As the English Premier League draws to a close at the end of another long campaign, the players can at least look forward to an extended break this summer. In 2016, many players had to attend the European Championships but with no major tournament on the horizon, they can relax and recharge ahead of 2017/18.
From there, it’s on to Russia and the 2018 World Cup and that brings the added interest of players looking to impress ahead of the tournament. Some, barring injury or a horrendous dip in form, are already guaranteed to be on the plane. Here are three Premier League stars who could be set for breakthrough tournaments in 2018:
Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Coming into the last week of the season, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku held the advantage in the race for the Golden Boot. Two goals ahead of Tottenham’s Harry Kane, the Belgian is a certainty for Russia 2018 but less certain is his own position, with Everton unable to meet his desire to compete in the Champions League.
His international scoring ratio is a fraction under that which has been achieved in the EPL but Lukaku hasn’t always been a guaranteed starter at that level. Belgium are unbeaten after five World Cup qualifying matches and surely, after a campaign in which he scored 24 goals in his first 36 league matches, Red Devils’ manager Roberto Martinez will have already inked Lukaku’s name into his squad list for Russia.
After contract talks with Everton fell through, it’s said that the player may be seeking a move back to former club Chelsea where he had unfinished business. Antonio Conte’s side have just won their fifth league title and come in at 11/4 in the early Premier League betting markets to repeat the feat in 2018. But will Lukaku be at Stamford Bridge in an attempt to boost his own career?
Dele Alli, England
Tottenham’s Dele Alli was one of a number of players who underperformed at Euro 2016 as England crashed out at the first qualifying phase but the midfielder has just enjoyed a stunning Premier League campaign and things should be different in Russia next summer.
The former MK Dons player has recorded 21 goals in all competitions in 2016/17 and that’s a seriously impressive statistic from midfield. While it’s not always fair to make comparisons, his development at Tottenham is starting to mirror that of Gareth Bale and while they are different in their respective styles of play, Alli is starting to turn games in the way that the Welsh winger often did at White Hart Lane. At the age of just 21, he could be reaching his peak in twelve months’ time.
Gabriel Jesus, Brazil
When Manchester City paid Palmeiras £27m for Gabriel Jesus last summer, it was considered something of a gamble for a forward with a less than prolific strike rate. As the Premier League campaign nears an end, however, that figure seems relatively cheap in today’s inflated market and, with five goals in his first eight league games at the Etihad, City may even be thinking in terms of cashing in on Sergio Aguero now that they have an adequate replacement.
At international level, the 20-year-old is just starting out but has already recorded four goals for Brazil and, at Russia in 2018, those stats suggest he could be one of the stars of the tournament.
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