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Footy Frenemies: Premier League Teammates Turned Rivals In The World Cup

Come November 20 in Qatar, brothers-in-arms will be brothers-at-odds.     

By Andrew Woodin
Christian Pulisic of Chelsea celebrates scoring the second goal with team mate Mason Mount during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Chelsea

With only four days left until the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar officially begins, the prospect of everlasting football glory hangs in the air like a cumulonimbus monster, forcing several English Premier League teammates to confront the reality they’ll soon shed their brotherly love as they rep their homeland in the ultimate battle for pitch supremacy. Considering there are 134 Premier League players participating in this year’s World Cup, there will be no shortage of marquee matchups, and some will undoubtedly find themselves staring across the pitch at club teammates who are now simply obstacles on their quest for eternal football majesty. If you’re looking for fireworks, keep an eye on our top-five pairings.

Manchester City | Kevin de Bruyne vs Jack Grealish

As two of the Premier League's best midfielders, Kevin de Bruyne and Jack Grealish each possess immense playmaking ability and field vision, yet subtle variations to their dynamic skill sets could be the difference makers in each player’s 2022 World Cup campaign. For starters, according to Swiss data site One-Versus-One, de Bruyne exudes a silkier touch when it comes to ball control and owns the advantage when it comes to key passes, crosses, chance creation, while Grealish is a bit better heading into a challenge. While De Bruyne’s production eclipses that of Grealish for Manchester City, the Ginger Pelé will bear the brunt of Belgium’s burden to perform as nagging fitness issues affecting both Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard will put the spotlight squarely on him. Grealish’s responsibilities, however, will be shared amongst a ridiculously stacked England team, and thus, while De Bruyne might be more of an individual force multiplier for Belgium, perhaps Grealish has a better chance of lifting the World Cup trophy, which would be the Brits’ first since 1966.

RELATED: How Will The 2022 World Cup Impact The Premier League?

Chelsea | Christian Pulisic vs Mason Mount

Not only are the Blues’ superstars great friends, even going back to their early childhood days, they bear an uncanny resemblance in their styles of play. Their agility and versatility in tight spaces make them lethal weapons for Chelsea, whether that’s lining up short, creative passes, long balls over the top or launching swift counter attacks, but ever since Mason Mount leathered an impressive and career best 11 goals and 10 assists last season in the Premier League, the wily Brit has been steadily ascending the ranks of Premier League elites. He’s been more productive than Christian Pulisic this season at Stamford Bridge in both assists and goals, and will have more experienced players to work with in the England squad. Pulisic, on the other hand, is far and away the main threat for the U.S. Captain America surely wants to prove himself on the international stage while propelling the States into a triumphant run, but is one’s will enough to carry such a young team like the USMNT to global victory? The two pals won't have to wait long to compare fortunes: the U.S. and England will clash on Nov. 25

Liverpool | Darwin Nunez vs Virgil van Dijk

Simply put, standing at 6’2 (Darwin Nunez) and 6’4 (Virgil van Dijk), it’s easy to see why both stars for Liverpool are exceptional physical specimens to behold. While Nunez boasts the record as the fastest player in the Premier League this season, van Dijk has securely planted himself as an indomitable sentinel on Liverpool’s backline. Though Nunez got off to an erratic and underwhelming start at Anfield, the Uruguayan youngster’s been thriving of late in Jurgen Klopp’s system, generating 0.75 expected goals per 90 minutes – putting him in the 97th percentile, according to One-versus-One. He’s also deadly in the air, but as Liverpool’s fortress, Van Dijk’s even better. The Dutchman ranks in the 81st percentile for air challenges won and in the 95th percentile for all challenges won. That said, the Netherlands’ captain will face enormous pressure skippering a side that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Can this re-tooled squad live up to their historical hype? And can Nunez can match his Premier League production and rally aging stars like Luis Suarez into high gear? If so, perhaps Uruguay could be a dark horse.

Manchester United | Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lisandro Martinez

As ruthless as Cristiano Ronaldo has been in his excruciatingly public feud with Manchester United and manager Erik ten Haag, expect the mercurial legend to come out guns blazing as he embarks on what may just be his final quest for World Cup glory. Considering he’s been playing with a chip on his shoulder long before one drop of sunless tanner ever touched his skin, Portugal’s favorite son will be out for blood in every hunt. Meanwhile, when it comes to center back Lisandro Martinez, he’s one of a handful of players to play with both Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who joins him on Argentina’s sensational squad, and though Martinez has given very measured responses throughout the CR7 turmoil, one can only imagine he’d love nothing more than to quiet his bemoaning soon-to-be ex-teammate’s rage on football’s biggest stage. If a supercomputer’s predictive analysis is correct, we could see exactly that as it has Messi and Martinez edging out Portugal through penalty kicks in an explosive World Cup final.     

Tottenham Hotspur | Harry Kane vs Son Hueng-min

Tottenham’s star scorers are thick as thieves when it comes to their friendship, one that Kane admits sees him spend more time with Son than his own wife. The deadly attacking duo are perfect complements to one another, with Kane being more of a smashing, physical presence while Son exudes incomparable finesse and calm under pressure. The difference comes down to their countries’ squads with England possessing far superior firepower than South Korea, and considering the difficult road ahead for Son with Portugal up first, it’ll take a Herculean effort by him and his teammates to break through the group stage. The clear edge goes to the HurriKane and his mates on England.

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