Important months ahead for star trio
World Cup 2018 Betting

Important months ahead for star trio

09/01/2018

New year, new them? With Europe's major leagues shaking off the cobwebs - or at least getting ready to - time is pressing for players to find their rhythm ahead of the World Cup, and for three big names, it's a particularly big issue.

After his enforced six months off, Diego Costa has already seen in 2018 with one heck of a bang. Having made an eye-catching re-emergence for AtlГ©tico Madrid in the Copa del Rey at Lleida last week - coming on as a substitute, scoring within five minutes and taking a heavy tackle in the same move to leave Rojiblanco fans with their hearts in their mouths - the former Chelsea forward made his second full debut for the club against Getafe on Saturday.

Explosive return for Costa

It was explosive. Costa capped a typically involved display with a goal to seal a 2-0 win - and picked up a red card immediately afterwards, a second booking incurred by launching himself into the crowd to celebrate. He looked non-plussed but Spain's head coach Julen Lopetegui, who has made no secret that he'll be watching Costa closely, must have been buoyed by his man's first week back in Spanish football.

Make no mistake, a fit Costa could be a game-changer for Spain this summer, and Lopetegui knows it. Perhaps, after returning from being whipped into shape by Diego Simeone in champing-at-the-bit form, he will arrive in Russia at a peak. That would be key for La Roja.

Boateng seeking to rediscover his 2014 peak

JГ©rГґme Boateng should be likewise for Germany. After all, he was the best defender at the last World Cup in Brazil, as his team won the trophy - and on paper has the perfect preparation for the summer, with his international centre-back partner Mats Hummels also his other half for Bayern Munich.

'On paper' is the key phrase here. Boateng had a pretty awful 2017 fitness-wise, starting just ten Bundesliga games for Bayern last season. It's a trend, in fact - he has only reached the mark of 20 appearances in a league season once since the last World Cup. Having played nine of Bayern's 17 Bundesliga fixtures to date, the jury's out on this term.

At his best, there's no doubting Boateng, but he badly needs a consistent run of games to be in prime fettle for Russia, where a strong performance from him would make Germany well set to retain the trophy. Some decent displays in the Champions League wouldn't go amiss either.

Another player affected by injury - although not quite to the same extent - has been France's Dimitri Payet. He started off Euro 2016 at express pace, of course, and it looked for a while like it would be his tournament. Though the returns were diminishing by the time Les Bleus fell just short, his journey from cementing a place in the squad late on to becoming a key piece was still an impressive one.

Yet Payet faces something of a career crossroads, at least in international terms ahead of Russia. The continued rise of Thomas Lemar (who, like Payet, is a set-piece specialist) and the Nabil Fekir revival means he can't be certain of a place on the 'plane with Didier Deschamps. That's without mentioning his club-mate Florian Thauvin, whose dazzling form has made him Marseille's go-to guy..

Turning 31 in March, Payet could do with pulling up some trees on the home stretch this term. Costa and Boateng might say the same, as players who could make a seismic impact for some of the favourites in Russia - if it all goes to plan.

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DERBY OF THE WEEK
Bayern Munich - Real Madrid
Derby of the week
20:45
25/04/2018
Derby of the week
W 2.05    
   W 3.40
The odds are correct at the time of publishing
04-15-2018 15:30 and are subject to change
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