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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Pogba, Ozil, Kane, Lovren and Sterling: The World Cup players with a point to prove in Premier League

A look at some of the stars from Russia 2018 and the various challenges awaiting them back in England's top tier

Paul Pogba is a World Cup winner with France, his challenge is now to find that form for Manchester United. Getty Images
Paul Pogba is a World Cup winner with France, his challenge is now to find that form for Manchester United. Getty Images

Just four weeks after the World Cup came to a close in Russia, the Premier League is back in action from Friday night when Manchester United take on Leicester City.

Here is a look at five players, who performed at varying levels on international duty, and the respective objectives awaiting them back in club colours.

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Harry Kane was top scorer at the World Cup and now faces the task of going back to the top of the scoring charts in the Premier League. Getty Images
Harry Kane was top scorer at the World Cup and now faces the task of going back to the top of the scoring charts in the Premier League. Getty Images

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

It feels a little unfair to include the World Cup’s top scorer, but Kane’s clinching of the Golden Boot did not completely convince.

His six goals in Russia included three penalties, a close-range header and a hugely deflected effort he knew next to nothing about.

For the most part, the England captain looked off the pace, the previous season’s exertions with Tottenham Hotspur, and race to full fitness after a late injury, perhaps taking its toll.

The Premier League’s lead marksman in two of the past three seasons, Kane will have sights trained on reclaiming that title from Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. Expect goals and lots of them.

Mesut Ozil will hope for happier times with Arsenal then he endured with Germany in the summer. Reuters
Mesut Ozil will hope for happier times with Arsenal then he endured with Germany in the summer. Reuters

Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

The fallout from Ozil’s World Cup has been explosive. The Germany midfielder was part of the world champions’ side dumped surprisingly from the tournament at the group stage.

Ozil bore the brunt, the Arsenal star criticised for both his performances and his May meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Feeling he had been made a scapecoat by fans and the German FA, Ozil announced his retirement from international football.

Yet his relationship with Arsenal seems much stronger and his pre-season form has been encouraging. New manager Unai Emery has repeatedly backed him.

Although hugely inconsistent last season, Ozil remains a high-calibre creator. Arsenal should benefit from a narrowing of the playmaker’s focus.

Raheem Sterling failed to score at the World Cup for England. EPA
Raheem Sterling failed to score at the World Cup for England. EPA

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

Once more, Sterling divided opinion. The England forward began six of his side’s seven World Cup matches, employed primarily as Kane’s nearest support in attack, but his problems in front of goal continued.

Sterling was particularly wasteful in the quarter-final against Sweden, and he concluded the tournament still without a goal for England since October 2015.

However, last season’s club campaign could not have been any more different. Sterling scored 23 goals for the Premier League champions and appeared set to star in Russia.

As always, negative headlines have dogged him. Yet, with Pep Guardiola’s guidance at City, Sterling should silence the doubters – for now.

Paul Pogba is a World Cup winner with France. His challenge now is to find his best form for Manchester United. Getty Images
Paul Pogba is a World Cup winner with France. His challenge now is to find his best form for Manchester United. Getty Images

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

Maybe it represents Jose Mourinho’s greatest conundrum: gleaning the best from one of the game’s most talented midfielders.

Pogba has for some time been a baffling presence at Manchester United, a high-value star not offering consistently top-level performances.

Yet he returns to Old Trafford as a World Cup winner. In Russia, Pogba was key to France’s march to a second global crown, his influence increasing as the tournament unfolded, on and off the pitch. He even scored in the final.

That augurs well for United, should Pogba deliver finally on his potential. And should Mourinho realise that his talent requires constructing a team around him.

Liverpool will hope Dejan Lovren can maintain his good form from the World Cup for Croatia. EPA
Liverpool will hope Dejan Lovren can maintain his good form from the World Cup for Croatia. EPA

Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)

A successful World Cup can do wonders for self-belief. Take Liverpool’s Lovren. Asked following Croatia’s semi-final victory against England if he proved he belonged among the game’s best defenders, the centre-back replied.

“I think I have done that.” While he excelled at times in Russia, and has a silver medal to show for it, Lovren still has much to prove. He began last season badly, when poor decision-making and lapses in concentration pockmarked performances.

He improved considerably, though, after Virgil van Dijk arrived.

Still, Lovren needs a strong start to the campaign to allay fears he does not represent a weak link in an otherwise impressive Liverpool side.

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