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No goals, but Juve transfer target Aleksandr Golovin still plays well vs. Egypt

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The midfielder was more restrained than in the opener, but still put in a solid shift for the hosts.

Russia v Egypt: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

After a stellar game in the World Cup opener, Russia midfielder — and Juventus transfer target — Aleksandr Golovin had a lot of eyes on him heading into Russia’s second game of the tournament against Egypt.

Golovin exploded onto the scene on Thursday, scoring once and registering two assists against Saudi Arabia to go along with five key passes, four tackles, and three interceptions. It was certainly an excellent first impression, but it was against a team that is most likely the worst in the tournament. His performance against better competition would be key.

Egypt certainly didn’t represent the best the tournament had to offer, but they are definitely a step up from the Saudis. With the return of Mohammed Salah making the Pharaohs a good deal more dangerous, Golovin would need to put in a good shift in order to help his team to a crucial victory.

By the end of the game, my opinion of Golovin hadn’t changed all that much. He put in a much more restrained performance than he did in Russia’s opener, but it was still a very good one that didn’t in any way diminish his value as a prospect.

The primary reason that we didn’t see any eye-popping numbers this time around was that Egypt gave Russia a much better game than Saudi Arabia did. They actually had a slight possession edge, which prevented Golovin from dictating the game to the degree he did last week. A contributing factor had to be the yellow card that he was shown late in the Saudi Arabia game. With a suspension looming if he were to be booked again, Golovin took far fewer chances while defending, but he still managed to jump a defender in the attacking third six minutes in, giving him the chance to charge in and fire off his only shot of the day, curling it just wide. It was one of two tackles he was credited with on the day.

Starting in the hole behind Artem Dzyuba in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Golovin had license to roam, and was often found on the left wing, where he tried to play the ball to the big striker. He was on the right side less than two minutes after the restart when he had a hand in the opening goal. His cross forced goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy into a wild punch, which fell to Roman Zobnin. Zobnin fired a wild strike that wasn’t going anywhere close to goal, but Ahmed Faty bumped into Dzyuba as he tried to clear and skewed it past his keeper and into his own net.

He shifted back to running the middle as the game went on. He found some good spaces, but his teammates often just missed finding him. He did get one good pass from Fedor Smolov 10 minutes from time, and but Egypt had numbers in the box against the two-man break and formed a wall in front of him. To his credit, he smartly cycled the ball out of the box to keep possession. Overall he was more efficient with his passes in this game, completing 76.7 percent of his passes, an increase of just over five percent over his first game.

While not the eye-popping performance he put in against the Saudis, this certainly wasn’t a bad game by any means. Russia’s next contest, on Monday against Uruguay, will be very telling. Uruguay will be a big step up in quality from either team he’s faced this season, and unless something unforeseen happens on Wednesday the game will essentially be a playoff to see who wins Group A, potentially avoiding Spain in the Round of 16.

Between the upgraded competition and the big situation, the group stage finale will be the biggest test yet of Golovin’s credentials — as well as a tantalizing duel with a potential future Juve teammate in Rodrigo Bentancur. But until we see that game, my opinion of the kid remains unchanged: Golovin is an excellent prospect that Juventus should be pushing for.