Chelsea’s World Cup medalists return more valuable than when they left

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 18: Eden Hazard of Belgium looks on following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group G match between Belgium and Panama at Fisht Stadium on June 18, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 18: Eden Hazard of Belgium looks on following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group G match between Belgium and Panama at Fisht Stadium on June 18, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images) /

Chelsea had two World Cup winners, three third-placers and some overachieving empty-handed Englishmen. All the Blues in the World Cup final and third-place games return more valuable than when they left.

“Though [he] be but little, [he] is fierce.” -William Shakespeare, talking about N’golo Kante, probably.

N’golo Kante – Final: 6.0, Overall World Cup: 9.0

Sadly, Kante’s final match in the 2018 World Cup was a forgettable one as far as his personal performance goes. Having picked up a yellow card within the first half hour, he struggled to dominate the midfield in the same way he’d been able to in every other match leading up to the final.

Croatia’s intense high press from the starting whistle proved to be a problem for France for most of the match. Kante perhaps suffered from it the most. He picked up more fouls (three) than tackles and interceptions combined (two) in the 55 minutes he was on the field. Perhaps even more shockingly, he only completed 57.1% (8 of 14) of the passes he attempted. He had been completing right around 90% of the 57.8 passes he attempted per match before the final.

Suffice to say, he’s had better games. Whether it was all due to Croatia’s gameplan, or possibly the stomach bug he reportedly picked up before the final, Kante just wasn’t able to be the difference maker that Chelsea and France fans have known him to be.

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But overall N’golo Kante was one of the absolute standout performers of the World Cup. His screening of the backline and ability to start a move forward was crucial in France being able to play such a counterattacking strategy. Paul Pogba was able to fully express himself, knowing Kante had him covered if he made any mistakes. There’s really no other player in the world who can affect both his opponents and teammates so greatly within a match.

Chelsea should count their lucky stars they made what now looks to be the signing of the century back in 2016. While the club needs to make every effort to keep Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, securing N’golo Kante for the medium- to long-term should be one of the highest priorities.

Olivier Giroud – Final: 6.5, Overall World Cup: 7.5

Giroud, like Kante, didn’t have his best showing in the final. Giroud spent the early parts of the match trying to chase down whatever errant clearances the French defenders could manage as Croatia piled the pressure on.

As the match wore on, he became even more of a spectator as Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, and Paul Pogba became the primary attacking options. He ended up serving as not much more than a decoy until he was subbed off for Nabil Fekir in the 81′. He registered all of zero shots and one key pass. But most importantly, he walked away with a winner’s medal, and he’ll be more than satisfied with that.

Despite not scoring and only having one shot on target for the entire tournament, Giroud was a vital cog in France’s machine. His ability to serve as a central hub for his attacking teammates couldn’t be imitated by any other player in France’s squad. His adept defending of set pieces helped prevent his team from falling prey to dangerous dead-ball situations.

This was likely Giroud’s last World Cup, so to see him leave with the trophy in hand is a welcome sight, especially if he can bring some of that winning mentality and good vibes back to Stamford Bridge. What he may not be bringing back with him, though, is his hair.

Thibaut Courtois – Third-place match: 6.5, Overall World Cup: 7.5

This turned out to be a very solid World Cup run for Courtois. Courtois clinched his Golden Glove performance by holding an underwhelming England side scoreless in the rarely-captivating third-place match.

Even though Jordan Pickford let in two goals, he certainly had the more impressive performance, especially in saving Thomas Meunier’s sweetly struck volley, which deprived us of what would have been the best team goal of the tournament. By contrast, Belgium’s best save came from Toby Alderweireld. As an aside, I hope Chelsea never sign him, because it took me more tries than I’d like to admit to spell his name correctly.

Overall, Courtois had a perfectly fine World Cup, which is more than most of the world’s top keepers can say. There weren’t any goals that were inarguably his fault, which is more than David De Gea and Hugo Lloris (and Willy Caballero) can say. .

Courtois’ award will probably have some financial impact for Chelsea. If he decides to renew his contract to stay with the club, he just gained a lot of leverage to ask for a massive bump in his wages. But, if he decides to leave, Chelsea might just be able to squeeze a few extra million pounds out of whoever steps up to pay for the lanky Belgian (let’s be honest, it’ll be Real Madrid). Either way, good for Courtois.

Eden Hazard – Third Place match: 8.5, Overall World Cup: 9.0




Phil Jones.

They say that the second album is usually a disappointment, but you have to admit Eden Hazard’s reunion with Phil Jones lived up to their encounter during the FA Cup final in May.

The best part about Hazard’s goal against England on Saturday was that it wasn’t even a particularly dazzling piece of skill that afforded Hazard the room to slot past Pickford at the near post. It was just FIFA-glitch style defending by Jones, whose moment of indecision was all the invitation Hazard needed to tiptoe into the penalty area and get his shot off. Jones looked genuinely terrified at the sight of the pass Kevin de Bruyne played through to Hazard, as though the concept of a through-ball on a counterattack was entirely foreign to him.

Outside of that fun interaction, Hazard was on his best form against England. A relaxed and free-flowing Eden Hazard is one of the best things to watch in football. Even though the game didn’t really matter much to either side, Hazard gave Belgium enough push to roll past the Three Lions and end the tournament on a high note.

As far as Hazard’s overall World Cup goes, it would be hard to ask for more. It finally looks like Hazard is truly a top-five player in the world, especially when some of the other major world stars struggled in Russia. Hazard was rewarded with the Silver Ball, coming in just behind Croatia’s Luka Modric, who cut one of the saddest figures ever captured on film, holding his trophy on the stage in the pouring rain after having just lost a World Cup final.

While Hazard wasted no time in linking himself to a move away from Chelsea after the match against England, it seems he’ll remain a Blue for at least one more season. Chelsea will either have another season of Hazard, hopefully leading to some beautiful football under Maurizio Sarri, or there should be a near-world record transfer windfall headed into the club’s pocket this summer. We wait with bated breath.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Third Place match: 7.0, Overall World Cup: 7.0

Going into the tournament, not many people were expecting much out of the relatively unknown quantity that is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. With England’s exceptional performance and the surprising number of minutes available to him, we had a much closer examination of a player who has always seemed destined to play on the biggest stages.

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Loftus-Cheek was almost definitely the best dribbling midfielder England had, and the potency of England’s attack changed with whether he was on the pitch or not. Against Belgium, he found it fairly difficult to get much purchase, given that much of England’s squad looked thoroughly exhausted after playing a full 120 minutes against Croatia. Regardless, he did what he does best. He carried the ball forward and tried to set up dangerous situations, before Dele Alli replaced him in the 84′.

While Alli is clearly going to be a fixture in the England setup for quite a long time, Loftus-Cheek will be gunning for his spot in the lineup. Gareth Southgate should consider reworking his tactics to include both players.

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If Loftus-Cheek can keep developing (hopefully by actually playing for Chelsea), it’s not hard to imagine him as a nailed-on starter for England (and hopefully Chelsea) in the not-so-distant future.