Euro 2020 is just around the corner now and the chants of ‘football’s coming home’ are growing louder by the minute around England. There is a lot of promise and expectation on the shoulders of Gareth Southgate and he knows all too well what it is like to defeat the Scots at a Euros. All four sides in group D have some intriguing players and so here is two for each to keep an eye on…
Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in 2018 was inspired by a lot of players who are now the wrong side of thirty, so the mantle falls upon a new generation. Mario Mandzukic was the experienced head in the final third but he is now not even in the squad. After a strong season with Osasuna, Ante Budimir has got the call up alongside the likes of Andrej Kramaric and Milan’s Ante Rebic. The latter of the three hasn’t been a nailed on starter under Stefano Pioli due to the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic amongst others, yet has still contributed to fifteen goals in 27 appearances (20 of which were starts). It remains to be seen how prevalently Rebic will feature under Zlatko Dalic but I think if he gets the opportunities, he is the main attacking threat for a Croatia team with a point to prove.
Dropping down from Mandzukic to the midfield and whilst Mateo Kovacic is fresh off of Champions League victory, something which is all too familiar to him, Luka Modric being 35 now and Ivan Rakitic not making the cut either. If Dalic goes for a midfield three then it seems hard to look past Modric, Kovacic and Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic but Mario Pasalic stands out to me. The former Chelsea man is part of Gasperini’s Atalanta who are ogled by neutrals all over the world, joining the Italian side permanently after a success loan spell there away from Spartak Moscow. Pasalic has been in the international fold for several years now but the position he plays has always been well loaded so his chances have been few and far between, what better time to stake your claim for the future?
The first of two Czech Republic players and it’s Sampdoria’s wide-man Jakub Jankto. Interestingly he has often been deployed on the left by Claudio Ranieri yet his output is more impressive on the opposite flank; seven goal contributions in nine games trumping five in eighteen on the left. On to the national team though and in a strong World Cup qualifying campaign to date, Jankto has scored one and assisted two in 208 minutes which is a surprisingly strong record, one which if continued into the Euros would be truly remarkable.
On paper it should be a contest between Scotland and Czech Republic to finish third and the West Ham duo for the latter could be a sign of more to come. Thomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal have been snapped up for an absolute bargain by David Moyes and given their recent transfer record, it is baffling how the pair have excelled so much this season on the way to Europa League football. Their emergence to a wider audience could mean that this squad is littered with unearthed talent and this could be where they hit unforeseen heights. Coufal has been overlooked by many for what he’s done in the claret and blue- there’s no better side to show up against than England themselves and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he has a superb tournament.
The first England man to make this list does so for a different reason as his absence may well be detrimental for Gareth Southgate. It is almost certain that the Manchester United centre-half won’t be playing in the opening game against Croatia and given that he’s not back in team training yet, he could be there for nothing more than moral support. Maguire and Jordan Henderson are the injury plagued duo but the drop-off from the Liverpool captain to his competition in that position is a lot less severe than that of Maguire and co. John Stones has always struggled when being the number one whereas, alongside Maguire and with Man City, Ruben Dias, he can perform. Whether he is partnered by Mings, Coady or Ben White, Stones will be prone to being a liability and that is due to Maguire being missing!
On a slightly more positive note now and it is no surprise that England will operate best in the attacking areas. There are a lot of options surrounding Harry Kane that can be a creative drive and whilst Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden are aggressive and fearless dribblers, Mason Mount is often more conservative. Fresh off of lifting the Champions League after assisting the only goal of the final, Mount has been integral under both Lampard and Tuchel and the likelihood is this will remain the case for the Three Lions. He plays well going both ways and whilst the basic conception may see him as an attacking midfielder, he could offer a lot more than that whilst whoever starts ahead of him can solely focus on going forward. Can he add to his ever-growing trophy cabinet?
Without wanting to be too obvious and blatant, when it comes to Scotland you have to talk about one of their two elite left-backs. Kieran Tierney is often the one to be sacrificed and used as a left centre-back and thus allowing Liverpool’s Andy Robertson to remain in his preferred position. It would be easy enough to overlook the Scots and resign them to fourth in group D but a spine of players playing in England, the Premier League primarily, has them looking strong. Che Adams will lead the line, the two aforementioned defenders along with John McGinn and Scott McTominay in the middle of the park. Back to Robertson though and it is still hard to argue, despite Liverpool’s less than stellar season, that anyone bar him is the best left-back in world football.
One issue being levelled at Steve Clarke’s side is that they may not score enough goals at the Euros but I think there are a few names that could prove the doubters wrong. Southampton’s Che Adams is probably going to start up front but there is his club teammate Stuart Armstrong and then a few current Celtic players; Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and the man in question James Forrest. The winger has been battling injuries over the last twelve or eighteen months but after getting some minutes under his belt in the latter stages of the season, he’s made the squad and is hopefully ready to go. His pace and creativity could see him linkup well with his Celtic companions as well as Che Adams or, if he plays, QPR’s big-man Lyndon Dykes.