Kelvin Leong lists six players with a point to prove when the 2018 International Champions Cup kicks off at the National Stadium in Singapore.
As Southeast Asian fans wait with bated breath for the arrival of Neymar and Antoine Griezmann for the 2018 International Champions Cup (ICC) in Singapore, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on their teammates who are seeking a breakthrough.
Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) will go up against each other from July 26 to 30 at the Singapore National Stadium.
While the star names will be swarmed for autographs as fans hope to see Neymar perform a rabona and join in Griezmann’s infamous goal celebration, there will be a long list of players desperate to impress and earn a playing spot when their domestic leagues kick off.
Here are six players who will be keen to use Singapore as their Launchpad to a successful season ahead.
Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid) – from AS Monaco
Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and the list of suitors for the French winger goes on and on. He finally made a stand and chose Atletico as his next destination, a smart choice for both Lemar and the club.
His pace and trickery on the ball will remind fans of Yannick Carrasco but with Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann in front of him, Lemar’s focus will be to get the ball down the byline and look for the two marksman.
There will also be the added motivation for Lemar to shine in Singapore especially against Emery’s Gunners. He was strongly linked with a move to join Arsenal and Kallang will present him with a perfect opportunity to show just what the London giants have missed out on.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Arsenal) – from Borussia Dortmund
Emery’s two favourite tactical formations are a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 with his wing-backs and inverted wingers supplying the assists for a main striker up top.
These systems give the team a very good attacking flow with inverted wingers coming into play and wing-backs going on the outside.
The only shortfall that Emery must address in order for his tactics to work, is the need for two ball-playing centre-backs who can snuff out danger high up the pitch and lay on the passes to the midfielders to orchestrate play in the final third.
Papastathopoulos is engineered to play in these formations after more than 150 appearances for Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen who both employ similar tactics.
Alongside Laurent Koscielny, this centre-back pairing will be a lot stouter than previous Arsenal combinations.
Stephan Lichtsteiner (Arsenal) – from Juventus
Speaking of wing-backs and inverted wingers, the Gunners’ best piece of transfer business this summer is bringing Swiss defender Lichtsteiner to the Emirates Stadium.
He may be 34 years of age but he is one of the most natural wing-backs to have played in the Serie A for the past decade with 301 appearances for Lazio and Juventus.
Lichsteiner has a tendency to check his overlapping runs and cut back to deliver balls using his left foot, something that could change the trajectory of attacks and allow the likes of Danny Welbeck, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to thrive.
The Swiss defender has seven consecutive Serie A titles and he has not finished a season empty-handed since 2011. Good omen for the long-suffering Arsenal supporters.
Bernd Leno (Arsenal) – from Bayer Leverkusen
Emery probably signaled the changing of guards in the goalkeeping department when Arsenal announced the signing of Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno.
Leno, 26, amassed 233 appearances for the Bundesliga giants and has represented Germany on six occasions.
He became the youngest German goalkeeper to play in the UEFA Champions League when he started against Chelsea in the 2011/12 Champions League group stage game at the age of 19 years and 193 days.
With Petr Cech in the twilight of his career, Leno is likely to become Arsenal’s first-choice stopper for years to come and he will be keen to show that he is ready for the challenge from the get go in Singapore.
Lassana Diarra (PSG) – from Al Jazira
The former Chelsea and Arsenal midfielder was in the twilight years of his career, opting for one last hurrah in Asia with Al Jazira.
A shock move in January brought him back to Ligue 1 and he immediately provided the steel to balance out PSG’s flair and creativity from stars like Neymar and Angel Di Maria.
Diarra has been one of the most natural holding midfielders since Didier Deschamps, and despite being 33, this midfield general still packs a punch in his tackles and adds vast experience around the team.
Similar to Atletico new boy Lemar, Diarra will have a point to prove when he faces Arsenal. He was a peripheral figure while with the London side, making just seven appearances, before going on to prove doubters wrong at Real Madrid where he won the La Liga title in 2012.
Giovani Lo Celso (PSG) – from Rosario Central
This 22-year-old Argentine midfielder has been on the Ligue 1 giants’ books since 2016 but only started making a strong case for first-team duties this year.
He has four goals in 36 appearances for PSG and scored in the 2-0 win over Les Herbiers VF to help his team win the Coupe de France last season.
Lo Celso is a regular international with Argentina and has five caps to his name since making his debut against Russia in 2017.
Having trained with compatriot Angel Di Maria at PSG, this has to be the breakthrough season for Lo Celso if he is to fulfil his potential to become the next great midfielder to come off the Argentina express belt.