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World Cup Breakout Stars - Part One: Pavard, Lucas Torreira, Milinkovic-Savic & Ndidi

Every single World Cup, regardless of its overall quality, has one thing in common: the emergence of breakout stars who earn themselves dream moves – often at inflated prices – to some of Europe's biggest clubs. In 2014 James Rodriguez was the lucky winner, moving to Real Madrid from AS Monaco for £71 million that summer. It didn't exactly work out.

In the first of a two-part series, we take a look at four young players who might, like James, make a name for themselves in Russia – and predict which club they could join once the tournament ends...


Benjamin Pavard

The 22-year-old France right-back has risen to prominence over the last 12 months at VfB Stuttgart, making 27 Bundesliga appearances in 2017/18 to earn himself a place in Didier Deschamps' squad. AS Monaco's Djibril Sidibe was expected to hold down the troubled right-back slot for the French, but over 135 minutes in their two most recent friendlies Pavard has performed admirably.

What to watch

Pavard's most important attribute is his crossing ability. It was his delivery that led to the opening goal in a friendly win against Italy this month; Olivier Giroud would surely enjoy getting on the end of the youngsters whipped balls into the box. He is strong in the tackle and highly athletic, but there is no doubt that going forward is when Pavard will shine. If France go for a narrow 4-3-3, in which the full-backs are instructed to bomb forward, then Pavard could play a crucial role.

When he could shine

Deschamps has been given a selection headache here, although it's unlikely Pavard will be thrown in for the first game. Instead, his best chance of playing is against Peru five days later (Sidibe's fitness problem means he will struggle to play every game). If Pavard plays well against the South Americans he has every chance of usurping Sidibe for the remainder of the tournament.

Which club should buy him?

He is not short of suitors. Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Liverpool are all reportedly interested in Pavard's services, although the expected price tag of £52 million would put off both North London clubs. Pavard's crossing would, not unlike Trent Alexander-Arnold, provide Liverpool with the width they need.



Lucas Torreira

All eyes in Uruguay will be on the young midfield partnership blossoming between Rodrigo Bentancur and Lucas Torreira, two technically-gifted footballers that have helped the Uruguayans evolve from their usual counter-attacking system to a more possession-based approach. The dinky 22-year-old has only missed two Serie A matches in two years for Sampdoria, giving him experience beyond his years.

What to watch

Torreira is a combative midfielder who uses his small 5-foot-5 frame to weave away from danger in possession and unexpectedly win 50-50s when Uruguay are on the back foot. He is a very good technician, too, linking well with the more creative Bentancur in Oscar Tabarez's 4-4-2 formation. He is the sort of scrappy, energetic midfield player that can grab a game by the scruff of the neck.

When he could shine

Torreira should be a standout player in every Uruguay game, such is the importance of the two central midfielders in Tabarez's system. However, first impressions are very important on the world stage; his performance against Egypt on June 15 could be decisive.

Which club should buy him

Arsenal are reportedly close to completing a £22 million deal to bring Torreira to the Emirates, and it looks like a perfect fit. His experience with Sampdoria means he is used to Unai Emery's high-pressing football, while the Gunners desperately needed somebody with bite in midfield.



Wilfried Ndidi

Premier League fans have already seen Ndidi play a full season for Leicester City, and yet surprisingly the English media are yet to pick up on the 21-year-old's remarkable defensive talents. Nigeria will largely be depending on John Obi Mikel to control the midfield, although in a counter-attacking system there is no doubt Ndidi will play a key role – even if his tireless work will go uncelebrated in Russia.


What to watch

Ndidi made more tackles last season (4.2 per match) than any other player in the Premier League. He is superb at intercepting, too, breaking up the play thanks to an exceptional Kante-like reading of the game. Still 21 and with only one season of football in Europe's top five leagues under his belt, Ndidi could soon become one of the best midfielders in the world.

When he could shine

Defensive midfielders rarely get the credit they deserve, but in a tournament likely to be defined by low-scoring matches Ndidi might receive plaudits if Nigeria reach the knockout stages. Look out for his display in their final group game against Argentina, in which the African side will probably need a result. Ndidi versus Lionel Messi is a superb test of the youngster's skills.

Which club should buy him?

Liverpool and Arsenal have both been linked with Ndidi this year, but the rumours have cooled for obivious reasons. Jurgen Klopp already has three central midfielders arriving this summer and Arsenal will surely prioritise Torreira, likely to cost less than half the price of Ndidi. If the 21-year-old has a huge World Cup then expect Barcelona and Real Madrid to take a closer look.



Sergej Milinković-Savić

The 23-year-old Lazio central midfielder is a future star and will play a key role for Serbia over the coming weeks. In fact, so highly-rated is Milinković-Savić that Serbia's previous manager, Slavoljub Muslin, was fired last October shortly after the nation earned qualification primarily because he refused to play the central midfielder.


What to watch

A tall and powerful player, Milinković-Savić stuns opponents with his unexpected grace and agility, meandering across the turf a la Paul Pogba. And just like the Frenchman Serbia's star player is difficult to crowbar into a team, although on the world stage this fearless, swaggering playmaker is unlikely to disappoint. With Nemanja Matic holding the fort, Milinković-Savić is free to attack.

When he could shine

His best chance of making an impression is against Costa Rica in the opening match. The Americans were torn apart by Belgium in a 4-1 defeat this week, while England's B team easily beat them 2-0; this is the only match in Group E when Serbia will be playing on the front foot. Milinković-Savić has to make it count.

Which club should buy him?

Manchester United are trying to sign the 23-year-old and, understandably, want to wrap up a deal before his profile rises in the World Cup. Lazio reportedly want more than £100 million for their star player, which might be too much for Jose Mourinho's side. Real Madrid is a more likely destination.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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