100 days on, still going strong

  • They said fatigue would handicap the stars of Russia 2018

  • We look at the players defying that 100 days after its Final

  • Hazard, Lozano, Mbappe,and Trippier feature

Remember the pundits who said players coming off a demanding FIFA World Cup™ would struggle to find their form in 2018/19? Well, a crop of Russia 2018 stars have made a mockery of those predictions.

None more so than Eden Hazard, who pocketed the adidas Silver Ball as Belgium finished third. The 27-year-old is the top scorer in the 2018/19 Premier League ahead of monster marksmen such as Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane. He registered an early 2019 FIFA Puskás Award contender with a glorious goal against Liverpool in the EFL Cup. And he has been championed as a contender for next year’s The Best FIFA Men’s Player – an award he’s made no secret of his desire to lift.

Jurgen Klopp, Manuel Neuer, Paul Pogba, Maurizio Sarri, John Terry and Gianfranco Zola are among those to have showered the Chelsea No10 in plaudits since the summer. “Yes,” Hazard responded when pushed earlier this month on whether he’s the best player on the planet.

Could Hazard be rivalled for that gong by Kylian Mbappe? The 19-year-old terrorised Argentina in the Round of 16, scored a fine goal in the Final, rewrote multiple records throughout and seized the FIFA Young Player award, but seven run-outs in Russia haven’t taken the spring from his step. Mbappe has posted 11 goals in just eight games for Paris Saint-Germain this season, and continued making huge contributions for France.

His compatriot Blaise Matuidi, who was key for the world champions during the knockout rounds, has thrived in Serie A. “Being a World Cup winner seems to have turned him into an even better player,” said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri. “He’s very complete, his attacking game is better than it’s ever been.”

Ivan Perisic, who covered 72 kilometres at Russia 2018 – more than any other player – was the enzyme in Croatia’s fightback defeat of England in the last four, and bagged a fine goal in the Final, is another of the stars of this term’s Serie A. The 29-year-old winger scored in his first two outings after returning to Italy.

“Perisic is the kind of winger that is different to the others,” said Jose Mourinho. “Normally you look at wingers and they are just fast and creative. But he is also physical, very physical. Fantastic in the air.”

Across the Mediterranean Sea, Diego Godin, who made the Fan Dream Team, has helped Atletico Madrid keep clean sheets in his last four starts in La Liga, including away to Real Madrid, and Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho has continued scoring gems, as he did against Switzerland in Rostov.

Kieran Trippier, who excelled for England throughout and scored a fantastic free-kick in the semi-finals, has carried his form into a Tottenham Hotspur shirt, producing another sumptuous set-piece against Fulham.

Then come the Russians. Artem Dzyuba, who bullied opponents at the 21st World Cup, is the second-leading marksman in the Russian Premier League, while the international retirement of Igor Akinfeev seems to be benefiting CSKA Moscow, who have conceded just five goals in 11 games. Denis Cheryshev, for his part, has been among the standout performers in the UEFA Nations League.

Hirving Lozano, who got Mexico off to a flying start against defending champions Germany, has been on fire for PSV and is now reportedly on Barcelona’s wanted list. “He’s come back from the World Cup in incredible form,” said his coach Mark van Bommel.

Fatigue? What fatigue?