When we think about Chelsea players at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, we tend to think of Stamford Bridge’s first-team regulars. Oddschecker, which compares World Cup odds and offers, have made Brazil the favourites for the tournament, and of course, their captain and leader is Chelsea’s rock at centre half Thiago Silva.
Then there are the likes of Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount, who are two of England’s star men. Kalidou Koulibaly is captain of Senegal in the absence of Sadio Mane, and he scored the crucial goal that sent the Lions of Teranga through to the second round for the first time in 20 years. Mateo Kovacic has once again been a linchpin of a Croatia side through to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive tournament. And despite Germany suffering back-to-back group stage exits, Kai Havertz still managed to help himself to two goals.
But there have been two players in particular that have impressed more than most in Qatar this winter. And they very rarely get a look in at the club level. Perhaps their performances during the showdown in the desert will get them back into the first-team fold at the Bridge. Let’s face it, Graham Potter needs all the help he can get at the moment. His Blues side are currently without a win in five Premier League games. When the season gets back underway, could these two help his cause?
Hakim Ziyech – Morocco
The story of the tournament so far has been the rise of Morocco. Four years ago, the Atlas Lions were many people’s picks to be potential surprise packages. Those hopes evaporated after just one game when they conceded a 95th-minute own goal which consigned them to a 1-0 defeat against lowly Iran. Spain and Portugal awaited in their second and third group games, but the Moroccans could only manage a solitary point and were eliminated before their final group game had even kicked off.
Four years on from that disappointing campaign, expectations were once again low. In a group alongside Belgium and 2018 finalists Croatia, as well as a Canada side spearheaded by one of Ligue 1’s brightest talents, Jonathan David, many thought that they were just there to make up the numbers. But they hadn’t banked on one man, Hakim Ziyech.
The former star of Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinals back in 2019 had been out of his national teams for months following a row with the former head coach. But the first thing new boss Walid Regragui did was bring his star man back into the fold, and how he has been rewarded.
Ziyech was the shining light in the 0-0 draw in their opening game against the Croats. In the second game against Belgium, he was a class above, assisting both goals as Morocco secured a shock 2-0 victory that all but assured them of a place in the second round. He then scored a stunning goal in the 2-1 victory over Canada that assured the Atlas Lions top spot in one of the most challenging groups in the entire tournament. Graham Potter will be hoping he can transfer that form to club level at the culmination of the World Cup.
Christian Pulisic – USA
Excitement couldn’t have been higher for Christian Pulisic’s arrival in London from Borussia Dortmund. The Blues forked out an eye-watering €64m for the winger’s services back in 2019, but it’s safe to say that the 24-year-old hasn’t hit the heights expected of him when he signed on the dotted line. For his country, however, it’s a different matter entirely.
Nicknamed ‘Captain America’, many consider Pulisic the finest player to ever pull on the Stars and Stripes shirt. He has started just four games for Chelsea this season, but in Qatar, he delivered for his country once again this winter.
The pacey winger helped himself to two assists as the USA reached the last 16 of the tournament, before being eliminated by the Netherlands. He also scored the all-important goal in their final group game against Iran, which saw the Americans progress to the knockout stages at the Iranians’ expense. Will that be enough to force his way back into the starting eleven at Stamford Bridge?