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Who is Niclas Fullkrug? Things to know about Germany’s target man

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Costa Rica’s stunning defeat of German slayers Japan on Sunday morning handed Hansi Flick’s side a lifeline heading into their Group E encounter with Luis Enrique’s Spain.

The Spaniards had universally impressed on Matchday 1, and they took the lead against Germany on Sunday night through substitute Alvaro Morata. Despite a stellar performance without the ball to subdue Enrique’s free-flowing La Roja, fatigue meant Germany couldn’t press with the same vigour as the contest wore on and they quickly paid the price.

Niclas Fullkrug was among those Flick turned to to turn the tide and it was the late-blooming Werder Bremen forward who salvaged a point for the Germans. Fullkrug’s 83rd-minute strike beyond Unai Simon was as emphatic as they come, and should Germany advance into the knockout phase of the 2022 World Cup, the 29-year-old may well play a prominent role considering Flick’s forward options.

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Here’s everything you need to know about Germany’s unlikely saviour.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

Niclas Fullkrug’s rise has been rapid, but he’s been lingering around the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 for a decade.

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Fullkrug represented Germany’s Under-18s and Under-20s after shining for Werder Bremen’s youth teams. However, he struggled to make the step up to the senior side and the striker moved onto FC Nurnberg for a meagre €300,000 fee in 2014. His second season there was pretty prolific as he scored 14 times in 30 Bundesliga 2 appearances

Fullkrug’s impressive 2015/16 season saw him earn a move to hometown club Hannover 96 and, once again, he enjoyed a productive second season – this time scoring 14 goals in the Bundesliga. Injuries compromised his 2018/19 campaign and he subsequently returned to Werder Bremen in 2019.

His return to Bremen wasn’t overly prosperous to begin with, however, as injuries – including a cruciate ligament rupture – continued to take their toll. Werder were relegated in 2020/21 before the appointment of Ole Werner in November 2021 reinvigorated the seemingly declining target man.

The striker fired home 19 Bundesliga 2 goals last season to help Die Werderaner immediately return to the top-flight and his form this season convinced Flick to pick him in his 26-man World Cup squad. Fullkrug’s scored ten times in 14 Bundesliga games, the best strike rate of any German this season.

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Standing at an imposing 6’2, Fullkrug typically functions as the focal point for Werder and thus, his strengths align with those of your archetypal target man.

The German forward is excellent in the air and adept at bringing the ball down before bringing others into play. His skill set has seen him develop a telepathic rapport with strike partner Marvin Ducksch at Werder Bremen, with the two forwards complementing each other nicely. The duo call themselves the ‘Ugly Ducklings’.

Fullkrug has been superb at putting himself in positions to score this season – only Marcus Thuram has registered more shots in the Bundesliga – and all but one of his ten league goals have arrived in the penalty box. He’s an efficient poacher, with his highlight reel littered with emphatic headed finishes and assured spot-kicks.

The 29-year-old’s cracking finish against Spain also demonstrated his fierce ball-striking ability.

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Fullkrug hasn’t always been this prolific and there’s no doubt that he is limited. The striker struggles to score different types of goals, while injuries mean he isn’t the most athletic.

Moreover, we noted that the striker was a willing linker of play, but the numbers from FBRef depict Fullkrug to be an inefficient connector. His 61.4% pass completion ranks in the 14th percentile of all strikers from Europe’s top-five leagues over the past year.

Some refinement to his hold-up play wouldn’t go amiss as he reaches his peak and twilight years.

Fullkrug dabbled in a bit of wing play when he was a bit younger, but it’s become abundantly clear what sort of forward he’s matured into.

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The 29-year-old is a throwback centre-forward who’s cut from the same cloth as some of his German predecessors. Think Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose, etc, etc. A proper target man.

While Fullkrug is capable of leading the line by himself, much of his recent good work at Werder has come when playing alongside a strike partner.

Comparisons to the aforementioned Klose and Gomez initially sprung from the mouth of retired Germany international Toni Kroos.

The Real Madrid midfielder said ahead of the World Cup: “We [Germany] actually almost always had someone like him with Miro [Klose], Mario Gomez. I think those are the types of players who can really help you in certain situations, and Hansi [Flick] knows that.”

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RB Leipzig End Liverpool’s Hopes of Early Naby Keita Move

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Naby Keita will not be allowed to ditch Leipzig for ​Liverpool in January, regardless of progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League, according to Leipziger Volkszeitung.

It was announced during the summer that Liverpool had met Keita’s release clause and the Guinean midfielder would move to Anfield at the end of the 2017/18 season. 

However, recent speculation suggested that die Roten Bullen could be persuaded into letting Keita leave the club during the winter transfer window.

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“Even if we should not reach the knockout stages of Champions League, it would make no sense to allow Naby to join Liverpool earlier,” said RB Leipzig sporting director, Ralf Rangnick.

“We want to qualify for Europe again, and we need Naby for that.”

Leipzig have won just one Champions League game this season, with defeats to FC Porto and Besiktas making progression to the knockout stages a difficult task this year.

Following their impressive maiden season in the Bundesliga, in which RB Leipzig finished ahead of Borussia Dortmund, the Red Bulls will be desperate to make sure their Champions League status continues next season.

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The 22-year-old has struggled to replicate the incredible form he showed last year since the announcement of his move next summer. 

Questions about Keita’s disciplinary record have also arisen this season, the midfielder seeing three red cards for club and country in less than one month.



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Man Utd’s fixture list up to Carabao Cup final including Barcelona & Leeds clashes

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Manchester United reached their first final under Erik ten Hag by securing safe passage through the Carabao Cup semi finals at the expense of Nottingham Forest.

The Red Devils have enjoyed a brilliant run of form after their infamous defeats to Brighton and Brentford to start the season. They’re firmly in the Champions League qualification mix and remain alive in the FA Cup and Europa League.

However, their commitments in cup competitions means Ten Hag faces a tough February as he tries to balance the playing time of a squad that has recently been struck by injuries to key players.

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Here’s United’s truncated schedule leading up to the Carabao Cup final, including some juicy derbies and European fixtures.

Michael Olise, David De Gea

Olise denied Man Utd with a late free kick last time out / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Fresh from sealing their spot in the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle, United are back into Premier League matters when they host Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday 4 February in a 15:00 GMT kick off.

The two sides duked it out earlier a few weeks ago in their first meeting of the season as a late Michael Olise free-kick earned Palace a point after Bruno Fernandes’ strike just before half time.

Manchester United and Leeds are fierce rivals and the tension between the two teams has risen again following Leeds’ promotion to the Premier League.

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The Red Devils have scored 15 goals in the four meetings in that time, only failing to win once when they were held to a goalless draw in April 2021. The fixture was originally postponed following Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September and will take place on Wednesday 8 February at 20:00 GMT.

Fred, Anthony Elanga

Fred and Elanga struck at Elland Road last season / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

That fixture rearrangement means the two Uniteds will face each other twice in four days.

In this fixture last season, two headless chickens went at it as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds were downed 4-2 by Ralf Rangnick’s Man Utd. Goals from Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes had the visitors 2-0 up before two goals in two minutes from Rodrigo and Raphinha squared things up.

Substitutes Fred and Anthony Elanga gave the Red Devils all three points. However, they would win only three more league games before the end of the season.

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The stakes are really upped in mid February when Man Utd travel to Barcelona to face the Catalan giants at Camp Nou in the Europa League knockout play-off round.

It’s Barça who hold the edge in recent meetings, having won the past four games between the two sides.

Once they return home from the trip to Catalonia, United have a home game against Leicester to contend with.

The Foxes have endured some turbulent form this season but have mostly been a mess at the back, though the sides were only separated by Jadon Sancho’s strike they met back in September.

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Lionel Messi

A lot has changed since United and Barça last met in 2019 / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

The return leg of the Europa League knockout play-off round will determine who between United and Barça continue in the continent’s secondary club competition.

United’s last win over Barça came at Old Trafford in 2008 when Paul Scholes scored the only goal of a Champions League semi final tie to send his side to final in Moscow.

Two of the most improved sides this season meet in the Carabao Cup final in late February when Newcastle face Man Utd.

Both sides are eyeing up Champions League qualification and each sit in the top four currently and this meeting could be an opportunity to land a significant psychological blow.

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Player ratings as Catalans pull clear in La Liga

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Barcelona survived a late scare against Real Betis to secure a 2-1 win and at least temporarily extend their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points before Real Madrid play on Thursday night.

Barça went into the game at Benito Villamarin knowing they had the opportunity to start pulling away from their fierce rivals in Madrid. But it took until well into the second half for the breakthrough to come, with Raphinha and later Robert Lewandowski eventually netting.

An own goal from Joules Kounde in the closing stages threatened to make it a difficult end for Xavi’s team, but they managed to see it out. Betis midfielder William Carvalho, who had already been substituted with an hour played, was then sent off for dissent at the game’s conclusion.

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Betis were actually the first to threaten in the contest, seeing Luiz Henrique only narrowly miss an early chance when his shot was deflected just wide by Alejandro Balde.

Pedri had a chance for Barça at the other end not long after, but his touch in the penalty area wasn’t sharp enough and Rui Silva in the home goal got down to pick the ball off his toe.

Silva again denied Pedri after the restart, but Raphinha broke the deadlock in the 65th minute. The Brazilian, whose debut season hasn’t been a rip-roaring success, tapped in from close range after excellent work from Balde down the left flank.

Lewandowski’s ultimately decisive second was from only a little further out, pounced on by the Pole after Ronald Araujo flicked on Raphinha’s cross.

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That cushion was enough for Barça and ensured that Kounde’s own goal mattered little in the end.

GK: Silva (6); RB: Ruibal (7), CB: Pezzella (6), CB: Felipe (6), LB: Abner (6); CM: Rodriguez (6), CM: Carvalho (5); RM: Henrique (7), AM: Fekir (6), LM: Canales (6); ST: Iglesias (6)

Subs: Guardado (6), Juanmi (6), Rodri (6), Jose (5), Sabaly (6)

GK: Ter Stegen (6); RB: Kounde (6), CB: Araujo (7), CB: Chistensen (7), LB: Balde (8); CM: De Jong (7), CM: Busquets (8), CM: Pedri (7); RW: Raphinha (8), ST: Lewandowski (7), LW: Gavi (7)

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Subs: Fati (5), Torres (N/A), Kessie (N/A)

Player of the match – Alejandro Balde (Barcelona)



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