What Each Major European Club Will Have Learned from the World Cup
The 2014 FIFA World Cup might be over and finished with, but the lessons and the conclusions that fans, players and clubs can draw from the tournament will go on for a while yet.
Whether about a particular player, a tactic, a non-playing staff member or a group in general, rest assured that the biggest sides will all have been making notes and seeking to use to their advantage anything they possibly could on a mental, physical or tactical level.
Here is one thing every major side throughout Europe will have taken from the recent tournament in Brazil.
Juventus: Champions League Needs More Than Current Stars
Italy beat England in their opening game, but suffered successive defeats to Costa Rica and Uruguay to exit the World Cup at the group stage.
The Italy side featured a number of Juventus stars, including Gigi Buffon in goal, Giorgio Chiellini in defence and Andrea Pirlo in midfield; six Juve players in total made the squad.
Despite their vast individual talents and their experience in the game, they couldn't guide Italy into the knock-out stages. Juve missed out on the Champions League knock-outs last term and clearly require further upgrades to succeed there this time around; the home-based names aren't going to be enough to be a significant deal better than last term.
Having not made enough of an impact on the world stage, those same names need better players around them to succeed in the more-difficult surroundings of top-level club football.
Roma: Miralem Pjanic Can Mix It with the Finest
There has been idle speculation for some time that Miralem Pjanic might be on his way out of Roma at some point, notably when he was linked with several clubs earlier this year, as per Sky Sports.
At the World Cup with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the nation's first appearance at the finals, he played in a central midfield role and proceeded to dictate games with flair, consistency and no shortage of creativity moving forward.
He certainly didn't look out of place up against the likes of Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria in the opening game against Argentina, boding well for the Champions League campaign ahead.
AC Milan: How Many Top Players, from How Many Top Nations?
The legendary name of AC Milan was almost entirely absent from the Italy squad list, with just full-backs Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate, and forward Mario Balotelli, making the final 23.
They all crashed out in the group stage, and Milan barely saw any of their players make major steps with their nations, with the exception of Netherlands' Nigel de Jong, who ended as a third-place player. It's an effect of the lower quality of players Milan have signed for far too long.
Bayern Munich: Plenty of Trophies Left in the Side Yet
A huge Bayern Munich presence was included in the Germany squad, so it was no great surprise to see them all perform well.
From impervious goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to the breathtaking Bastian Schweinsteiger and everyone in between, the mentality, consistency and technical quality of the Bayern players was there for all to see.
It all indicates that their domestic dominance has plenty left in it yet, and there is the potential to push on in Europe once more, if they can play to those key players' strengths.
Borussia Dortmund: The Importance of Mats Hummels
With the likes of Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan injured, it was Mats Hummels who was the key representative for BVB in the Germany squad.
And, if it wasn't already known to everyone involved, Hummels' immense presence on the field simply made Germany a better side, a more difficult to break down defence and a powerful, organised all-round outfit.
He has his moments of weakness, as any players do, but there was a marked difference between the odd game without him, and those with him.
Schalke 04: They Hold the Key to Germany's Future
Julian Draxler saw a few minutes of World Cup action for Germany, while team-mate Benedikt Hoewedes played throughout as a left-back.
Those two can play a big part for the national side moving into the Euro 2016 qualifiers, but more than that, a host of other youngsters are on the verge of the squad.
Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer were both in the preliminary World Cup squad, both teenagers, while they have also signed Sidney Sam for the coming season. That's five players aged 26 and under who are in and around the German squad; Schalke 04 will have a big say in the continued success of Germany.
PSG: David Luiz Needs Thiago Silva
Moving into France, jokes were abound on social media sites during the World Cup about Paris Saint-Germain frantically looking for their receipt for the £50 million signing of David Luiz.
The Brazilian is hugely talented, of course, but has glaring weaknesses—or traits which will not be tempered, at least, if you really don't want to see them as failings.
His positional work was dreadful without Thiago Silva alongside him in the semifinal, the game which will stick in most peoples' minds for the 7-1 scoreline. PSG will be hoping both defenders can recapture top form and consistency playing alongside each other next term.
Monaco: More Major Players Required to Compete at the Top
The other big-hitter in Ligue 1, Monaco, had a mere three players represented at the World Cup finals.
Despite big expenditure in their squad, backup keeper Sergio Romero, attacking midfielder James Rodriguez and central midfielder Joao Moutinho were the only players to travel to Brazil.
While part of that is of course mere happenstance—Falcao was injured, Layvin Kurzawa isn't yet in the French squad—it's also an indication that, despite big spending last year, it's not a squad stacked with stellar names equipped to win trophies at home and abroad.
Especially now Rodriguez has departed the scene.
Manchester City: Sergio Aguero's Injury Issues Aren't Disappearing Any Time Soon
Sergio Aguero only lasted almost one full game of the World Cup, before he succumbed to injury late on against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It wasn't a serious knock, clearly, but it clearly impacted on his participation as he started just three of the team's seven games, coming on as sub twice more, including in the final.
Niggling, constant and unending muscle problems blighted Kun's 2013-14 campaign. It seems that trend is set to continue for the time being unless he is given plenty more recuperation time.
Manchester United: Van Gaal Is the Man to Get United Excited Again
Naturally, a new manager coming into the club gives teams and their fans cause to look forward with optimism (usually, anyway) that the next campaign can be different, more positive, better.
Louis van Gaal already had a terrific reputation, perhaps even better than his achievements over the past decade show to an extent, but United fans will largely have been ever more impressed as the World Cup went on.
An adaptation to losing his best midfielder pre-tournament, in-game management with his tactics and a strong bond with his players were all examples of Van Gaal's approach which he will bring to Old Trafford.
Chelsea: Andre Schurrle Is Pretty Good When Used Correctly
Andre Schurrle was used as something of a bit-part player for Chelsea, filling in to rest others more than anything else.
Germany also used him as a substitute—but to great effect, utilising his direct running in behind defences, infield, and his inclination to shoot for goal.
He was decisive and spectacular at times, not traits he has always displayed for Chelsea so far, but here perhaps they saw how he can become as big a player for them as some of their other attackers.
Liverpool: Luis Suarez's Disciplinary Issues Aren't Going Away
He did it before, he said sorry, he took the suspension. But now, Luis Suarez has bitten again.
A far heavier ban was enforced this time and it was immediately clear that Liverpool wouldn't stand in his way of a move this summer, not entirely because of that suspension, but also because they would certainly be getting their full valuation of the player.
It didn't take long either; the rumours didn't even reach "transfer saga" stage before Suarez completed a £75 million move to Barcelona.
Arsenal: The Difference a Top-Class Forward Can Make in Transition Play
Arsenal like to play fast, offensive football, so goes the prevailing thought. Except, they haven't really done it spectacularly for some time, and other teams have far surpassed them at what was their own game, domestically at least.
Alexis Sanchez has signed for the Gunners since the finals—and he was one of the best exponents of the rapid transition play which was a feature of the 2014 World Cup.
The Chilean forward has pace to burn, works hard and is incisive in his use of the ball and movement. Now, Arsenal just need to fit him into a system which allows him to do that regularly.
Barcelona: Gerard Pique Isn't a Top-Class Centre-Back...and nor Is Mascherano
They already knew, surely? Gerard Pique is a very capable player and can shine in a Barca side which dominates due to his great technical ability.
But a top-drawer defender, he has never been.
When asked to do exactly that—defend wave after wave of attacks against top quality opponents—he was utterly undone, quite as much to do with the dropped standards in front of him as with his own poor performances.
Elsewhere, his club team-mate Javier Mascherano was absolutely superb...in his defensive midfield position. Because, you know, that's where he plays.
Real Madrid: James Rodriguez Would Be Their Shiny New Toy
What did Real Madrid learn? Who the big flavour of the month is. James Rodriguez is immensely talented, let's not try to unduly criticise any transfer interest in him, but was there even the merest sniff of interest from the Madrid side pre-World Cup?
There was not.
His amazing performances for Colombia helped them to a best-ever quarterfinal place, and almost beyond that stage even.
Then, Real snapped him up for a mere £70 million or so.
Atletico Madrid: They Must Hold onto Koke at All Costs
Atletico Madrid won La Liga last year, but already several of that squad have departed.
Striking trio Adrian Lopez, Diego Costa and David Villa have all gone, as have left-back Filipe Luis, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and attacking midfielder Diego, for a variety of reasons.
That's fine, and Atleti look like making wise purchases in the main to replace those stars, but one player above all others must be kept, improved and have the side built around: Koke.
He came into the Spain squad as sub initially, and then started outright in the final group game. Not only did he not look out of place, he played centrally in midfield, where he hasn't often done so for his club. Koke is the one player capable of reaching the very top for Atletico and they must ensure he continues to aspire to that level with them.
Ajax: Daley Blind Will Be in Demand
Ajax watched on at the World Cup, no doubt more and more sure with every passing match that transfer interest in left-footed defender Daley Blind would skyrocket after the finals. And, with every passing match, so would his transfer value no doubt soar.
Whether on the left side of the three-man defence, at left-wing-back or even in the controlling midfield spot, Blind was impressive in possession, strong defensively and consistent with his performances.
Having performed similarly in the controlling role with Ajax last season, it would be a major surprise to see him start 14-15 at the same club.
Feyenoord: That Their Team Was About to Be Ripped Up
While Ajax might have been wondering how much longer they could keep Daley Blind, Feyenoord watched on knowing their entire team could soon be dismantled—and so it has started to prove.
Bruno Martins Indi has gone to Portugal, Daryl Janmaat to England—as has Graziano Pelle, not at the finals.
They should get a hefty sum in transfer fees to spend, but that's five big players to replace in one go.
CSKA Moscow: Igor Akinfeev Has Possibly Already Peaked
CSKA Moscow's starting goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has been No.1 for over a decade already, but after injury problems in previous seasons and a spell of poor form over the past 18 months or so, questions have to be asked over whether he has already hit his best level—and is now on the decline.
Only 28 years of age, there is, in theory, plenty of time for him to recover and prove his worth again, and perhaps a simple change of scenery is needed.
But, the individual errors and poor basic goalkeeping he displayed in Brazil 2014 is similar to that which he has shown at club level for too long.
Zenit: Hulk's Best Role May Be at Centre-Forward from Now on
Last season saw Zenit St. Petersburg play Brazilian wide forward Hulk through the centre for part of the campaign, where his athleticism, acceleration and inclination to shoot from all ranges made him something of a success.
His best performances of 2013-14 arguably came from that position, in fact, rather than wide right as most fans are more accustomed to seeing him play from.
For Brazil at the World Cup he was particularly poor, not having much impact from either flank. A move to centre-forward would probably have been a logical move at least once, given the similarly poor impact from Fred and Jo.
From this point on, it could well be that Hulk makes a more permanent move to the No. 9 position at club level—and given the continued lack of competition, he could make that place his own in the yellow shirt too.
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