Players to Watch

Oh yes, we are in for another spectacular year of soccer that will culminate with the World Cup in Brazil this summer. In preparation for the big show, players are working harder in 2014 and fighting to ensure they get a spot in their national team squads. Domestically, leagues like the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are more competitive than ever. For once, there is more than 2 teams fighting for top spot and that makes things even more entertaining for fans.

Here, we take a look at the current game and highlight some of the players you need to watch out for in 2014. These are the players that have a unique opportunity to play huge roles for their club or country, becoming huge influencers in the game. It is a mix of young upcoming players with experienced squad members who can step into a bigger role.

This is the 10 Soccer Players to Watch for in 2014.

Bryan Byrne is the founder of SoccerCleats101. Got a question about boots? Hit up Bryan on Twitter.

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Wilshere - Players to Watch
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No. 10 – Jack Wilshere

Arsenal and England

Already established at both club and international level, Wilshere has the opportunity to help end Arsenal’s trophy-less drought and lead England to success in Brazil. He is the type of player England has been missing in recent years and he almost has a Spanish style of play about him; very controlled with the ability to create from a deep lying role.

If you had to come up with a shortlist of the boots that would suit Wilshere best, the ones he is currently wearing would top the list! The Nike CTR360 Maestri is all about the playmaker in the middle of the park that likes to make things happen and that is what we are accustomed to with the dynamic Arsenal midfielder.

Draxler - Players to Watch
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No. 9 – Julian Draxler

Schalke 04 and Germany

One of the leading young players in world soccer, Draxler is accustomed to being used as a versatile attacking option for Schalke. He has a knack for goal and there are many clubs scrabbling for his signature right now – Arsenal being the current favorites. At international level, he is almost certain to be in the German squad headed to Brazil, although he is definitely not guaranteed a starting spot. The next few months and his form will decide that, but he is expected to play a role in Brazil and that makes him worth watching.

With versatility comes the need for a hybrid boot, one that mixes different performance characteristics into one final product. Voila. Step forward the adidas Predator LZ and it will come as no surprise to hear that they are the boot of choice for Draxler. The ability to take advantage of 5 different lethal zones sets these apart and compliments the requirements of creative players.

Lukaku - Players to Watch
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No. 8 – Romelu Lukaku

Everton and Belgium

Again this season, Chelsea loaned Lukaku out to another club and he is again scoring more goals than any striker at his parent club. At Everton, he has cemented his starting spot and is leading a very attacking team to the busy heights of the EPL table. Heading to the World Cup with Belgium, many have high hopes that he can help his national team make an impact on the world’s largest stage. He is a very strong striker who uses his large physique to create space before heading to goal.

In similar fashion to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lukaku takes to the explosive Nike Vapor IX series and uses the speed boot as an advantage with his strong frame. He could so easily choose a boot focused more toward power, but that extra edge when sprinting away from defenders seems to be his key focus and the Mercurial Vapor makes for a solid sidekick.

Gotze - Players to Watch
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No. 7 – Mario Götze

Bayern Munich and Germany

When you make a controversial domestic move from one club to another, it dents how outsiders view you. Six months on, and Götze now has the opportunity to set the record straight and prove his worth. His ability to create at speed is his strength and he has been labelled one of the best prospects to ever come out of German soccer – those are some big boots to fill! Expect him to be an integral part of the German squad in Brazil this summer.

The attack focused Nike Mercurial Vapor is the boot of choice for Götze, and they are a boot that make sense for him to wear. He likes to move at pace with the ball at his feet and the Vapor is designed for “Explosive Speed”. Lightweight is an ideal accompaniment for his style of play.

Oscar - Players to Watch
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No. 6 – Oscar

Chelsea and Brazil

This could be a true breakout year for Oscar as many analysts expect. He has taken the place of Juan Mata at Chelsea (Mata won the previous 2 year’s club “Player of the Year” awards) and he is an integral part of the Brazil setup. What many people don’t appreciate is the defensive side to Oscar’s game. He has the ability to tackle and cover back, while also being a fantastic creator and goal scorer.

Another player to take the hybrid route is Oscar, as he ploys his trade in the adidas Predator LZ. Since there is more than just an attacking nature to his game, a boot that allows for varied performance makes for a good match. Whether it is allowing him to track back or to spray balls across the middle of the park, the Predator LZ has a lot of positives to offer.

Image via Facebook
Image via Facebook

No. 5 – Adnan Januzaj

Manchester United and Undeclared

So, we have included one player on this list that you are unlikely to see at this summer’s World Cup, but he is well worth including. Manchester United has been floundering badly this season, and they have turned to the 18 year old in an effort to stabilize their season. He really has not disappointed and his performances have received continual praise. He is quick, very nimble and well able to get involved in attacking action. His ability to dribble with a ball is fantastic to watch.

Similar to Neymar, Januzaj is all about sharp turns, breaking tackles and accelerating away from defenders, leading to his choice of the Nike Hypervenom Phantom. The Hypervenom range has a direct focus on agility and players that like to do more with the ball than just sprint in straight lines. It is the cropping, twisting, lean one way and sprint away the other that gives them an extra edge. Both Neymar and Januzaj are perfect examples of the players I regularly recommend the boot for.

Pogba - Players to Watch
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No. 4 – Paul Pogba

Juventus and France

Pogba is the “one that got away” if you are a Manchester United fan! Since moving to Juventus, he has prospered and is currently demonstrating why he is regarded to be one of the best young players in the game. Controlling play from the middle of the park, he is not afraid to head to goal and there is already a highlight reel of spectacular goals he has scored. This summer, he is set to lead a French squad with aspirations of making an unexpected influence at the World Cup, unexpected as this is a side that barely qualified through a playoff.  If all goes according to plan, he is a player that could easily be in Ballon d’Or contention come next November.

Pogba is another player who has adapted and shone in the Nike CTR360 Maestri range. His ability to control the game from the middle of the part is in unison with the performance of the boots, especially with the control element that sits along the instep. And as it turns out, they are pretty effective when it comes to striking long range shots!

Rodriguez - Players to Watch
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No. 3 – James Rodriguez

AS Monaco and Columbia

Nicknamed “El Nuevo Pibe”, Rodriguez is seen to be the best prospect to come out of Columbia since the entertaining Carlos Valderrama graced the pitch. He is a playmaker with the ability to make a huge impact in Brazil. It serves as testament to his skills when his dribbling, speed, creativity, ball control, and powerful shots are compared as being the South American version of Cristiano Ronaldo. His recent move from Porto to AS Monaco was not initially seen to be a step up, but with AS Monaco reaching the heavy heights of League 1, he might just be in the right spot leading up to this summer.

Anything with a speed nature would adequately suit the requirements of Rodriguez, and to that end he has been wearing the adidas F50 adiZero series. When it comes to taking players on, while keeping close control of the ball, the F50 adiZero has become on the top choices. The latest edition, released in advance of the World Cup this summer, features much softer materials around the heel and a new texture along the synthetic forefoot.

Hazard - Players to Watch
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No. 2 – Eden Hazard

Chelsea and Belgium

Hazard is a player that is seen to be one of the best players in the world at this point. His ability to open up defenses and leave defenders standing in his wake is a lot of fun to watch. On top of that, he pulls his weight and gets back defensively when needed. With Chelsea, he is currently one of the first names on the team sheet and for Belgium, he is a leader. So, why is he on this list? Quite frankly, because there are expectations resting on his shoulders this year and if he continues his current form, he will be highly influential in where both his club and country finish.

Boot wise, Hazard wears the Nike Vapor IX range and he has been one of their leading endorsers over the past two years. His ability to crack open defenses and create chances captures the spotlight and Nike certainly appreciate that. It is his first touch that separates him from defenders, going along the lines of explosive speed, and he has a habit of winning penalties and free kicks around the box.

Neymar - Best of Ballon d'Or
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No. 1 – Neymar

Barcelona and Brazil

Last summer, Neymar showed the world just why he is regarded to be one of the best players currently in the game, but he still has some work to be done. His performances were world class and Brazilian fans screamed “I told you so” to anyone that ever doubted his abilities. Well, this year he has the opportunity to increase his claim for World’s best player. On the domestic front, Messi has suffered some injuries and that means Neymar becomes the go-to attacking force. For his national squad, he is the creator and no matter how you look at the Brazil squad, a fully firing Neymar will be the difference in where they finish.

During the Confederations Cup this past summer in Brazil, Neymar was a focal player and Nike used that to their advantage by giving him the opportunity to showcase the Hypervenom Phantom. The boot was released right before the tournament kicked off and he certainly impressed in the boot designed for agility. Where the Vapor has become a lightweight option for strong, pacey players, the Hypervenom is seen to be a more dynamic boot that provides players with the ability to chop, crop and turn while keeping the ball close to their feet.