Thomas Delaney has really blossomed into a major asset from Werder Bremen this season. While the season got off to a rough start for Die Grün-Weißen, the side has turned a corner in the Rückrunde, seeing the side rise up to 12th place. While his individual numbers might not seem impressive, he will play a critical role for Denmark in Russia this summer.
Delaney arrived in Bremen in the January 2017 window from Danish giants Kobenhavn for €2 million and soon incorporated himself into the squad. The midfielder made 13 appearances in the Rückrunde. He quickly announced himself to the rest of the League on matchday 26 at Freiburg, where he notched a hat trick and assisted on another goal of Bremen’s 5-2 victory.
Delaney has continued to make himself an integral part of the Bremen side. During the 2017/2018 season, the Dane made 32 appearances (all starts, he missed the Rückrunde opener because of muscular problems and another match from yellow card accumulation) scoring three goals and assisting five more. Delaney has gone the full 90 in 30 of those 32 matches and has been on the field for the second most minutes of any Bremen player, behind only full back Theodor Gebre Selassie. He also finished second in the Bundesliga for the number of challenges he made this season, with an average of one every six and a half minutes.
For Bremen, Delaney often plays as a central midfielder, but eight times this season, mostly at the beginning of the year, he moved into an attacking midfielder role. However, when he meets up with the national side for the World Cup, Delaney will be deployed almost exclusively as a more defensive minded midfielder, leaving the more creative duties to Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen. The Spurs’ midfielder is certainly one of the key figures for the Premier League side who has been extremely good for the last three seasons. This season Eriksen has scored 14 goals and notched 12 assists in all competitions. These attacking qualities carry over in the national team as well. Eriksen has already made 77 appearances for Denmark and scored 21 goals, putting him tied with Brian Laudrup and Dennis Rommedahl. That’s pretty impressive company for a 26-year-old who is likely entering the peak of his career for both club and country.
Leading up to this World Cup, Denmark has been working from a 4-3-3 formation, including both their World Cup playoff matches against Ireland. With Eriksen sitting in the more attacking position Delaney, 26, focuses on shielding the back line. While focusing on the defense, Delaney also provides manager Age Hareide with discipline and stability. After the first two World Cup qualifying matches where Delaney made substitute appearances, he played all but four minutes of the rest of the campaign, including the playoffs. This stamina was furthered evidenced by the fact that Delaney averaged the most distance covered of any player in the Bundesliga this season. On top of this, he never earned a single card in international play (and only five in Bundesliga competition), allowing Hareide to use his substitutions in other places on the pitch. This peace of mind could be invaluable at the World Cup.
However, Delaney still can get forward in the attack, as he scored four goals in the qualifying campaign. The match away to Armenia saw him notching a hat-trick in the side’s 4-1 victory (with the other goal a fantastic free kick from Eriksen).
Hareide is still looking for who else will play in the midfield and the upcoming friendlies against Sweden (June 2) and Mexico (June 9) will likely provide the clues to what he is thinking for that position against their Group C foes, Peru, Australia, and France. With both Delaney and Eriksen in the midfield, the third role can be filled by a someone with a specific purpose tailored to the matchup.
In their group opener, Delaney will largely be tasked with keeping a close eye on former Schalke star Jefferson Farfan. While Farfan is 33, he has recently made a return to the national team and is proving instrumental so far. In the second leg of Peru’s intercontinental playoff against New Zealand, Farfan scored the opener and then added another assist in the second half to ensure Peru’s qualification for the first time in 36 years. Now that Paolo Guerrero’s suspension has been overturned Delaney’s task become that much harder to track both those 2, not to mention the talented Cristian Cueva in the midfield.
Of the three, Australia may be the biggest question mark for Denmark. While they qualified under manager Ange Postecoglou, he resigned shortly after the Intercontinental playoffs, to be replaced by previous Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV manager Bert van Marwijk. Under van Marwijk Australia has had some less than positive results. March saw the side revert to playing 4 at the back and were roundly trounced by Norway 4-1 in Oslo, followed by an uninspired 0-0 draw against Colombia. Delaney will be tracking a host of midfielders, possibly including Hertha’s Mathew Leckie.
The last group game is likely to be Delaney’s biggest task, as France are heavy favorites to win the group. While their manager Didier Deschamps doesn’t appear to have settled on a specific formation yet, Delaney is likely to be tasked with keeping Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, or even both, in check. Winning the group could mean avoiding another tournament favorite in Argentina in the round of 16
A great tournament for Delaney could raise even more interest from other clubs. According to Bild, multiple clubs in England, including Everton and Huddersfield Town are interested in signing the midfielder. There is also interest from Bundesliga foe Borussia Dortmund, with rumoured fees of €15-25 million being mentioned. Should Delaney and the Danes reach the knockout stages in Russia, that figure will likely need to increase for Bremen to part with their key man.