theScore gets into the holiday spirit by handing out some Christmas gifts to several of world football’s top clubs.
Liverpool: Bubble wrap for Virgil van Dijk
Protect the towering central defender at all costs.
Virgil van Dijk isn’t solely responsible for Liverpool’s defensive solidity – the Reds have conceded a measly seven goals in 18 Premier League matches this season – but there’s no debating his impact on the club has been immense since his £75-million arrival from Southampton.
The Dutchman, 27, has vaulted himself into the conversation as one of the best center-backs in the world. His sustained fitness is absolutely vital to Liverpool’s chances of pipping Manchester City to the league crown and ending the Merseyside club’s agonizing wait for Premier League supremacy.
Barcelona: An alarm clock for Ousmane Dembele
Ousmane Dembele has faced the wrath of Barcelona bench boss Ernesto Valverde at times this season for showing up late to training, and it’s put something of a damper on what has otherwise been a promising campaign for the young Frenchman. He has nine goals and four assists in just 20 appearances across both La Liga and the Champions League, often popping up with crucial tallies at key times.
When he plays, he delivers.
Dembele’s struggles with punctuality are by no means unique for a 21-year-old kid – heck, Radja Nainggolan is 30 and he was just suspended by Inter for reportedly turning up late on multiple occasions.
But it’s something that isn’t that difficult to correct, at the end of the day.
Show up on time, get the minutes you deserve, and continue to flash the obscene talent that, when fully realized, will make Dembele one of the most devastating wingers in the game.
Real Madrid: Some new batteries for Luka Modric
Taking scheduling tips from the tireless Alexis Sanchez is a surefire way to burn yourself out, and that’s what Luka Modric seemed to do in 2018, as the midfielder ran himself into the ground for both club and country. He racked up miles on his legs while anchoring Real Madrid’s midfield en route to another Champions League title, and then kicked things into overdrive in order to drag Croatia all the way to the World Cup final.
The beauty of his game is often the subtlety of it, but on the back of a superhuman effort at the World Cup where he pushed the threshold of sheer physical effort to the max, he inevitably looked spent in the early stages of the 2018-19 season.
With a new set of batteries, Madrid’s 33-year-old Energizer Bunny can get back to his indefatigable best and take a shot at retaining the Ballon d’Or.
Manchester United: A neuralyzer to forget 2018
Let’s be honest, the last 12 months have been a grind for many – from sports to politics, and everything in between, the blows just kept on coming.
So this may actually be more suitable as a gift for the entire human race, but Manchester United supporters, in particular, would surely leap at the opportunity to have the past year wiped from their memories.
Sitting through the dross that Jose Mourinho tried to pass off as acceptable football at Old Trafford – especially in the final weeks of his tiresome tenure – is the type of soul-crushing pain you call Will Smith in to erase.
Bayern Munich: The Fountain of Youth for Mats Hummels
What happened to Mats Hummels?
The German defender could have fallen off a cliff and the drop wouldn’t have been as dramatic as his fall from grace in 2018. The World Cup was an unmitigated disaster for Germany as a whole, but outside of Jogi Low, Hummels’ stock arguably took the biggest hit, and those struggles have continued into the club season with Bayern Munich.
A combination of injuries and poor form have seen the 30-year-old make just nine Bundesliga appearances, and when he has played, his rapidly deteriorating pace has been a huge liability for the Bavarian club.
The days when Hummels was the epitome of a calm, smooth central defender who could control the backline all by himself seem like a distant memory.
Paris Saint-Germain: A new barber for Neymar
Seriously, man. Why?
Even the Brazilian’s brief quasi-bald phase was better than this.