Players we’re excited for in 2021-22

Becoming a professional e-sport player is a dream for most gamers, but few actually make it. However, what is the difference between a pro player and a regular hobbyist? The most obvious difference is their skill level; pro players are much better at the game than the average player and are able to make a living from it.

The new NBA season is right around the corner, and we’re getting hype to see how the likes of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo fare in their new teams. However, this upcoming season will also be the first time that the NBA will have a new format, with the league betting on a shorter season. The new schedule is set to begin on the 17th of October and finish on the 3rd of April. This also means that the playoffs will be pushed back, as teams will be playing for seeding in the first week of April and the championship by June. With all these changes, there will be teams that are lost and others that will find themselves in the spotlight, so we’ve decided to take a look

Euro 2020 was only five weeks ago, and the Copa America was only four. The Olympics were little over a week ago, and the new European club season has already begun. The remainder of Europe’s Big Five leagues (German Bundesliga, English Premier League, Spanish LaLiga, and Italian Serie A) will kick off this next weekend.

We’ll have plenty of time in the next weeks and months to debate about Champions League favorites, the Premier League championship fight, or how mesmerizing Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar’s hypothetical-for-a-shorter-period assault could be. However, a sport with this much width and complexity is always brimming with stories. As the season approaches, I wanted to concentrate on 11 players and the story threads that are most intriguing to me.

(Yes, there are more attackers on this list than defenders; goals are fun, and this is a list of mainly enjoyable things.)

Sancho | Pedri | Szoboszlai | Daka | Damsgaard | Buendia | Jordan | Ben Yedder | Musso | Van Dijk | Sane Jump to: Sancho | Pedri | Szoboszlai | Daka | Damsgaard | Buendia | Jordan | Ben Yedder | Musso | Van Dijk | Sane

The improvement Man United has been waiting for is Jadon Sancho.

At the age of 18, he scored 12 league goals and added 14 assists in his debut season as a starter for Borussia Dortmund. At the age of 19, he went on to have a 17-and-16 season. Last season, the England striker started poorly, then lost almost two months due to injury, finishing with just eight goals and 11 assists despite guiding BVB to a Champions League spot late in the season. (He scored two goals in a crucial 3-2 victory over RB Leipzig, then added two assists in a 3-1 win over Mainz 05.) He has five goals and six assists in 21 Champions League appearances. He’s just 21 years old.

Sancho is one of the greatest wingers in the world, even if England manager Gareth Southgate believes differently based on his personnel selections this summer. But now he has the opportunity to show himself at one of the few teams in the world that is larger and more prominent than BVB.

Sancho should be the x-factor in Man United’s attack, allowing them to break through tough Premier League defenses in a manner they couldn’t last season. Manchester United/Getty Images/Matthew Peters

We don’t know all we need to know about Manchester United’s ability to transition into offense this season because of uncertainty surrounding Paul Pogba’s future at the club — his contract ends in 2022, and there’s been no noticeable progress toward an extension thus far. They caused a lot of damage in 2020-21, scoring 17 goals in possessions that (a) started in their defensive third and (b) concluded inside 30 seconds, the most in the Premier League, and that will likely continue to be a priority under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s system.

However, they may need some assistance breaking through backed-up defenders, and Sancho’s inventiveness will be crucial if United are to challenge for the Premier League championship.

Will Pedri be fit enough to play for Barcelona once more?

Pedri, an 18-year-old like Olmo, put in a lot of miles this summer. He not only participated in Euro 2020 and the Olympics, but he also played a key role, playing 1,188 minutes, generating 16 opportunities, and completing 90% of his 817 passes. In the Euro semifinals versus Italy, he went 65 for 67, his best performance to date.

Pedri now returns to a Barcelona that is, to put it mildly, a far cry from the one he left at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. Messi, the club’s face for almost 15 years, is no longer with us. Memphis Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum, Eric Garcia, and Emerson are among the new signings who have yet to be registered. After attempting to bluff its way through a transfer window with over a billion Euros in debt (and failing to find purchasers for any of its more costly selling goods), the club enters 2021-22 with virtually every aspect of its future unclear.

When Pedri debuted for Barcelona last season, he was a real discovery, but would he be able to make an impact after competing in two international tournaments for Spain this summer? Getty Images/Koki Nagahama

The Blaugrana still have Pedri, and barring a really stunning and desperate sale, they will be able to keep him for many years. He’s already one of the most dependable ways to “get the ball from point A to point B,” and if he isn’t already, he’ll soon be the face of one of the sport’s most renowned clubs.

One of the most intriguing storylines of the season is how he handles with all of this, particularly after his summer star turn (and all those additional minutes in his legs).

After Szoboszlai moved from RB Salzburg to sister club RBL in February, I wrote about how he was three players in one: a lively, progressive midfielder, a set-piece wizard, and an absolute star in the making.

This clearly jinxed him: a minor injury developed into a much larger one, and he not only failed to play a single minute for his new club in 2020-21, but he also missed Hungary’s still-successful Euro 2020 campaign.


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Szoboszlai made his RBL debut this past Saturday, defeating Sandhausen in the first round of the DFB Pokal. He scored on a counterattack three minutes after going on. He provided a beautiful opportunity for Hwang Hee-Chan, who had assisted his goal, two minutes later. Finally.

The Red Bulls lost two good defenders this summer, Dayot Upamecano to Bayern Munich and Ibrahima Konate to Liverpool, and with the departure of manager Julian Nagelsmann to Bayern, the Red Bulls’ Bundesliga championship aspirations have been dashed. Nonetheless, the components they’ve put together in attack make them a contender.

Jesse Marsch’s first RBL squad will return every other primary piece of last year’s attack: forwards Emil Forsberg, Yussuf Poulsen, and Alexander Sorloth (combined: 26 goals and 15 assists in all competitions in 2020-21), and the incredible left-side duo of Angelino and Christopher Nkunku (15 goals, 18 assists in all competitions in 2020-21). Hwang, too, may be up for more action.

It’s almost unfair to throw in Szoboszlai, Ajax’s Brian Brobbey, and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Andre Silva — the latter arguably the greatest bargain of the transfer window, having signed for just €23 million after scoring 28 goals in Bundesliga play last season.

The Red Bull approach is inherently entertaining, and RBL’s watchability in 2021-22 may be off the charts.

Leicester City’s past two years have been characterized by two things: missing a Champions League place at the last possible minute twice, and preparing for life without Jamie Vardy.

The Leicester icon is now 34 years old, having scored 24 goals during the Foxes’ incredible Premier League championship run in 2015-16 and 147 total goals in an LCFC jersey. He won the Premier League Golden Boot little over a year ago, but he only scored two non-penalty goals in all competitions after Dec. 20 last season. He lost time due to a groin injury, and his subsequent shaky play matched Leicester’s dismal record down the stretch. (Neither did James Maddison’s lack of goals or assists after February 21.)

We did, however, get glimpses of a bright future on a regular basis. Kelechi Iheanacho, 24, has 19 goals and six assists in all competitions this season, including 14 after March 1. Harvey Barnes, 23, had 13 and four assists, while Maddison, 24, had 11 and seven assists despite an injury and a late-season slump.

We’ll see whether Maddison is still with the team when the transfer window shuts — all the rumors suggest he’s hammering out a deal with Arsenal — but Patson Daka is certain to remain.

Over the past two seasons, the 21-year-old from Zambia has made RB Salzburg one of the most entertaining teams on the world, scoring 51 goals and adding 10 assists in an obviously offensive-friendly atmosphere. His fearlessness and ability to both pressure the ball and pounce on chances will make him a fan favorite. He also has three goals and three assists on his Champions League and Europa League resumes.

Here’s a look at @PatsonDaka20’s first goal for Leicester City:

July 31, 2021 — Leicester City (@LCFC)

When I say “fan favorite,” I’m referring to Leicester supporters as well as casual soccer fans. He and Iheanacho might be a match made in heaven.

The 21-year-old winger/wing-back held his own in his debut season with Sampdoria after arriving from Nordsjaelland, scoring twice and creating 25 opportunities and 108 ball recoveries. But it was with his national team that he made his mark; after scoring twice with two assists in Denmark’s rout of Moldova in World Cup qualifying in March, he was thrown into more action than he had anticipated at Euro 2020 when Christian Eriksen collapsed, and Damsgaard responded brilliantly, with two assists, six chances created, and 22 ball recoveries in just 331 minutes. With a fantastic free-kick goal in the semifinals, he pushed Denmark ahead of England, and he became a hot topic for transfer speculations.

Damsgaard is now at Sampdoria, who came within a whisker of qualifying for the Europa League or Conference League previous season. In the closing weeks of the window, a number of clubs are likely to attempt to sign him. Regardless of where he ends up, his performance will be scrutinized.

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Develop a great player, sell him for a lot of money, and get three more excellent players in exchange. Rinse, repeat, and you’ll have a winner. If you play Football Manager, it’s the go-to move, and if you execute it well and often enough, you can transform a mid-tier team into a Premier League squad (Brentford) or a decent club into a very good one (Leicester City).

We’ll find out if Villa’s actions during the Great Jack Grealish Sale pay out in due time, but they certainly make sense.

Buendia was a revelation for Norwich City, but he’ll now be in charge of Aston Villa’s new-look — and very intriguing — assault. Getty Images/Malcolm Couzens

Villa paid a total of £88 million in transfer fees for Norwich City attacking midfielder Emiliano Buendia (15 goals, 16 assists last season), Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey (nine goals, eight assists), and Southampton veteran striker Danny Ings, with Manchester City paying £100 million for Grealish’s services (34 goals in the past two seasons).

Last year’s additions, Brentford’s Ollie Watkins and Lyon’s Bertrand Traore, combined for 21 goals and 12 assists, and winger Anwar El Ghazi increased his goal total from four to ten, it appears that Dean Smith’s squad has quite a few exciting pieces at this point, and if they fit together as the club clearly hopes, it’s possible that Villa’s attack could improve despite losing the PL title (10).

Joan Jordan is the driving force behind Sevilla’s success on the pitch.

Valencia finished third in La Liga nine years ago, the last time a club other than Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Atletico Madrid finished in the top three. When was the last time someone came in second or third? Go back in time 17 years (Valencia again). If we’re being honest, we don’t expect that to change this year. Even though Real Madrid and Barcelona struggled more than normal in 2020-21, title-winner Atletico Madrid was the only club that could benefit, and only Sevilla could keep up with the top three by 17 points.

Sevilla, on the other hand, may never have a better chance. Real Madrid and Barcelona have both lost more talent this summer than they have acquired, and although Atletico rode a strong start to the championship, they averaged less points per game (1.89) after February 1 than Sevilla (2.11).


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Julen Lopetegui’s team lost winger Bryan Gil to Tottenham Hotspur, but acquired Erik Lamela and kept most of last year’s important players in exchange. That list includes prolific striker Youssef En-Nesyri, high-value centre-backs Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, and wingers Lucas Ocampos and Suso, but I’m included Jordan because he makes Sevilla, Sevilla. In all competitions last season, he completed 89 percent of his passes — overall and in the attacking third — and was second on the club in chances created (after ageless captain Jesus Navas). Jordan was the guy most responsible for Sevilla’s ability to transition play from one side of the field to the other on a regular basis, stretching and taxing defenders.

Lopetegui employs all of his substitutes, maintains a strong defense at all times, and encourages his players to continually seek out fresh offensive options. We’ll know early in the season whether they’re good enough to compete in La Liga, and Jordan will be the primary reason for it.

This isn’t simply a list for upcoming strikers! Monaco was the strongest team in France after January 1 last season, with 51 points (+31 goal differential) to PSG’s 47 (+29) and Lille’s 47 (+22), and although they finished fifth overall, five points behind Lille, they secured third place and are closing in on a Champions League berth. (In the third qualifying round, they led Sparta Prague 2-0 after one leg, with a two-legged tie against the winner of Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Genk looming.)

While Monaco lost a few defenders during the summer window, Ben Yedder, fellow forwards Kevin Volland and Aleksandr Golovin, and AZ Alkmaar’s 15-goal scorer Myron Boadu all returned.

While PSG should be favorites to win Ligue 1, Monaco may be the greatest chance to become both the No. 2 club in the standings and the No. 1 most entertaining team, despite a disappointing stalemate with Nantes in a bizarre opening weekend of Ligue 1 action.

Atalanta, led by Gian Piero Gasperini, has soared to new heights in recent years, reaching the Champions League quarterfinals in 2019 and the round of 16 in 2020, while finishing third in Serie A both years with 78 points. Each season, they went through a dip in the league while competing in the Champions League, before resuming their winning ways around mid-December.

To be honest, this is a very wonderful way of life. If Euro 2020 and Chelsea’s Champions League victory are any indicator, Gasperini’s style is prolific, entertaining, and successful, and his use of three defenders at the back — typically in a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 configuration — seems to be the hot, new trend.

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They’ll need a stand-on-your-head performance from their goalkeeper if they ever want to finish higher than third in Europe. Atalanta’s heavy possession style makes them vulnerable to counter-attacks, and while opponents don’t have the ball long enough to attempt many shots (their 0.08 shots allowed per possession was easily the lowest in Serie A), the shots they do get are of high quality (0.14 xG per shot, 16th) and well-placed (0.37 xGOT* per shot on target, 19th).

With Pierluigi Gollini and Marco Sportiello providing just mediocre goalkeeping, Atalanta conceded the most goals among Italy’s top five clubs, while having the fewest shots. They conceded at least two goals in seven of their nine league and Champions League defeats. (Of course, they also scored the most.)

Of course, the style will not alter, but the quality of their goalkeeping may. Gollini is on loan at Tottenham Hotspur, while Musso, who was the fourth-best goalkeeper in Serie A last season in terms of Goals Prevented (xGOT conceded minus actual goals surrendered), came for a €20 million price from Udinese. In comparison to xGOT expectations last year, he stopped 0.9 goals, while Gollini and Sportiello combined for minus-3.2.

It might make all the difference if he stops four to six more goals for Atalanta this season.

(* xGOT is a post-shot xG metric that evaluates the importance of a shot’s goal location.)

Liverpool’s difficulties last season were exacerbated by Van Dijk’s severe injury. The Reds will compete now that he’s back in shape. AMA/Getty Image/Robbie Jay Barratt

For Liverpool, Virgil Van Dijk is “like a new signing.”

The fact that Liverpool won its last five league games and collected 26 of a possible 30 points from its final ten to finish third in the Premier League may have been Jurgen Klopp’s most remarkable coaching achievement. Sure, winning the Champions League and subsequently the club’s first league championship in decades is fantastic, but snatching third place when your centre-backs are channeling their inner Spinal Tap and imitating the exploding drummers routine? It’s unbelievable.

Klopp, it’s fair to assume, would like a lesser level of difficulty this season. Liverpool signed RB Leipzig’s 22-year-old Konate as a potential center-back, while 24-year-old Nat Phillips was outstanding down the stretch. The Reds, on the other hand, will benefit greatly from the return of last year’s injured players, notably Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk. And if or when van Dijk is fully recovered, it will be as if Liverpool has completed a transfer for one of the greatest defenders on the planet.

and lastly… Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sane

For two reasons, Sane is on this list.

1. He’s extremely talented, and he’s recovered from an ACL injury that kept him out of the 2019-20 season. He scored 24 goals and added 31 assists in the Premier League and Champions League in his two seasons before to the injury, making him a key and productive player for one of Europe’s greatest clubs. Last season, he wasn’t terrible for Bayern, scoring nine goals and adding nine assists in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, but his statistics were down, as were his pass accuracy percentages.

Bayern has only acquired defenders Dayot Upamecano (RBL) and Omar Richards (Reading) so far this summer, and they may need to trade a few players away if they want to make another deal. But, like Van Dijk, if Sane returns to his former level, it’s like upgrading from a decent winger to one of Europe’s greatest.

2. He seems to have tampered with Bayern’s pay structure. They paid City €50 million last summer, implying that he was paid more in line with the team’s top players (Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller) than the ultra-talented supporting cast. It’s certainly no surprise that since Sane’s arrival, a number of those players have been seeking to increase their own wages.

After a lengthy contract battle, David Alaba moved to Real Madrid, while Kingsley Coman and Leon Goretzka have been pressuring Bayern to renegotiate their contracts. You may connect the Sane deal to Bayern’s lengthy Bundesliga championship run if it expires in the next year or two.

If he reaches fifth gear again, the drama will be worth it, but he didn’t in 2020-21.

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