The coronavirus pandemic has halted the world of football indefinitely, leaving all professionals and fans on the edge of despair
The coronavirus pandemic has frozen the world, sparing nothing and no one. Like all other aspects of life, football is no exception – it practically doesn’t exist at this point, except for the video-games, of course. European football is paralyzed until further notice, presumably leaving some clubs and players on the edge of despair while saving some others from misery and descent.
The suspension has undoubtedly rescued some teams. Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona, for instance, are given much-needed time for their star players to recover from injuries ahead of the final stretch of the season. Meanwhile, the clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Lazio have found themselves on the receiving end of this disaster right in the midst of a purple patch.
Just like the clubs, some players may have embraced the break to try to improve their fitness and raise their level of performance, while some others have been caught at peak powers.
So, let’s take a look at the five players (each coming from one of Europe’s top-five leagues) who are arguably the biggest losers in this disturbing situation.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar has endured another injury-plagued season but has still been an instrumental part of Thomas Tuchel’s set-up when fully fit. As a matter of fact, he has either scored or assisted in 12 of 14 matches across all competitions before the coronavirus outbreak put his remarkable momentum to bed.
Neymar has gobbled 13 goals and eight assists across those 14 games, becoming by far the most influential part of the PSG squad. Although he has been a jaw-dropping performer in patches before, the 28-year-old forward hit his peak at the Parc des Princes right before Europe went into lockdown.
The former Barcelona man has often been blamed for causing strife within the team in order to force his way back to the Camp Nou, but it seemed that he finally managed to settle himself in the French capital before this nightmare. Neymar’s discontent with his life in Paris has long been the elephant in the room, but things have changed since the turn of the year.
At least outwardly, everything looked to be going as planned for both Neymar and PSG. They’ve reached the Champions League quarter-finals by squeezing past Borussia Dortmund in the first knockout round, edging a step closer towards the elusive European success, all PSG fans crave for ever since Qatar Sports Investments took control.
#4 Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski had been dynamite at the beginning of the season – he scored in 11 consecutive Bundesliga matches between August and October and netted 15 in total. But he refused to stop there – the prolific striker hit a similar stride after the calendar year flipped, finding the net in all bar one of his six league outings.
Indeed, the Polish hitman has rarely felt more indispensable in a team already jammed full of top-class players than this season. The 2019/20 campaign is the best example of how talismanic he can be when he is at the top of his game.
Lewandowski carried his predatory form from the end of the last season throughout the entire 2019-20, laying the foundations for a 50-goal campaign before the coronavirus stood in his way. Unfortunately for the former Borussia Dortmund star, luck turned its back on him when he needed it the most – he had 39 goals under his belt before the coronavirus outbreak curtailed his momentum.
Still, a truly inspirational season for the 31-year-old striker includes an array of sparkling moments, with his outrageous performances in the Champions League probably the most valid illustration of how confident and ruthless he is in front of the opposition goalkeepers. Today, Lewandowski is the best version of himself, the fiercest No 9 in the world and the deadliest finisher in Europe’s top-five leagues.
#3 Ciro Immobile
It’s been one hell of a season for the Lazio striker Ciro Immobile, who stole the show away from the Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Inter Milan duo Lautaro Martinez-Romelu Lukaku.
Unlike in 2017/18, when he had to share the Serie A top-scorer award with Mauro Icardi, Immobile would have claimed the prize this term if the coronavirus crisis hasn’t halted the season. Twenty-seven league goals put the Italian goal-machine six clear of the Portuguese ace at the top of the scoring stakes and only three away from becoming the third player in the 21st century to smash a 30-goal milestone in a single Serie A season – Luka Toni (31) in 2005/06 and Gonzalo Higuain (36) in 2015/16 are the only two players to accomplish that.
With 12 league fixtures left to go, the 30-year-old had been on the verge of shattering Higuain’s record for the most goals scored per a single Serie A campaign. It would be a career-defining achievement for Immobile, but maybe not as much as the fact he would become the first player since Michel Platini (1983-86) to finish top of the Serie A scoring chart in three different seasons.
Although football often doesn’t follow the script, in Immobile’s case, it does. He blistering showings in the blue of Lazio have propelled the ‘Biancocelesti‘ as closest to the title as they’ve been since last lifting the crown in 1999/20. The former Torino man and his teammates had enjoyed 20-game unbeaten Serie A streak (W16, D4) that brought them one point away from leapfrogging Juventus at the summit.
#2 Harry Maguire
Suspension of European football must have left Harry Maguire fuming, given the way he’s been captaining the Manchester United side for two months before the coronavirus outbreak stopped him. The England international took United’s lackadaisical defense and turned it into a rock-solid unit almost single-handedly.
Indeed, since a shock 2-0 home defeat to Burnley in late January, the Red Devils, led by their resolute captain, conceded just two goals in 11 matches in all competitions, keeping nine clean sheets in the process.
The break has come right at the point where the most expensive defender in the history of the game started to deliver what all United fans waited for since the trophy-laden era of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. The Englishman’s resurgence awoken the fallen giants, who had managed to cut down the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea to three points before the pandemic interrupted their inexorable march towards Champions League qualification.
Going back to the start of the season where many were making jokes about Maguire’s sloppiness and United’s decision to splurge £80million to take him away from Leicester City, the 27-year-old has proved all doubters wrong. In fact, his outstanding response to the premature and somewhat unfounded criticism has gained him plaudits all across Europe, as he continued to demonstrate his leadership skills and defensive qualities game after game.
#1 Ansu Fati
Although he may seem to be a surprise pick on this list, Barcelona sensation, Ansu Fati, must feel like a victim of the ongoing suspension. The highly-rated Spaniard has shown flashes of his immense talent in the absence of several first-team stars, but the current crisis may, however, have a negative impact on his short-term plans.
The injury setbacks suffered by Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele have given the up-and-coming teenager a window of opportunity to really hit the ground running and impose himself to Quique Setien. The 17-year-old has certainly met the expectations, being decisive against both Inter Milan in the Champions League (dumped the Italians out of the competition) and Levante in La Liga (netted a brace).
Even though he hasn’t forfeited the chance, Fati will fall victim to the coronavirus outbreak, as Suarez and Dembele should both return to action by the time the crisis is over. With the abovementioned duo returning to the fold, the youngster’s first-team opportunities could be reduced down to a minimum, denying him the prospect of nailing his place in the Catalans’ starting XI.
Yet, Fati is the one for the future, a generational talent, who is expected to shape a new era at the Camp Nou, but it’s a shame that the pandemic postponed his adaptation to senior football.