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Jul 2, 2014

Robben's rise; Gerrard's fall

World Cup
Arjen Robben and Steven Gerrard have had very different tournaments.

After USA's valiant effort against Belgium on Tuesday night, England fans took to social media to ask one simple question: Why can't our players play like that? Jurgen Klinsmann's men played with the heart and passion that Three Lions supporters demand and, following some lacklustre performances at the World Cup and an early trip home from Brazil, the England superstars were heavily criticised by fans who felt they would rather turn out for their club than country.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was one of those lambasted for a lackadaisical display in South America, this coming off a highly impressive season for the Reds. Only current club teammate Luis Suarez (8.43) attained a better WhoScored.com rating than Gerrard (7.74) in the Premier League last term and England fans were hoping he could transfer this form onto the international stage this summer.

However, of all players to make at least three appearances in the competition, Gerrard's rating (6.29) was the biggest drop from club to country in Europe's top five leagues, a negative difference of 1.45. It's certainly true that the 34-year-old's outing in South America left a lot to be desired. His pass success dropped, albeit marginally, from 86 percent to 84.7 percent, while he made fewer tackles (2.9 to 2) and interceptions per game (1.4 to 0.3), as Gerrard's performance levels, no pun intended, slipped.

That isn't to say he is the only Premier League player to underwhelm in Brazil. Sergio Aguero was the next biggest drop in rating between club (7.69) and country (6.25), a difference of 1.44. The Man City striker entered the World Cup not quite fully fit, having suffered a thigh problem towards the end of the season. Nevertheless, Alejandro Sabella persisted, using him with Gonzalo Higuaín and Lionel Messi to form Argentina's scalpel-sharp attacking trident.

However, the 26-year-old failed to complete a single successful dribble -- a WhoScored.com strength of his -- and mustered just six shots in his three appearances, a far cry from his league average (3.7 per game) last season. Injury threatens to curtail his World Cup. Although he may be available to face Belgium in Saturday's quarterfinal meeting, Argentina could be better off without Aguero, despite his ability. Ezequiel Lavezzi's inclusion brought better balance to the Albiceleste attack line on Tuesday, and Sabella would be wise to start the Paris Saint-Germain star once more.

Remaining with England's top tier; Adam Lallana features in the five biggest drops in rating too. Lallana's form for Southampton earned him a big money move to Liverpool on Tuesday, though his performances for England this summer fell short of expectations. His rating for Saints (7.21) fell by 1.09 for the national team (6.12) this summer as he failed to impress in Brazil. Lallana's pass success for club (84.6 percent) dropped significantly for his country (75.6 percent), while he failed to execute a key pass or complete a successful dribble, a far cry from his averages for Saints last term (1.9 and 1.8, respectively).

After Cameroon's abysmal World Cup campaign, it's little shock to see Nicolas N'Koulou featured too, with his rating for Marseille (7.18) falling by 1.05 for Cameroon (6.13). However, one of the biggest surprises is the inclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo. Big things were expected of the Ballon d'Or winner in Brazil and while his rating for Portugal (7.21) was respectable, it's a proportionate negative difference from his WhoScored.com rating for Real Madrid (8.25) last season, a drop of 1.04.

Ronaldo managed just one goal in Brazil, despite averaging marginally more shots for Portugal (7.3) than Madrid (7.2). Furthermore, the 29-year-old averaged fewer key passes (1) and dribbles per game (1.3) for the national team than Los Blancos (1.6 and 2.2 respectively) last term to round off a disappointing World Cup, from a personal viewpoint.

While this adds fuel to the club vs. country fire, there are those who have outdone themselves in Brazil. Goalkeepers Diego Benaglio and Tim Howard turned out highly commendable performances for Switzerland and USA respectively, prior to their round of 16 exits on Tuesday.

Benaglio's WhoScored.com rating for Switzerland (7.85) was a significant rise on his Wolfsburg one (6.73), a positive difference of 1.12. And, while he was unable to prevent his side from exiting the competition, the 30-year-old impressed in Brazil. He is the only goalkeeper to save a penalty, excluding penalty shootouts, at the World Cup, although Howard perhaps eclipses his exploits.

The 35-year-old goalkeeper ended last season with a respectable rating (6.89) for Everton, but has seen that improve for USA (7.87), a rise of 0.98. His goalkeeping display against Belgium though was one of the finest in recent history of the competition, with Howard making the most saves (15) in a single match at the 2014 World Cup.

His WhoScored.com rating of 10 against Belgium was also only the second time a 'perfect 10' has been awarded at Brazil 2014, the other going to Oscar (vs Croatia). The Chelsea midfielder may have seen his playing time limited towards the end of the season, but his club rating (7.01) was still commendable given injury and a drop in form limiting his impact. For the national team though, his rating (8.04) has risen by 1.03. The 22-year-old has already matched his league assist return (2) for his national team and is playing more accurate crosses per game for Brazil (1) than he was Chelsea last term (0.6).

However, the two players with the largest positive difference in rating are also two who have lit up the World Cup. Arjen Robben (8.92) and James Rodriguez (8.62) are the second and third highest rated players at the competition, with Lionel Messi (9.25) being the only player to score higher than the duo.

Robben (7.54) and Rodriguez (7.41) have enjoyed the biggest rise in rating between club and country, increasing by 1.38 and 1.21 respectively, an impressive positive difference given their exploits for Bayern Munich and Monaco last season. No player has created more clear-cut goal-scoring chances than Robben (4) at the World Cup, while he has won the WhoScored.com man of the match award in each of his four appearances. Meanwhile, Rodríguez is both the top goal scorer (5) and has directly contributed to the most goals (7) at Brazil 2014.

Both players have been imperative to the success of their teams this summer and are expected to carry this on into their respective quarterfinal matches this weekend. Importantly though, the performances of Robben, Rodríguez, Benaglio, Oscar and Howard counter the argument that players always perform better for their club rather than country, though the same can't be said for Gerrard, Aguero, Lallana, N'Koulou and Ronaldo on this particular occasion.