Five Aside: Kaká, Welbeck make case for World Cup roster spots

Posted by Zach Rodgers, ESPN Stats & Information

With four of the five major European leagues in action, notable performances by future World Cup stars were abundant. As we discussed last week, Five Aside will be highlighting five standout stars each week who will be making an impact on the World Cup in Brazil this summer.

Here’s a look at some players who made headlines for their club teams this past week.

Kaká (Brazil): While still fighting for his spot on the Brazil World Cup roster, Kaká scored twice Monday in AC Milan’s 3-0 win against Atalanta. The brace gave Kaká five goals in Serie A play, as only Mario Balotelli has scored more for Milan this season. Kaká also created four more chances this past week, extending his team-high to 32 for the season.

Despite being held scoreless during the 2010 World Cup, Kaká’s three assists during the tournament were tied for the most by any player (while playing two or three fewer games).

Pepe (Portugal): Pepe scored his third goal in only 16 games, tied for second among defenders in La Liga this season. Pepe scored three goals in 83 La Liga games in his previous three seasons combined with Real Madrid. Pepe also leads Madrid’s defense in clearances and interceptions this season.

Pepe anchored Portugal’s defense during qualifying, leading the team in clearances, while finishing second in interceptions and aerial balls won.

Thibaut Courtois (Belgium): Courtois has emerged as arguably the best young goalkeeper in the world. Courtois and Atletico Madrid held Barcelona scoreless in Saturday’s 0-0 draw. The 21-year-old Courtois has allowed only 0.5 goals per game in La Liga this season, tied for the fewest in the league (among keepers with at least 10 games played). Last season, Courtois allowed 0.7 goals per game, also the fewest in La Liga.

Courtois, who has been on loan from Chelsea since 2011, started all 10 games for Belgium during the final stage of UEFA World Cup qualifying. Belgium held opponents to 0.4 goals per game during qualifying. Only Spain held opposing teams to fewer goals in that span.

Danny Welbeck (England): Welbeck may not be a guarantee to make the English squad, but the Manchester United forward has been rounding into top form of late. Following his second-half goal against Swansea, Welbeck has scored in his last three EPL games for the Red Devils, and has six goals in his last six EPL games. Since Dec. 1, only Luis Suarez (13) has more EPL goals than Welbeck (6).

Welbeck played in eight of England’s 10 qualifiers during the final stage of UEFA qualifying. Welbeck scored four goals for the English in qualifying. All four of his goals came in the flow of regular play, which does not include penalties or set pieces. Welbeck’s four regular-play goals led England during the final stage of qualifying.

Gökhan Inler (Switzerland): Inler completed 90 percent of his passes in leading Napoli to a 3-0 win Sunday on the road. This season, Inler leads Napoli in completed passes (982) in Serie A games. Inler has completed at least 75 percent of his passes in all but one league game this season.

During the final stage of UEFA World Cup qualifying, the Swiss midfielder led his team with 535 completed passes, while also creating 19 chances (second on the team). Inler created at least one chance in all but one of his games during the final qualifying stage.


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