20 for Euro 2020: Players to Watch
Euro 2020 is on the horizon. Twelve months later than planned thanks to a global pandemic, but we’re there. Twenty-four teams will battle it out across 11 cities for the Henri Delaunay Trophy and we wanted to give you a guide on some of the players to keep an eye on at the tournament. Who better to do that than 20 esteemed Stats Perform data editors?
This isn’t a list of the players they think are the best – you’ve all read that. This is a selection of 20 players that we think will make an impact this summer. Some are obvious, some less so. Let’s dive in.
Romelu Lukaku • Manuel Locatelli • Cristiano Ronaldo • Frenkie de Jong • Burak Yılmaz • Thibaut Courtois • Owen Wijndal • Jadon Sancho • Kylian Mbappé • Thomas Müller •
Robert Lewandowski • Nico Elvedi • Willi Orban • Karim Benzema • Lorenzo Insigne •
Gerard Moreno • Saša Kalajdžić • Sergio Busquets • David Turnbull • Glen Kamara
Romelu Lukaku – Belgium
After underachieving at the last European Championship finals in 2016 in losing to Wales in the quarter-finals, Belgium went one stage better at the World Cup two years later with a semi-final defeat to eventual winners France. If they aspire to go a stage further and reach the final in this tournament, they’ll need star striker Romelu Lukaku to perform.
If the 2020-21 domestic season is anything to go by, then Lukaku arrives at Euro 2020 in the form of his life. His 24 Serie A goals this season were the second-highest league goal tally in his career, after 25 goals in his final season at Everton in 2016-17. But the underlying numbers suggest he’s been able to find positions to make himself even more threatening than before.
2020-21 has been the outlier in Lukaku’s domestic career across the last eight seasons, with the Belgian finding both goalscoring positions in open play more frequently (0.59 xG per 90) and increasing the quality of positions that he’s shooting from (0.21 xG per shot).
With 64 competitive goals for Internazionale since signing in 2019-20, Lukaku is one of only seven players to have scored 60+ goals across top five European clubs in all competitions over the last two seasons.
It’s not just a club level he’s performed, either. Since the 2018 World Cup, Lukaku has scored 18 goals in 14 competitive internationals for Belgium, including scoring in all seven qualifiers for this tournament (nine goals). He’s already the leading goalscorer in Belgian national team history with 59 goals, and there’s little doubt he’ll add to that tally this summer.
Manuel Locatelli – Italy
Roberto Mancini’s work with Italy falls somewhat under the radar, with the Azzurri quietly stringing together a 25-game unbeaten run heading into this month’s Euro 2020 warm-up matches.
As such, the Azzurri enter their first major tournament since Euro 2016 as more of a dark horse than the renowned Prancing Horse Ferrari-esque class of old. Italy’s last ascent to a final came at Euro 2012 when Andrea Pirlo aged like the finest of wines. Recent failures have humbled the Azzurri. Mancini’s squad is largely comprised of altruistic individuals, one of which is primed to fill the Pirlo void.
Italy’s chances could be underpinned by Manuel Locatelli operating as their midfield lynchpin, with the Milan Primavera graduate possessing a similar eye for a pass as the orchestrating Pirlo. Locatelli has thrived as the conductor in Roberto De Zerbi’s eye-catching Sassuolo team, leading the way for Serie A passes this season. In fact, only five players across Europe’s top five leagues bettered Locatelli’s 2,749 passes in 2020-21.
Locatelli played nearly 300 more passes in the opposition half (1,606) than the next closest contender in Serie A, whilst 446 of his passes progressed the ball into the final third, another league high. Locatelli also fares favorably against Serie A’s other leading midfielders when it comes to carrying the ball, with Locatelli one of four midfielders to record 500+ carries in Serie A this season, though none of the others also surpassed the 2,000-mark for passes. Amongst the top eight carrying midfielders in Serie A in 2020-21, no one comes within 500 passes of Locatelli (2,749), with 384 of those passes recorded following a carry.
Locatelli featured in all three of Italy’s World Cup qualifiers in March, netting his first international goal away in Bulgaria before assisting former Neroverdi teammate Stefano Sensi against Lithuania. Marco Verratti and Nicolò Barella are more established names alongside him in the Azzurri midfield, but with links to PSG and Manchester City surfacing, a strong European Championship will inevitably rise Locatelli’s stock even higher. If Locatelli can serve as the perfect playmaking rudder to propel an attack buoyed by Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne et al, it could be plain sailing on an Azzurri Sea this summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
Portugal come into Euro 2020 as the reigning Champions, having defeated France in the 2016 final. They did it the hard way, with star player Cristiano Ronaldo coming off injured after 25 minutes. But an even harder prospect is winning consecutive editions of the tournament – something only Spain have done previously in 2008 and 2012.
Ronaldo is already a European Championship legend. He’s made the most appearances (21), needs one more goal to be the outright top scorer that he currently shares with Michel Platini (nine) and has already scored in the most matches (seven).
Despite only just qualifying for the Champions League with Juventus, it was another strong season for Ronaldo, despite the critics. He won the Serie A Capocannoniere award with 29 goals – the first-ever player to top the scoring charts in all three of La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League. He also became the first man in Juve history to score 100 competitive goals within his opening three seasons at the club.
Ronaldo likes to shoot. We all know that. He was one of only three players in the top five European leagues this season to play 1,500+ minutes and average at least five shots per 90 (5.4) alongside Lionel Messi (5.8) and Robert Lewandowski (5.0). Expect plenty of that at Euro 2020.
His next target? Ali Daei’s world record of 109 men’s international goals. With 103 at the time of writing and with two friendlies before the tournament starts, Ronaldo will believe he can surpass that this summer.
Frenkie de Jong – Netherlands
The Netherlands’ recent history at European Championships is hardly encouraging. Failure to qualify for the 2016 edition followed a 2012 tournament that saw them lose every single game in their group stage exit. This version of the Dutch side seems different.
Frank de Boer has built a hungry team that’s full of talented players and able to compete with the best teams on the global stage. At the very heart of the current side is the emerging talent of Frenkie de Jong, to whom de Boer has given the keys of the Netherlands’ midfield.
Despite finishing third in La Liga with Barcelona, de Jong was one of the brightest sparks for Ronald Koeman’s side in 2020-21.
Playing the second-most minutes in the Spanish top flight last season by an outfielder (3,159), de Jong’s quality on the ball was evident for all to see. Last season in La Liga, de Jong completed the most passes (2,560) and had the best passing accuracy for a regular midfielder (91.9%), while only Lionel Messi carried the ball further up field than the Dutch midfielder (5,338 metres). In 24 of his 37 league appearances in 2020-21, de Jong completed at least 90% of passes in the opposition half of the pitch, including two games where he didn’t misplace a single pass: versus Eibar in May (25/25) and against Real Betis in February (38/38).
Across the Netherlands’ three recent World Cup qualifiers in March, de Jong’s importance to the side was evident.
As one of only three players to play every single minute, alongside goalkeeper Tim Krul and central defender Matthijs de Ligt, de Jong completed a team-high 212 passes in the opposition half with an incredible 94% accuracy. He was also involved in 25 open-play sequences than ended in a shot – seven more than any player from any team in the competition so far.
Burak Yılmaz – Turkey
Following a disappointing performance at the 2016 European Championship, Turkey come into Euro 2020 with more confidence and less uncertainty. Şenol Güneş is an experienced coach who’s crafted a side with a solid defence, creative midfield and most importantly an ageless striker in Burak Yılmaz.
At 35 years old, Yılmaz is an experienced goalscorer within Turkey, but his debut season within the top five European leagues was possibly his most effective of all. He was the top goalscorer for Lille’s Ligue 1 title-winning side with 16 goals and averaged a goal every 128 minutes in the competition – the second-best behind only wonderkid Kylian Mbappé (89 mins) of regular players in the French top flight in 2020-21.
Without his 21 goal involvements (16 goals, five assists), Lille would have found themselves 16 points worse off and without his impact it’s unlikely they’d have won their first title in 10 years.
He played a bit part in Turkey’s qualification for these finals with just a single goal and one more assist in seven appearances, but more recent performances in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers should have opponents on edge. His four goals in three games back in March included an impressive hat trick against the Netherlands, becoming the first player to net a treble against the Dutch since West Germany’s Klaus Allofs in 1980.
Despite his advancing years, this will only be Yılmaz’s second international tournament after Euro 2016, where he scored in the final group game against the Czech Republic. As the oldest player in their squad, the captain will look to lead by example and overtake Bülent Korkmaz’s 19-year record as the oldest Turkish goalscorer at an international tournament.
Turkey will be counting on him.
Thibaut Courtois – Belgium
There’s little doubt Thibaut Courtois is one of the best goalkeepers at Euro 2020, especially with Jan Oblak’s Slovenia absent from the tournament. It was Oblak’s Atlético Madrid side that won La Liga ahead of Courtois’ Real Madrid, but the 29-year-old will hope to put disappointment at club level behind him with European Championship glory with Belgium.
On a personal level, it’s been a successful season for Courtois. His 21 clean sheets in all competitions for Real Madrid was only beaten by Yassine Bounou (23) among all La Liga goalkeepers in 2020-21. His 76.1% La Liga save rate was only bettered within the top five European leagues by two goalkeepers to play 30+ games last season: Oblak (80%) and Lille’s Mike Maignan (79%).
Across all competitions in 2020-21, Courtois’ goalkeeping prevented just over eight goals (8.3) from being conceded based on the shot quality of efforts faced on target for Real Madrid. In La Liga alone, Courtois’ goals prevented rate was six (excluding own goals), which was only lower than that of Oblak’s 11.6 and Édgar Badia’s 8.1 for Elche.
Since the start of European Championship qualifiers in March 2019, Courtois has conceded just six goals in 13 competitive appearances while keeping eight clean sheets. But most importantly, he’s been well protected by a solid defence that has allowed a total of only 7.3 expected goals on target in these matches (0.56 per game).
If Belgium are to pick up their first-ever major international title, then Courtois’ performances will be an integral part of that success.
Owen Wijndal – Netherlands
Excellent, rounded left backs are hard to find in 2021 – unless you’re Scotland’s manager. The Netherlands know this all too well, with a case in point being Daley Blind. Despite always playing centrally at club level, he racked up a number of his caps on the international stage filling the left-sided defensive gap in the Dutch side.
Following an injury to influential captain Virgil van Dijk and the necessity of Blind moving to central defence as cover, 21-year-old Owen Wijndal seized his opportunity.
Wijndal has enjoyed a fantastic season domestically at AZ Alkmaar and looks set to move to a club within the top five European leagues this summer. He made his full Dutch debut in October last year and has now become a regular starter, preferred over more experienced players such as Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt and Manchester City’s Nathan Aké.
Wijndal ticks a lot of boxes of the modern full back wish list. His duel success was the joint-sixth best (62%) of the 41 Eredivisie defenders to be involved in 200+ duels in 2020-21, but it’s his attacking output that shines through. He contributed six assists and 46 chances created from open play in the Eredivisie last season. No defender posted more, while only one defender recorded more touches in the opposition box (104). Only Ajax’s Nicolás Tagliafico (6.7) and PSV’s Denzel Dumfries (5.3) had a higher expected assists total than the AZ full back (5.1) from all defenders, too.
Wijndal was involved in 149 shot-ending sequences, more than any other defender in the Eredivisie, while the ever-energetic Dutchman was one of only two outfield players to play every minute in the Eredivisie in 2020-21. We expect him to make an impact at Euro 2020 for the Netherlands.
Jadon Sancho – England
Out of sight, but far from England’s mind. After missing their World Cup qualifiers at the start of the year through injury, Jadon Sancho returns to the fold ahead of another grand platform in his young career: his first major international tournament.
Sancho has only made seven starts in competitive action for England so far, and it’s true that he’s yet to truly find his feet on the international stage. If his club form in recent seasons is anything to go by, however, it truly is only a matter of time. The 21-year-old is primed for an explosion, and England will be hoping Euro 2020 provides the scene.
No player made more assists from carries than Sancho (seven) across the top five European leagues last season, while the youngster was also among the group of players to record 10+ direct goal involvements from carries – this all despite playing just 68% of possible minutes in the Bundesliga in 2020-21.
England’s last game at the European Championships was their historic defeat versus Iceland in 2016; an encounter characterised by their inability to create chances against the deep defensive block of Lars Lagerbäck’s side. Should England find themselves in a similar situation this time they should look no further than Sancho for some assistance, quite literally.
Since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, Sancho’s 41 assists in the Bundesliga is only bettered across the top five European leagues by Thomas Müller (48) and Lionel Messi (43). At just 21, the Dortmund man already has a track record as one of the leading creative forces in Europe.
The attacking composition of Gareth Southgate’s side is still to be determined, but the figure of Sancho will loom large in his thoughts. Even if the extent of his contribution comes as a substitute at Euro 2020, the young winger could well be the Three Lions’ trump card.
Kylian Mbappé – France
After setting the 2018 FIFA World Cup alight, becoming the second-youngest goal scorer in a World Cup final behind the legendary Pelé, it’ll be an understatement to say that much is expected from Kylian Mbappé at a Euro 2020 tournament where his French side are favourites.
The youngster has confirmed his incredible potential over the last three seasons by finishing as Ligue 1 top scorer – the first to do so since Jean-Pierre Papin (five seasons between 1987-88 and 1991-92) – and becoming the youngest player to reach 100 Ligue 1 goals when aged just 22 years and 91 days old upon hitting the century in March.
But Mbappé is now much more than a promise; he is the true star of not only PSG but of Ligue 1. Since the 2018 World Cup triumph, he has scored twice as many goals as any other player in the top flight (78). Ironically, the only one of the 26 teams he has played against without scoring in his top-flight career are Paris Saint-Germain, when he was playing for Monaco. The other 25 have already fallen against the ‘Génie Français.’
Not only is he the top scorer in Ligue 1 since the start of 2018-19, but he’s also attempted the most shots (316), shots on target (175) and has the highest expected goals total (65.8) with an overperformance of 12.2 with his 78 goals. Twenty-seven of his goals (35%) have come following a ball carry over the last three seasons, which is the joint-most of any player in the top five European leagues in this time alongside Lionel Messi – decent company to keep.
Since his four goals at the 2018 World Cup, Mbappé has scored just six more in 16 competitive appearances for France, but we’ve seen the precocious talent come alive on the big stage before and there’s little doubt it’ll happen again. The return of Karim Benzema reshuffles the cards in the French attacking line-up, but one thing remains certain: it will be led by Mbappé.
Thomas Müller – Germany
After unexpected elimination in the group stage of 2018 World Cup, there was a shake-up of the German team that also affected Thomas Müller. Before his recall, he’d last played for Germany in November 2018.
Ushering in a new generation seemed necessary, but the performances of Müller at club level for Bayern Munich meant that there was no way Joachim Löw could ignore him for Euro 2020 after nearly three years’ absence.
He played a major role in Bayern’s ninth consecutive championship during the 2020-21 Bundesliga, as the only player with double figures of goals (11) and assists (18) in the competition. No other player was involved in as many open-play sequences ending with a shot as Müller (186), with 14 of these being the final pass before a goal.
The Euros have historically been a sore subject for Müller. This will be his third participation in the tournament after 2012 and 2016, where Germany lost in the semi-finals. He’s failed to score a single goal in 11 previous appearances and more than 14 hours on the pitch despite attempting 25 shots. It’s an odd statistic considering he has such an impressive World Cup tournament record (10 goals in 16 games).
With 27 finals appearances across the Euros (11) and World Cup (16), only six German players are more experienced in tournament football than Müller, none of whom feature in this squad. With some exciting young talent in the Germany team this summer, they’ll be counting on his experience – and goal involvements – to guide them.
Robert Lewandowski – Poland
Poland have entered each of the last two major international tournaments as an opponent that most would want to avoid, mostly thanks to having one of the best strikers in world football – Robert Lewandowski.
Unfortunately for the Poles and their star player, both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 ended in disappointment, and much of the blame was left at the feet of Lewandowski, having scored just two goals in 11 matches.
Euro 2020 could be a different story, as Lewandowski comes off his best season at club level. In scoring 41 league goals for champions Bayern Munich, he broke Gerd Müller’s record of 40 goals from the 1971-72 Bundesliga – long considered unbreakable.
2020-21 hasn’t been an anomaly for Lewandowski. Since the end of the 2018 World Cup until now, the striker has scored a frightening 143 goals in 134 club games for Bayern – more than any other player across the top five European leagues in all competitions and 23 more than the nearest rival, Lionel Messi (120 in 141 games). This led to him finally picking up the accolades that he long deserved: the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year in 2019-20 and the Best FIFA Men’s Player in 2020.
To truly unleash his star, Polish head coach Paulo Sousa will have to look no further than to where his star operates at the domestic level. Every fifth touch that Lewandowski had in the Bundesliga this season was in the opposition box (20.1%). Compare that to Euro 2016 (5.1%), World Cup 2018 (7%) and even the qualifiers for these finals (11.6%), then it becomes obvious that Sousa will need to make sure Lewandowski is spending more time in the opponent’s penalty area this summer.
Nico Elvedi – Switzerland
Despite his relatively young age (24), Nico Elvedi has already become an integral part of the Swiss national side under Vladimir Petković. It’s a drawn-out cliché to describe a player of Swiss nationality as both accurate and reliable, but it’s true when describing the key attributes of the defender.
2020-21 was Elvedi’s sixth Bundesliga season at Borussia Mönchengladbach, and over that time he’s played more games (170) and minutes (14,357) than any other outfielder at the club. Twenty-nine of those appearances came in their 34 Bundesliga matches in 2020-21, and he is a vital part in the build up play for his side.
The central defender completed 91.2% of his passes in the German top. flight last season, and only one player in the entire league completed a higher proportion among those to attempt at least 1,000 passes. He was also key in winning the ball back and building passing sequences for Gladbach, with a team-high 166 occasions of regaining control of the ball from the opposition and initiating the first open-play sequence in a possession.
As well as being an accomplished passer, Elvedi is also strong in the challenge, winning over 62% of his duels in the 2020-21 Bundesliga. With both a duel success exceeding 60% and a passing accuracy over 90%, he is only one of five players since Bundesliga records began in these metrics (2004-05) to exceed those markers in three different seasons alongside Roel Brouwers, Holger Badstuber, Dante and Niklas Süle.
Elvedi has played every single competitive game for the Swiss national team under Petković since the start of 2019-20, and looking at the data to assess how reliable he is, that comes as no surprise.
Willi Orban – Hungary
If you’re a central defender that’s a regular part of the best defence in one of the top five European leagues, then you must be doing something right. If you were at the only club to stop Robert Lewandowski from scoring during his record-breaking Bundesliga season, then that’s a good sign. And if your group stage opponents are Portugal, France and Germany, then good luck.
Willi Orban was promoted to the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig in 2016 and is a cornerstone of their backline. With 2,361 minutes of top-flight German action in 2020-21, he was the most-used outfielder for a club that conceded the fewest goals in the Bundesliga (32).
Don’t be fooled by his friendly demeanor. Orban shines with his physicality and holds his own in winning 65% of duels. Of the 71 Bundesliga players involved in at least 250 duels, only Dortmund’s Matt Hummels (69%) exceeded Orban’s success rate. In addition, the Hungarian is a master of anticipation as 21% of prevented opposition direct plays were stopped by Orban, while he also made 40 interceptions – both the highest values at Leipzig.
Stats Perform’s role detection model classifies him as Defensive Recycler as he operates in a low central zone and continually offers himself as a passing option. His teammates identified him 4,716 times as a possible pass receiver – the top player in the Bundesliga within his role.
Orban had the perfect balance of destroying opposition build up play but also contributing at the other end of the pitch for Leipzig. He was involved in 9% of their fast-tempo sequences in possession – only Kevin Kampl (10%) was more involved. That’s a significant rate in part because Leipzig complete the highest number of fast-tempo sequences per match (11.5) in the Bundesliga.
The Hungarian is also a threat on set plays. He scored four times in the 2020-21 Bundesliga and was also the top scorer for Hungary in Euro 2020 qualifiers, and all seven of those goals came via set-piece situations. No player in the Bundesliga last season had a higher xG total from shots following corners and crosses than Orban (3.6), while only Hummels (24) and Lewandowski (22) had more goal attempts than he did (21) from these scenarios.
Karim Benzema – France
Andrea La Perna
Despite a near six-year absence from international football, Karim Benzema was recalled to the French squad for Euro 2020. The Real Madrid forward missed the 2018 World Cup triumph and played no part in their run to the final in the last Euros in 2016, but nevertheless will be an integral part of a French squad looking to win back-to-back international tournaments.
Perhaps vexed to see Les Bleus crowned champions without him, Benzema has earned his place and found forgiveness from Didier Deschamps by scoring 20+ league goals in each of the last three seasons, something he only did three times across his first 14 professional seasons: 2007-08 with Lyon, in 2011-12 and in 2015-16 with Real Madrid. Between his final appearance for France in October 2015 and the end of the 2020-21 domestic season, no French player has been involved in more goals within the top five European leagues than Benzema (144), one ahead of Kylian Mbappé (143).
Benzema will have to find a place in a French squad that’s already one of the most talented at the tournament. In attack, the designated leader is Antoine Griezmann, who has been involved in a team-high 20 goals for Les Bleus since World Cup 2018 (13 goals, seven assists) while he’ll also need to avoid thwarting the rise of Kylian Mbappé, who scored his 16th international goal at the age of 21 years and 299 days: four times as many as Karim Benzema at the same age (four).
The Frenchman’s ability to adapt and be a provider to teammates as well as scoring is another string to Benzema’s well-stocked bow. He excelled in this role at Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018 alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, delivering 67 assists in La Liga over that period – the third-highest total over the period behind Messi (112) and Ronaldo himself (87). Despite his highest La Liga goal tally in five seasons (23), Benzema posted the fifth-highest expected assists total in 2020-21, and the highest of any Real Madrid player (6.1).
This could well be Benzema’s last-ever international tournament. After a decorated club career that’s seen him win seven top-flight league and four Champions League titles, Euro 2020 could be his first success with the French senior side.
Lorenzo Insigne – Italy
After their unexpected absence at the 2018 World Cup, Italy return to tournament football for the first time since the heartache of a penalty shootout defeat to Germany in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. Back then, Lorenzo Insigne played just 36 minutes for Italy, but thanks to Roberto Mancini’s belief in the forward, we can expect to see a lot more of him this summer.
Insigne is yet to start a single match at a finals tournament for Italy, despite four appearances across World Cups and European Championships. Expect that to change in the opening match of Euro 2020 versus Turkey as he’s started four of Italy’s last five competitive matches under Mancini.
The forward comes into Euro 2020 off the back of his best-ever scoring return in a top-flight league season, netting 19 goals with 11 coming from open play in addition to seven penalties and one free kick.
Insigne certainly likes to shoot, with 4.5 shots per 90 last season in Serie A and an average that only Cristiano Ronaldo (5.4) bettered among players to play at least 1,500 minutes. The issue with the Napoli forward’s shooting is that it’s often from unrealistic scoring positions in open play.
Of the 15 players to attempt the most non-penalty shots in Serie A during 2020-21, Insigne had the lowest expected goals per shot average at 0.07, meaning on average you’d expect a player to score with 7% of those shots. Compare that to players like Romelu Lukaku (0.20) and Cristiano Ronaldo (0.14), and it becomes evident that Insigne’s shoot-on-sight ethos can sometimes be detrimental.
Not only did the Napoli forward cause problems in front of goal last season, but he was one of the most creative players in Serie A. Of players to play at least 2,000 minutes in 2020-21, only Achraf Hakimi (0.23) had a higher expected assists per 90 average from open play than Insigne (0.20). With 54 chances created in open play, Insigne ranked third in Serie A last season – only Luis Alberto (59) and Ruslan Malinovskiy (57) created more.
In Insigne, Italy have both a goal threat and a creative problem for opposition defences. Mancini will hope to unleash that potential in an international tournament for the first time.
Gerard Moreno – Spain
Spain’s last three major international tournament appearances haven’t lived up to expectations. A group stage elimination at World Cup 2014 followed by last 16 exits at both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 were hugely underwhelming after dominating the football world between 2008 and 2012. Euro 2020 could be different, however, thanks in part to the goalscoring prowess of Gerard Moreno.
2020-21 was Moreno’s best-ever season as a professional, with 30 club goals in all competitions and 23 in La Liga alone. Since the start of 2019-10, Moreno is one of only three players with 40+ La Liga goals (41), with just Lionel Messi (55) and Karim Benzema (44) having scored more in that period.
His goal in the 2021 UEFA Europa League final – which secured Villarreal their first-ever major trophy, was his 30th in all competitions across 2020-21. In reaching this tally, he became the first player to reach 30 goals for the club within a single season since Giuseppe Rossi in 2010-11 (32). Furthermore, his 23 La Liga goals were the most by a Spanish player in the competition since Diego Costa in 2013-14 (27).
With five goals in eight competitive caps for Spain so far, averaging a goal every 75 minutes, he has shown he can perform on the international stage.
There’s no hiding from the fact that Moreno’s goal tally was inflated by the number of penalties he took last season. With 10 goals from 10 penalty attempts, only Franck Kessié (13) and Wissam Ben Yedder (12) attempted more across the top five European leagues in 2020-21, with the former the only player to score more often (11).
Moreno has scored his last 14 competitive penalties for club and country, including an important spot-kick in the shootout against Manchester United to help his side to European glory in May. Should Spain need a reliable penalty taker this summer, they need look no further.
Saša Kalajdžić – Austria
After a miserable Euro 2016 campaign that saw them finish bottom of their group and failing to even qualify for the last World Cup in 2018, Austria are hoping to make it to the knockout stage of the European Championships for the first time ever.
They scored only one goal in their three matches at the 2016 tournament, but with VfB Stuttgart striker Saša Kalajdžić in the squad this time around, they’ll hope his aerial threat brings them more joy in front of goal.
Standing at exactly two metres, Kalajdžić was the tallest Bundesliga player in 2020-21, and the Austrian made good use of his size with half of is 16 league goals coming from headers. This tally was the joint-highest across the top five European leagues, level with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Andre Silva, and came from just 13 headed shots on target.
Kalajdžić was Stuttgart’s top scorer and outperformed his expected goals total of 10.4 by nearly six goals – only 41-goal Robert Lewandowski outscored his xG by a larger margin in the German top flight last season (+8.8).
The 23-year-old added five assists in the Bundesliga last season with all coming from open play. No Stuttgart player assisted more goals in open play, while only Borna Sosa created more chances from open play than the Austrian (26) at the club.
He only made his debut for the Austrian side in October 2020 but has certainly made an impact since then, scoring three goals in three World Cup qualifiers in March, including a brace in a 2-2 draw with Scotland in Glasgow. As the youngest option in a group of forwards that have no shortage of height within the Austrian squad, Kalajdžić could well be the man that makes the difference.
Sergio Busquets – Spain
With the exclusion of Sergio Ramos from Spain’s Euro 2020 squad, Sergio Busquets will be the oldest and most experienced player in the Spanish selection this summer.
Only six players have won more caps for Spain than Busquets, and one of his roles as captain this summer will be to make sure his experience of winning the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championships in 2012 will rub off on the younger players and create a winning mentality within the squad. Alongside Jordi Alba, Busquets is one of only two players that remain in the Spanish squad from their 2012 Euro success.
In the Spanish top flight last season, Busquets was the key man in breaking up opposition attacks and regaining possession of the ball. He made the most tackles (63), most interceptions (53) and led his Barcelona teammates with 130 occasions of regaining control of the ball from the opposition and initiating the first open-play sequence in a possession. He was also key in Spain’s March 2021 World Cup qualifiers in this metric, topping his national team ranking with 14 despite only playing for 155 of the possible 270 minutes.
It’s not only ball-winning attributes that Busquets’s inclusion in the Spanish squad for Euro 2020 becomes vital, but also his range of passing.
Busquets led La Liga with 87 successful passes per 90 in 2020-21. He has never posted a higher average than this in any of his 13 seasons in the Spanish top flight, proving that despite a lack of pace and turning 33 years old in July, he still plays a crucial role in the Barcelona midfield.
David Turnbull – Scotland
2020-21 is a season Celtic will be hoping to put behind them as quickly as possible, relinquishing the Scottish top-flight title to Rangers for the first time since 2010-11.
David Turnbull, though, was one of very few positives.
Turnbull has essentially had two breakout seasons – one in 2018-19 with Motherwell, scoring 15 goals from midfield aged only 19, and another in 2020-21 with Celtic, winning the league’s Young Player of the Year award, as well as being named both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year at the Bhoys.
He would’ve made a name for himself at Celtic earlier if not for the discovery of a serious knee problem in 2019 that saw his transfer from Motherwell collapse. When Celtic returned at the start of 2020-21 with his health no longer a concern, it’s fair to say he made up for lost time.
Turnbull is an incredibly busy player, impossible to ignore on the pitch such is his extreme activity. The Scot averaged 3.1 shots per 90 and 3.7 chances created per 90 in the Scottish Premiership season just gone, for a combined figure of 6.8 – comfortably the highest in the division. Compared to those in Europe’s top five leagues, the only two players with 2,000+ minutes played to put up a higher combined number were Lionel Messi (8.1) and Kevin De Bruyne (7.2).
His 0.39 expected assists per 90 was the best of any player in the Scottish Premiership in 2020-21, with an almost even split coming from open play (0.22) and set pieces (0.16). Given Scotland won’t expect to dominate sides, Turnbull’s dead-ball ability could be a key weapon.
Sceptics may argue numbers from domestic football in Scotland are unlikely to transfer well to an international tournament against the best players in the world, but in his only Europa League appearance this season, he both scored and assisted against Ligue 1 champions Lille, the side with the meanest defence in Europe’s top five leagues in 2020-21. Turnbull is ready.
Glen Kamara – Finland
Finland will be making their major tournament debut when they kick-off against Denmark in Copenhagen on June 12. Reaching Euro 2020 was due in no small part to Teemu Pukki’s 10 goals in qualification, but midfielder Glen Kamara played a quiet, yet vital midfield role for Markku Kanerva’s side.
No player appeared more often on the pitch during the qualifiers for this tournament than Kamara (897 minutes – level with Robin Lod). He’s enjoyed a brilliant domestic campaign in Scotland with Rangers as they ran away with the Premiership title, while reaching the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League under the stewardship of Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard’s influence on Kamara is plain to see, as the Finnish midfielder performed wonders in in the Scottish top flight in 2020-21, completing a league-high 91% of passes and being only one of three midfielders to average over 70 successful passes per game.
It was not just the Scottish Premiership where Kamara showed how comfortable he is on the ball. In the Europa League, he had the fourth-highest passing accuracy within the opposition half of all players with 10+ appearances (86%), behind three Spaniards (Dani Parejo, Gonzalo Villar and Dani Ceballos).
Kamara was involved in 26 shot-ending build up sequences within the 2020-21 Europa League. Just two midfielders were involved in more of these sequences, demonstrating Kamara’s ability to elevate Rangers’ possession play to dangerous situations with smart passing. His talent will prove important for Finland at Euro 2020 with Kanerva needing Kamara to provide the solid central figure.
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