vital interceptions whenever necessary. His tackling is often been precise on a consistent basis thus rarely gets his name into the official books.

As solid as he is for being a defender, Martínez is also noteworthy enough to bring a lot of immense qualities when going on the attack. Such virtues are deemed as paramount if one wishes to succeed at Ajax due to their unique footballing philosophy.

At Defensa y Justicia, Martínez has also displayed his ability to use his pace and surge with the ball when it is required. He has been known for taking risks by launching deep from his territory and also for getting out of his position to provide a lending hand in attack.

The reason that Martínez has such an exquisite quality could be attributed to his passing and ball-playing ability. He is capable of finding his teammates from a long-range.

It’s no wonder he managed to add three assists to his record last season – an impressive number for a player whose primary role is meant to stop goals rather than creating them. Playing for Ajax, he is a rough diamond that is waiting to be polished even further.

SIVAN IS A WRITER WHOSE WORK HAS FEATURED IN PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS MUNDO ALBICELESTE, THESE FOOTBALL TIMES, IN BED WITH MARADONA AND MORE. HE IS AN AVID FAN OF HUDDERSFIELD TOWN AND THE ARGENTINE NATIONAL TEAM.

BRIAN BROBBEY

17 / NETHERLANDS / AJAX
BY BRAD JONES

The never-ending quality of Ajax’s academy is no secret, the club produces more top-drawer talent in a decade than most clubs have in their history, and 17-year-old Brian Brobbey is part of the next generation ready and raring to pick up the prestigious baton.

Brobbey

Since his arrival at De Toekomst just short of a decade ago, Brobbey has developed magnificently into a beastly figure and his overpowering presence in both a physical and technical sense is hardly surprising as a result. Whilst the Dutchman has the strength and pace to beat a man and get into goal scoring positions, he also has a range of finishes in his repertoire and the presence of mind to convert a chance when one comes his way.

A step up to regular game time with the U21’s at the very least looks imminent for the forthcoming season after he scored 34 and assisted six in 38 appearances in all competitions for the U19’s last campaign before helping the national team to their second U17 European Championship trophy in two years. Nevertheless, as the likelihood of a first-team debut increases, an extraordinary breakthrough season could be on the cards for the teen.

Up until now, goals are pretty much guaranteed with Brobbey spearheading the attack, and as he continues to rise through the ranks, these astonishing goalscoring credentials are only going to become more widely noticed. A big, big season in the offing.

BRAD IS THE CO-CREATOR OF 152FOOTBALL. HE IS ALSO A CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE

JACK GREALISH

23 / ENGLAND / ASTON VILLA
BY CHARLIE COTTRELL

A talented young Englishman that breeds controversy and divides opinion: it’s about time Jack Grealish was given a crack at the Premier League.

Grealish

By the sound of it, he’ll fit right in. But the naughty-boy antics of chuffing nitrous oxide and lying unconscious on the streets of Tenerife are a far cry from the Grealish that strides towards his first season in the big time. He still gallops with the unadulterated energy of an enthusiastic youngster, but his promotion to captain of his boyhood club Aston Villa has bred unprecedented levels of maturity in both his playing style and attitude.

This was exemplified by his handling of events in the infamous derby against Birmingham last season. Assaulted on the pitch by an opposition fan, he went on to coolly slot home the winner, a composed finish that underpinned the mindset of a player who’s not so quick to lose his head these days.

Villa have put their hands fairly deep into their pockets this summer, but it’s the likes of Grealish – fan favourites who aren’t afraid of the dirty work – who will define their season.

He’s been heralded as a Premier League player for some time, and whilst there may have been some doubts about his aptitude in seasons past, at 23, it might just be the perfect time for the step-up. His impressive long-range shooting can trouble any keeper in the top flight and paired with decisive vision and powerful box-to-box running, he’ll be an exciting watch this season if Villa are brazen enough to go out and attack teams.

CHARLIE IS A FOOTBALL WRITER WITH A KEEN EYE ON CARDIFF CITY. HE HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE.

YANGEL HERRERA

21 / VENEZUELA / GRANADA
BY DOMINIC JOSÉ BISOGNO

After a slow ascension to the headlines via heroics for the Venezuelan U20 national team and New York City FC, the 2018-2019 cycle provided Herrera with his biggest chances yet. His place as a key cog of the Venezuelan senior squad became cemented as the former Monagas and Atlético Venezuela man became an unavoidable starter alongside the likes of Torino’s Tomas Rincón and Newcastle’s Salomón Rondón.

Herrera

Herrera also earned a loan to La Liga club Huesca in the winter after returning to his owners, Manchester City, at the end of the 2018 MLS season. Herrera couldn’t completely save an already relegation bound Huesca, but he did notably improve their play. The club’s record shifted from 2-4-12 (W-D-L) prior to Herrera’s arrival to 3-6-6 when he played. With Herrera, the club managed to beat Real Valladolid 4-0 and Sevilla 2-1, without Herrera the side suffered its worst defeat of the season in a 6-2 drubbing from Valencia.

Herrera played both as a midfielder and fullback at Huesca, but his continued development with Venezuela, who he’s representing at the 2019 Copa América, reflect that he is still destined to be a midfielder with the ability to play in the defensive and attacking thirds. His strengths include good pace, deadly tackles, and the ability to play passes to the likes of David Villa, Ezequiel Ávila, and Josef Martínez.

Venezuelans see Herrera as a future captain of La Vinotinto, with current captain Tomas Rincón at the age of 31 and one of many older players in the side. The young Venezuelan’s fate will largely be dictated by the quality of his next loan or transfer, with chances of staying with City relatively low. A chance of showing his talents for a more established club in the top five leagues may well provide the ultimate platform for the 2017 U20 World Cup finalist to begin the next stage of his career. At only 21 years of age, the future is Herrera’s to forge.

DOMINIC IS A FOOTBALL WRITER THAT HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS BREAKING THE LINES AND FOOTBALL PARADISE. HE MAINLY FOCUSES ON VENEZUELAN FOOTBALL. HE HAS ALSO PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE

SALVATORE SIRIGU

32 / ITALY / TORINO
BY STEVEN MOORE

Salvatore Sirigu is far from an unfamiliar character in the world of football. At 32 years of age, the Italian goalkeeper has not only had the chance to play in his country of origin, but also be fortunate enough to enjoy spells abroad.

Sirigu

In the summer of 2011, he successfully handled a move to Paris Saint-Germain from Palermo following the takeover of Qatar Sports Investment group. However, it has not always been a comfortable journey for the Sardinian born player.

Despite becoming – and maintaining – a starting position for Les Parisiens in his tenure in France, he was phased out of the squad in 2015 without any technical reason or explanation. The ‘dark time’ in his career in which he was made to feel worthless, the ability to bounce back and become one of the best current goalkeepers in Europe has definitely come to the amazement of many.

Thriving at Torino since arriving on a free transfer in the summer of 2017, Sirigu has been an immense factor to the Granata’s success. Quick to get to ground and keep a strong hand, the Italian allowed just 35 goals in 36 matches while securing 15 clean sheets last season.

Proving that age is just a number, Salvatore will be looking to ride this positive run of form into this year’s campaign, starting with the qualifying rounds for the 2019/20 Europa League. Hopefully, for him and the Toro, the best is yet to come.

STEVEN MOORE IS THE FOUNDER AND CREATOR OF THE LAZIALI, THE PREMIER WEBSITE FOR ALL THINGS PERTAINING TO LAZIO IN ENGLISH. HE ALSO CONTRIBUTES TOWARDS GIANLUCA DI MARZIO’S ENGLISH WEBSITE.

XHERDAN SHAQIRI

27 / SWITZERLAND / LIVERPOOL
BY RYAN QUINN

Playing a fairly key role in Liverpool’s successful 2018-19 campaign after arriving from previously relegated side Stoke City, Xherdan Shaqiri enjoyed both a closely run title race and an even more rich Champions League victory, the second of his career. Notably, Shaqiri was a starter in the most incredible and most important of Liverpool’s matches in gaining the coveted sixth crown, as Jürgen Klopp’s semi-final comeback against FC Barcelona. The winger played a well-timed cross into the box to assist Georginio Wijnaldum to put Liverpool even on aggregate in the game.

Going into the new season, there is not much difference to the Reds starting XI. Three signings; two young talents in defender Sepp van den Berg and winger Harvey Elliott and goalkeeper Adrian (who’ll play second fiddle to Alisson) were made but they will not affect the starting XI as such. Shaqiri, in this case, will play a role similar to that of last season; an impact substitute, filling in for an injured player or starting when Klopp makes a slight tactical diversion from his usual 4-3-3.

More rotation could be expected from Liverpool this season, with Naby Keïta gaining more ground in the side and Joe Gomez, as well as extra returns from injuries in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana, which bolsters the midfield and must have somewhat relinquished the need to dwell into the market. Other than this, there should be little expectancy for Liverpool to change their approach in any way.

This may suit Shaqiri, who offers creativity and can play on either flank, predominantly the right and even tuck further inside, but Shaqiri may want a move away, being linked with AS Monaco in Ligue 1, but being a fairly important member of the European Champions is a fairly good position to be in.

RYAN IS THE CREATOR OF THE CONVENTIONAL PLAYMAKER.

MARCOS LLORENTE

24 / SPAIN / ATLÉTICO MADRID
BY BRENDAN BOYLE

Known as “chicken” by his former team-mates due to his marvelously impeccable golden hair, Marcos Llorente – following his father, Paco’s, footsteps in crossing the Madrid divide – will find that his season at Atlético Madrid will be judged and defined not necessarily by his own efforts but by the performances of those around him.

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Self-reflection ensued in the wake of Rodri’s departure to Manchester City, a year after returning to his boyhood club. This was a player who was earmarked as the foundation upon which the next era of Cholismo would be built and his decision to leave hurt both the club and the fans.

However, we may look back at the end of the season with the view that the equivalent of Llorente plus €30 million deal for Rodri worked out pretty well for Los Rojiblancos. There is an argument to be made that this is actually a better fit for Simeone’s side: Rodri is undoubtedly a classy midfielder, but is clearly more suited to a controlled, possession-based outfit and Atlético Madrid under Diego Simeone have never been, nor ever will be, a team that strives to dominate possession. Llorente was not signed for consistent 90%+ passing numbers – that is not his game.

One of the finest athletes in LaLiga and renowned for his fitness and wellbeing, the 24-year-old from Las Rozas will bring ferocious energy, aggression, recovery pace and, having been discarded by Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, he arrives with a point to prove. His presence will allow Atléti to press more aggressively and higher up the pitch – something missing last season when Rodri and Thomas Partey were in the team together.

He will also provide the platform which allows Koke and Saúl to play a more decisive attacking role by freeing them up to make more late runs into the box. This will be absolutely vital in the absence of Antoine Griezmann, given the need for an extra 10 to 15 league goals, at least, from Atlético Madrid’s midfield.

In a summer of huge change at Atlético Madrid, Simeone will be looking to get back to basics in terms of his values and the way he wants his team to approach the game of football. In Marcos Llorente, it looks like he may well have found a new dynamo as we enter a new era at the Wanda Metropolitano.

BRENDY IS AN IRISH JOURNALIST LIVING AND WORKING IN MADRID. A SEASON TICKET HOLDER AT ATLÉTICO MADRID AND RAYO MAJADAHONDA, HE COVERS ALL THINGS FOOTBALL IN THE SPANISH CAPITAL, FROM ESTADIO BUTARQUE TO THE WANDA METROPOLITANO.