World Cup 2022 news round-up: Bale shines, Messi overhead and England’s centre-back dilemma

The 2022 World Cup is just 15 (yes, fifteen) weeks away. Every week on the way, athletic Will publish a column to keep you up to date on all notable events, tactical trends and key players.

Welcome to a week…

Wales and his forward

This weekend Aaron Ramsey opened his account for Nice and Gareth Bale scored his second LA goal. There was no such joy for striker Brennan Johnson as Nottingham Forest were dethroned by Newcastle. Winger Harry Wilson is still injured but his Fulham side has twice led Liverpool and earned a draw – he is expected to be back in time for the World Cup but will miss at least eight weeks.

Wells adopted a massive 4-4-2 in qualifying, often pairing Bell with Johnson as the forward two and swinging Wilson to the right. Bell (nine) and Wilson (four) were Wales’ top two players with straight goals in qualifying.

England’s central guard dilemma

Gareth Southgate’s central defensive selection has long been a source of arguments.

Usual substitute John Stones was an unused substitute in Manchester City’s win at West Ham – he is regaining match fitness.

Harry Maguire captained Manchester United who were defeated by Brighton and the back four struggled to defend Danny Welbeck’s runs.

Eric Dier scored his first Premier League goal in three years as Tottenham beat Southampton 4–1. According to FBref, his 10-ball recovery was the joint-highest of any Spurs player.

Fringe player Conor Cody has joined Everton on loan, having just lost two-cap Ben Godfrey to a fractured fibula. Michael Keane was an unused substitute in Everton’s 1–0 home loss to Chelsea. Another player who didn’t start or stop the bench was Tyrone Mings, as his Aston Villa side lost at Bournemouth.

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Arsenal’s Ben White showed his positional versatility when lining up at right-back against Crystal Palace, covering for the absent Takehiro Tomiyasu. He completed the most tackles of any Arsenal player in a single game over the past three seasons, with FBref data – powered by Statsbomb – recording 11 tackles plus interceptions for the Englishman.

AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori begins his season this Saturday (August 13) at home to Udinese, having won the Scudetto last season.

Play-off games in Qatar

Back in June just one goal was scored in two inter-Confederation play-off games – Joel Campbell for Costa Rica against New Zealand. These fixtures were the first international games we’ve seen in Qatar, both played at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.

The importance of the match cannot be underestimated and naturally lends itself to low-paced, organized possession games where neither side wants to make a mistake. But weather and climate are also important factors.

Australia and Peru both recorded pass accuracy of over 80 percent and by the end of full-time the number of passes was in the thousands, indicating that World Cup games are likely to be less transitional.

The big spells of the game looked like the screengrab below: organized capture against a mid-block, slow pace, and lots of passes.

And after 120 minutes of football there was not a single big chance between the sides. It took Andrew Redmayne’s penalty heroism to send Australia off – teams have a fifty percent chance of engaging in a World Cup penalty shootout.

Aaronson defeated Ait-Nourik

On his Premier League debut, Brendan Aaronsson was directly involved in both goals as Leeds beat Wolves 2–1.

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The winger counter-pressed Ryan Ait-Nuri for Rodrigo and tackled to open the scoring – Aaronson’s 31 pressures were the most by any player in Premier League gameweek one.

For another, the American scored a darting run to attack Patrick Bamford’s cutback and forced At-Nuri to turn in his own goal.

Aaronson has scored six nets and made five sets in 22 national team appearances, either working on the flank or playing No. 10 to Greg Berhalter’s 4-3-3 in qualifying.

England, Wales and Iran may have to keep a close watch on him this winter.

(soon) the famous five go to Qatar

FIFA+ in the limelight Five young strikers are expected to make their World Cup debuts this summer. athletic Will keep a close watch on his form and performance ahead of the tournament.

Five World Cup debutants to watch

player club Country International Cap (Target) world cup opponents

Darwin Nunejo



South Korea, Portugal, Ghana

Christopher Nkunku

RB Leipzig


Australia, Denmark, Tunisia

lautaro martínez



Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Jonathan David



Belgium, Croatia, Morocco

Dusan Vlahovic



Brazil, Cameroon, Switzerland

Darwin Nunez’s clever movement was the cornerstone of Liverpool’s second-half dominance in the Community Shield win. Against Fulham, he repeatedly got into attacking crosses and was involved in both goals.

Jonathan David scored twice and assisted as Lillee won 4–1 against Auxerre.

The participation of the goal showed his attacking versatility. David plays a clean backheel flick into Benjamin Andre to set the opener on fire.

His first goal was a left-footed curler into the far corner after dribbling one-versus-one against the Auxerre left-back, while the second was a one-touch right-footed finish to slot home after a high turnover.

Messi has only 6% chance of winning the World Cup

As always, Opta’s supercomputer has unveiled its ‘predictable tournament model’ and ranked holders France as the favourite. In terms of winning chances, the Argentines of Lautaro Martinez and Lionel Messi are only eighth.

However, this season Messi has come on the field. He netted twice at the Clermont foot in Paris Saint-Germain’s league opener. FBref has their match stats in the form of 79 touches, 11 shot-making actions, all six dribbles completed, six shots (four on goal), two goals and one assist. It took him 930 minutes to score so many goals last season.

Not to mention the overhead kick that Messi rounded up the scoring…

The Qatar World Cup begins in 104 days when Senegal and the Netherlands face off at the Al Thumama Stadium. There is much more club football than before – 150 Premier League games alone.

Same time, same place next week?