FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART NINE: ALL OVER AGAIN

Part nine is a mix that has it all to prove once again: either at new clubs, after a long lay-off or a return to form.

LUKA JOVIĆ

21 / SERBIA / REAL MADRID
BY ZACH LOWY

Right from the start of the summer, Real Madrid looked towards putting their bad season behind them and bringing the European Cup back to the club.

Jovic

After a dismal season, Florentino Pérez made early moves Éder Militão, Luka Jović, Eden Hazard, and Ferland Mendy to bolster his side. It harkens memories to the summer of 2009 when Real Madrid brought Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, and Karim Benzema. However, if there’s one player who could have a similar impact to Ronaldo, it’s Jović.

The 21-year-old Serbian striker is coming off a stellar season for Eintracht Frankfurt, in which he netted 48 goals across all competitions. It was a breakout season that a player of his talent had been crying out for.

Jović came onto the scene at a young age for Red Star Belgrade, joining the club at age seven. He scored a hat-trick in his first game, which triggered the club to offer his father $50 for each goal he scored.

However, after becoming a regular for the Serb club, Jović was sold to Benfica, where he failed to make an impression. Nonetheless, Eintracht saw his potential, and after a learning curve during which he was efficient in the few minutes he player under Niko Kovac, Jović was launched into the starting XI under Adi Hütter. With the Serbian catching fire in Germany, Die Adler came within touching distance of top four and within a penalty shootout of reaching the Europa League Final.

Playing off of a target man, be it Sébastien Haller or Ante Rebić, Jović was involved in close-range finishing as well as launching counter-attacks with quick dribbles. If reports are to be believed, Barcelona gave up in their pursuit of Jović due to concerns over his link-up play, but those flaws will be corrected over time. Furthermore, his deficiencies in that aspect will be masked while playing with the finest link-up center forward in the game: Karim Benzema.

Perhaps that’s the biggest question surrounding Jović next season: will he play with Benzema, or will he have to battle him for a starting spot? Whatever the case, at 21, Jović still has a lot of learning and a lot of potential ahead of him. Los Blancos couldn’t have found a better Cristiano replacement if they tried.

ZACH IS THE CO-CREATOR AND DIRECTOR OF BREAKING THE LINES. HE HAS FEATURED ON ENGLISH PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS SOCCER LADUMA, FOOTBALL WHISPERS, THE ITALIAN WEBSITES, IL ULTIMO UOMO, AND THE MEXICAN WEBSITE, EL 9 Y MEDIO.

ERIN CUTHBERT

21 / SCOTLAND / CHELSEA
BY CAMPBELL FINLAYSON

At just 21-years-old, Erin Cuthbert was the youngest player in the Scotland squad for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France, but that didn’t stop the forward from making her mark at the competition. In a tough group alongside England, Japan and Argentina, Cuthbert was the focal point of the Scottish attack in the opening two games against the sides ranked third and seventh in the world as Scotland lost narrowly to both countries.

Cuthbert

In their final game against Argentina, Cuthbert was given even more time to shine, assisting Kim Little’s opener before grabbing Scotland’s third in their entertaining draw.

After winning Player of the Season and the league title at SWPL club Glasgow City, Cuthbert was snapped up by Chelsea in 2016 where despite not featuring heavily in her first season, she scored on her league debut against Yeovil and made a big enough impact to be handed a starring role the following season.

That year, she was the club’s third-highest scorer with 11 goals as the Blues completed a league and cup double. Last season, the striker was nominated for the PFA Women’s Player of the Year award after her impressive performances domestically while she also scored important goals in the Women’s Champions League against French sides Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon, as Chelsea reached the semi-finals.

With 22 goals in 59 appearances for the Blues and 11 in 33 for her country, Cuthbert certainly knows where the net is and at such a young age, she still has the potential to improve. If the Irvine native can continue that form next season, then there is no reason why she can’t make a huge impact for club and country and play at the highest level for years to come.

CAMPBELL IS A SPORTS JOURNALISM STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND IN AYR. HE HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS LALIGA NEWS UK AND MATCH WRITER UP AND HIS WORK CAN CURRENTLY BE FOUND ON VAVEL. WITH A KEEN EYE ON FOOTBALL IN SCOTLAND, SPAIN AND FRANCE, HE IS ALSO PART OF THE MEDIA TEAM AT SCOTTISH WOMEN’S FOOTBALL, COVERING THE SWPL.

BILLY SHARP

33 / ENGLAND / SHEFFIELD UNITED
BY CHARLIE COTTRELL

It’s difficult to remember a time when Billy Sharp wasn’t popping up with a goal on Soccer Saturday. Since he made his debut for Sheffield United back in the 2004/05 season, he’s been around the block and back again…more than once.

Sharp

A proven goalscorer there’s no doubt, but despite running out for a multitude of English clubs, Billy Sharp has only ever made two Premier League appearances. Unable to make the cut for Southampton between 2012 and 2014, he meandered through various Football League clubs before really coming home to Sheffield United, in what proved to be the best decision of his career.

Crucial in guiding them to promotion from League One to the Championship, he’s continued to play an instrumental role in their success, firing in 24 goals last season to see Sheffield United into an automatic promotion spot.

In the last four seasons with the Blades, Sharp been made club captain, racked up 89 goals for the club, and surpassed Rickie Lambert to become the 21st century’s highest scorer in the Football League. A lethal finisher from 12 yards, his work ethic epitomises the nature of his surroundings; Sheffield United have been seen to champion a steely determination to put in the hard yards of late and have certainly reaped the rewards from it.

There is no doubt Sharp will be a handful for defences during the impending season. Whilst his age may have robbed him of his pace, at 33, he wields the seasoned experience necessary to grind out results in tough games against lower-league opposition. These types of players – Glenn Murray, for example – are hard to come by, and often prove pivotal in making up those fine margins that decide who stays up, and who goes down.

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.

EMERSON PALMIERI

25 / ITALY / CHELSEA
BY GIANLUCA LIA

This is a big and bold statement, but Emerson Palmieri can be key to Chelsea’s success as the Blues are heading to their first season under the guidance of Frank Lampard.

EmersonWith the Blues currently banned from signing players in the transfer window, Lampard will have to bank on the players which basically clinched the Europa League title. Among these, there is Italian full-back Palmieri who joined Chelsea from Roma when Antonio Conte was at the helm of the London-based club.

The Brazilian-born 24-year-old will be entering his second full season at Chelsea under his third coach, and after his late emergence in the 2018/2019 campaign, the upcoming season could be his proper breakthrough in the Premier League. He has just 15 Premier League appearances under his belt but his ability in fulfilling various roles at the back could help him become a regular starter.

While he was in goal in one of their pre-season friendlies, Palmieri is looking to get the nod over Marcos Alonso. Why? First and foremost, he is very trustworthy in the defensive end while Alonso is more offensive-minded – that helps Lampard to have defensive bodies in his four-man backline.

Moreover, Palmieri is also capable of playing on either flank, in particular given his ability of crossing (see his Europa League final appearance) and also his impressive cuts inside where he can take his shot or connect with the forwards through passing. Palmieri, capped four times by Italy, also excels in dribbling and this can enable Chelsea to win more one on one duels on the flanks.

This could be a breakthrough year for Emerson Palmieri at Stamford Bridge.

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.

VALON BERISHA

26 / KOSOVO / LAZIO
BY STEVEN MOORE

A footballer with something to prove, a player returning from injury. This could not describe Lazio’s Valon Berisha any better.

Berisha

Arriving in Rome from RB Salzburg ahead of the 2018/19 season, the Kosovo international was ready to prove himself in one of the top leagues after years of excelling in the Austrian Bundesliga. A five-year deal worth €7.6 million seemed like a bargain for the then 25-year-old, who was one of the most hardworking midfielders in Europe at the time, with Champions and Europa League experience under his belt.

Versatile, capable of being a reinforcement to the Biancocelesti in any position across the midfield, it was unfortunate to see him miss most of the campaign. Berisha was plagued by various injuries and failed to be match-fit for 29 of the 51 matches that the Aquile participated in last year. Unable to exhibit his quality to the Laziali, the 2019/20 season will be one he is genuinely anticipating as he yearns to recover from his knee surgery.

An all-around menace to his opposition, Berisha is as comfortable at making a tackle to break up a play as he is at getting on the end of crosses to score for his team. For this reason, the expectations are high when he returns to full health; he would essentially be a new signing for Lazio as they continue to strive for a top-four spot in the league. However, if unable to perform, his time with the blue and white colors of the Italian side may be cut short – it would be the end of an adventure much before management or the Kosovar would have preferred.

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.

IBRAHIMA KONATÉ

20 / FRANCE / RB LEIPZIG
BY MARCUS HILL

In a season completely swept up by Matthijs de Ligt’s dominance, not much has been said for other breakout young centre-halves. However, Ibrahima Konaté has been mountainous in RB Leipzig’s 2018/19 campaign, in which the team finished third, made the final of DFB Pokal and the group stages of the Europa League.

Konate

The Frenchman has only just turned 20, but he made a total of 43 appearances for Die Bullen. He has shown great strength in his ability to intercept making an average of 2.1 per game which ranks him among the top in Europe for his age. His capacity to win aerial duels, tackle and make vital clearances also are statistically proven to be well above average.

Konaté is physically sublime with great strength, pace, and stamina. But he has also shown great awareness to cut out danger. He is seen as a major contributing factor to RB Leipzig having the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga last season.

His success largely comes from manager Ralf Rangnick’s trust in the club’s excellent youth system. Konaté’s well-praised centre-back comrade Dayot Upamecano (21) suffered from an injury that forced more reliance on the Frenchman. He was bought from Sochaux for €270,000 in 2017 but the defender is now considered to be worth much more, and that figure will only rise should he continue his fine run of form and add to his gleaming reputation.

He follows a trend of other young Leipzig stars such as Timo Werner and Naby Keïta. Heavily linked with a move to Arsenal and other big clubs this summer, Konaté is a name to look out for in the upcoming season.

MARCUS IS A FOOTBALL WRITER WHO HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS BREAKING THE LINES. 

ADEL TAARABT

30 / MOROCCO / BENFICA
BY ALEX GONCALVES

Perhaps against the odds, Adel Taarabt could finally be set to launch his career at Benfica. Since joining the current Portuguese champions in 2015, Taarabt has only played for the Benfica senior team seven times. With all the talent in the world but perhaps lacking some of the required commitment and attitude to make it count, the 30-year old has made next to no impact at Benfica up to this point, and has been almost a non-existent presence at Benfica over the last four years.

Taarabt

However, perhaps all is not lost for the versatile attacking midfielder after all. Having yet again been completely out of the picture at Benfica for almost all of last season, a change in manager gave his career in Portugal a lifeline, with new coach Bruno Lage giving him the support and trust required, and even gave Taarabt game time in six of Benfica’s last eight Primeira Liga games, showing he was well and truly back in the frame.

And he has only been given more game time over this pre-season, Lage continuing to give the Moroccan international a chance to express himself – and so far, he’s impressed the Benfica faithful with his quality on the ball and creativity often on show, and is testament to the work Taarabt is currently putting in, keen to take this opportunity that has been afforded to him.

Fans of English football will know a lot about Taarabt and the quality he possesses from his time at Queens Park Rangers, and he is beginning to show that type of form again. Will he be a regular for Benfica this season? Perhaps not. But his place in and around the first team is, to the surprise of many, looking pretty assured. If he continues to work hard and show his true capabilities, he could still play a significant role for Benfica this season.

ALEX GONCALVES IS A FOOTBALL WRITER SPECIALISING IN THE PORTUGUESE GAME AND IS THE CREATOR OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE SITE, TUGASCOUT.COM, WHICH IS DEDICATED TO BRINGING THE LATEST NEWS AND VIEWS REGARDING PORTUGUESE FOOTBALL FROM ACROSS EUROPE.

JULIAN WEIGL

23 / GERMANY / BORUSSIA DORTMUND
BY RYAN QUINN

Julian Weigl made a quick jump from second to first division football in Germany when plucked by Borussia Dortmund from 1860 Munich four years ago. Under Thomas Tuchel, Weigl made himself a mainstay in Dortmund’s starting XI, providing an eye for pass hard to match. Nicknamed the pass machine, Weigl was also tipped to make strides with the German national team in the coming seasons.

Weigl helped Dortmund reach second in the Bundesliga in two consecutive seasons, but after two seasons under the guidance of Tuchel, the latter moved to Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain, and Dortmund were in a transition period. The 2017-18 proved an underwhelming season for Dortmund, who finished fourth after not one but two managerial incomings in the space of a few months.

Last season saw Lucien Favre arrive and this instilled a needed sense of optimism. Yet, in doing so, a new look midfield formed, with Weigl displaced for a more robust double pivot of Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney. Both were key figures in what was a closely run title race, only to be won by Bayern in the latter stages as Dortmund’s form dropped. Weigl only played a bit-part role, making 11 league appearances, with much of them out of position at centre-back. Yet, Weigl did not look necessarily out of place, putting in some credible performances, and offering a more technical option.

There had been rumours linking Weigl with a move to both Arsenal and the aforementioned Paris Saint-Germain, but going into this season, Weigl performed in his more favourable position alongside Witsel as Dortmund beat Bayern in this year’s edition of the German super cup. Whilst still only being 23 years old, and proving his quality in midfield, centre-back Omer Toprak moved to Werder Bremen on loan, so Weigl could again see more opportunities in defence.

RYAN IS THE CREATOR OF THE CONVENTIONAL PLAYMAKER.

ROBERT SKOV

23 / DENMARK / HOFFENHEIM
BY TOKE THEILADE

Robert Skov grew up in Silkeborg’s youth academy together with Ajax starlet, Kasper Dolberg. However, while Dolberg moved to the Netherlands at a young age, Skov stayed in Denmark where he broke through at Silkeborg. Eighteen months ago, he joined Danish powerhouse FC Copenhagen, which turned out to be a brilliant decision. After six months of adaption in his first season, he took the league by storm last year.

SkovFrom his position on the midfield, he scored a staggering 29 goals in the Danish Superliga, which is a new record. Doing that, he broke Ebbe Sand’s record from 1998. Skov’s fantastic performances also earned him his debut on the Danish national team while he was also a part of the Danish team for the U21 Euros this summer. 

Skov is a technically gifted midfielder with a brilliant left foot. He scored a large part of his goals directly from free-kicks, while he also made some impressive goals from long shots.

Robert Skov recently joined Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to that challenge in the German Bundesliga. At Copenhagen, he has had an unfortunate habit of fading out of action in the bigger games, so he will need to develop even further now when the opponents are even stronger than what he is used to.

TOKE THEILADE IS A DANISH FOOTBALL WRITER WITH FOCUS ON SCANDINAVIAN AND EASTERN EUROPEAN FOOTBALL. HE WROTE HIS MASTERS’ THESIS ON RACISM IN RUSSIAN FOOTBALL AND HAS FEATURED IN PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS MOSCOW TIMES AND THE BLIZZARD. HE IS ALSO THE FOUNDER OF VILFORTPARK.DK, WHICH HAS A KEEN EYE ON DANISH CLUB, BRØNDBY IF.