Euro 2020 is just days away, and that means the rumour mill is about to go into overdrive.

International tournaments always represent something of a showcase for clubs seeking reinforcements and this year will be no different, even if the impact of the pandemic means spending may not quite reach levels of old.

There will be several players eager to impress at these finals: some will be long-term targets out to justify the hype, while others will be seeking a new challenge as contracts begin to wind down.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform has compiled a list of some of the candidates vying to be front and centre of this particular shop window...

 

Belgium: Jeremy Doku

One of Belgium's less-known attacking stars, Jeremy Doku was directly involved in 10 goals in the Jupiler League by the time he was 18 years and 115 days old, a record bettered only by Romelu Lukaku.

Previously wanted by Liverpool, the Rennes forward could become a target for Jurgen Klopp – thought to be exploring new attacking options – should he be given the chance to impress by Roberto Martinez.

Croatia: Bruno Petkovic

"Bruno Petkovic has to be at Euro 2020 what [Mario] Mandzukic was in Russia," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic last month. No pressure, then.

Still, the Dinamo Zagreb forward impressed in last season's Europa League with four goals in nine starts and could represent a relatively low-cost option in the market.

England: Jadon Sancho

The star performer as Borussia Dortmund won the DFB-Pokal final, Jadon Sancho was the first English player since David Beckham 20 years ago to register at least 10 assists for three seasons in a row in Europe's top-five leagues.

Manchester United continue to be mooted as the winger's most likely destination should he leave Dortmund, but a star turn at the Euros could trigger a bidding war among some of the biggest clubs.

France: Jules Kounde

Getting into the France starting line-up is no easy task these days, but Jules Kounde could well force Didier Deschamps' hand given the qualities he brings to centre-back.

An accomplished stopper, the Sevilla man is also impeccable on the ball: he made 887 forward passes in LaLiga last season, the most of any outfield player. Little wonder that Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been linked.

Germany: Florian Neuhaus

Given he has been linked with Bayern Munich for months now, Florian Neuhaus must be doing something right.

The 108th Germany debutant under Joachim Low, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder could well find himself in high demand in the transfer window should he earn a regular spot at the Euros.

Italy: Manuel Locatelli

The heartbeat of a vibrant Sassuolo side, Manuel Locatelli in January became the first Italian player born after January 1, 1998 to record 10 Serie A assists.

Juventus are considered his likely next destination, but there are reports of interest from the Premier League, which would likely only increase in number should he shine at the Euros.

Netherlands: Memphis Depay

It appears likely Memphis Depay will leave Lyon for Barcelona on a free transfer, but, as long as that deal is not concluded, other clubs may sense the chance to snap up the forward.

Depay just became the first Lyon player to register at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single Ligue 1 season since at least 2006-07 and looks like one of the Oranje's form players.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

At just 17, Kacper Kozlowski has established himself in the Pogon Szczecin first team, something made all-the-more remarkable given he was badly injured in a car crash in January 2020.

Although a name not well known outside Poland, the midfielder has been scouted by Manchester United and interest across the continent could well pick up after this tournament.

 

Portugal: Nuno Mendes

Considered one of Portugal's brightest prospects, Nuno Mendes has already been linked with the Manchester clubs after shining for Sporting CP.

Interest in the 18-year-old is only likely to increase should he perform well at the Euros, especially if he ousts Raphael Guerreiro from the side, and Sporting would surely be prepared to sell for a handsome fee.

 

Russia: Denis Cheryshev

Zero goas in 21 games for Valencia in LaLiga last season underlined a frustrating spell for Denis Cheryshev at club level.

The 30-year-old was Russia's star performer at the World Cup three years ago, though, and the Euros offer a good chance to tempt any possible suitors as he considers his future.

Spain: Pau Torres

Pau Torres was at the heart of Villarreal's Europa League triumph. In fact, he made nine appearances without being dribbled past, a single-season tally only bettered twice in the competition's history.

The centre-back has made it clear he is happy at the club, but strong performances for Spain could tempt suitors including Manchester United to test Villarreal's resolve to keep him.

Sweden: Alexander Isak

Linked with Barcelona during the season, Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak broke Zlatan Ibrahimovic's record for most goals by a Swede in a single LaLiga campaign by scoring 17 in 2020-21.

With Ibrahimovic missing these finals due to injury, 21-year-old Isak has a good opportunity to impress on the international stage.

Switzerland: Denis Zakaria

With his contract expiring next year, Denis Zakaria could be a more affordable midfield signing for any clubs willing to tempt Borussia Monchengladbach into a sale.

The 24-year-old offers great variety to the Switzerland midfield and English sides are expected to be watching him closely at these finals.

Ukraine: Ruslan Malinovskiy

Ruslan Malinovskiy is another Atalanta player to catch the eye under Gian Piero Gasperini. He was directly involved in a goal every 94 minutes in Serie A in 2020-21, the most of any midfielder to play at least 15 times.

Now 28, this could be his best chance to secure a significant transfer should he decide to leave Bergamo, and there have been rumblings of interest from Chelsea.

Wales: Gareth Bale

With 11 goals in 10 Premier League starts in 2020-21, Gareth Bale registered the best minutes-per-goal ratio (84) of any of the competition's top goalscorers.

He is returning to Real Madrid following his loan at Tottenham and Carlo Ancelotti appears keen to keep him, but heroics for Wales could encourage suitors to bid.

Luis Enrique issued a strong defence of Alvaro Morata after a 0-0 draw with Portugal that saw debutant Aymeric Laporte impress the Spain boss ahead of Euro 2020.

The 2012 winners were unable to find a way through against the reigning champions as the two neighbouring nations met in a friendly fixture as part of their preparations for this year's tournament.

However, Spain saw Morata fail to convert a glorious late chance at the Wanda Metropolitano, his attempt when clean through hitting the crossbar.

It was one of four shots by the striker during proceedings, of which only one ended up on target. Still, he did make two key passes and, despite the crowd getting on his case following the miss, his head coach was more than happy with what he saw.

"I am not worried about it," Luis Enrique said when asked about the 28-year-old.

"The last play saw Morata kill himself to pressure. He has been a constant nuisance for the Portuguese, doing an incredible job, and in the 90th minute he is able to make a 40-metre action, fool the goalkeeper and then has bad luck when hitting the crossbar. 

"I think that's something to be applauded. I have seen him very well in terms of his morale, he is already used to it [the criticism]."

There were also whistles at full-time after the hosts failed to capitalise on their dominance. Spain had 65.7 per cent of possession which led to 10 attempts, albeit Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio only had to make two saves.

"I haven't seen anyone whistle at me. I do not care. Yes, it bothers me that it is done to the players," a defiant Luis Enrique said.

"Everyone can do what they want, but I just found out now. I understand my role, I know what it means to be a public figure.

"But people praise me and even blow me kisses, so I feel loved and in Madrid I am delighted."

Laporte was clearly one of the positives to come out of the fixture for Spain, the Manchester City defender combining with fellow centre-back Pau Torres to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet.

After Portugal had just one on-target attempt during the contest, Luis Enrique said: "I have seen it as expected, very good. It is not common and normal to have two left-sided central defenders, but I have played many years with right central defenders and it does not surprise anyone.

"It is difficult to find two left-sided central defenders of this quality. They have been exceptional, dominating in the air, in passing the ball, putting pressure on the Portuguese forwards. They were outstanding."

Spain and Portugal drew 0-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano on Friday in an engaging warm-up friendly ahead of Euro 2020.

The previous two champions of Europe could not be separated in Madrid as Alvaro Morata and Diogo Jota missed the pick of the chances.

Luis Enrique and Fernando Santos named strong starting line-ups for an energetic first half, with Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte winning his first cap at the heart of the Spanish defence.

Laporte was a little fortunate not to be punished with 21 minutes left as Cristiano Ronaldo got free in the box before heading wide from one of the quieter second half's few good openings.

After a slick start in possession, Spain looked to have conceded from Portugal's first attack, but Jose Fonte's powerful header was disallowed for a push.

Ferran Torres missed Spain's first clear-cut chance, nodding wide at the far post after Morata crossed expertly from the left.

Ronaldo and Renato Sanches combined well to trigger a counter-attack, and the Portugal captain was almost presented with a chance when Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon's attempted clearance cannoned off the Juventus star.

Morata threatened twice just after the restart, denied by Simon and then by a Fonte block, with his follow-up effort bobbling wide, before Pablo Sarabia steered a good chance over the bar.

Portugal then should have taken the lead on the hour mark, Jota's header from six yards out deflected over after Ronaldo clipped a cross to the left-hand post.

Ronaldo then glanced wide from Bruno Fernandes' wicked delivery, Laporte given a let-off after allowing the forward a free header in the box.

Koke almost forced the winner in the closing minutes, his free-kick from the left of the box parried away by Rui Patricio before it could creep into the bottom-right corner. Morata should have won the contest in injury time, but could only rattle the crossbar after being gifted a free run at goal.

 

What does it mean? Euros heavyweights in need of sharpening before finals

Each of these sides have reason to be pleased with their performance on Friday, although a few more training sessions for the forwards would not go amiss.

There were just three efforts on target in the contest and two of those came in the dying minutes through Koke's free-kick, which was glanced on by Torres, and a last-gasp header from Danilo Pereira that Simon saved comfortably. 

Busquets doing the old guard proud

Sergio Busquets is one of the few surviving bastions of Spain's 2008-2012 dominance of the international stage, keeping his place in the squad despite not always looking his sharpest for Barcelona in 2020-21.

He managed 63 commanding minutes here at the heart of midfield, winning back possession 12 times and making 34 passes in the Portugal half – each game-high totals during his time on the pitch.

Few home comforts for Joao Felix

Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix gave the home fans few reasons to worry in his 45-minute outing.

Ill-suited to Portugal's early counter-attacking play, he completed only six passes before being withdrawn at the break for debutant Pote.

What's next?

Each side has one more warm-up game before their Euros campaigns start. Spain face Lithuania in Leganes on Tuesday, while Portugal host Israel in Lisbon on Wednesday.

After a year's delay, Euro 2020 will finally get under way when Italy take on Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11.

Some of the world's top talents will be on display in the month-long tournament, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

But away from the elite players, there are a clutch of others looking to overshadow those aforementioned names and leave their own mark on the pan-European competition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform picks out eight under-the-radar stars – those that would not necessarily be considered as one of the favourites for individual honours before a ball is kicked – ahead of the tournament.

 

Federico Chiesa (Italy and Juventus)

Juventus may have endured one of their worst campaigns in recent memory last time out, but Chiesa can hold his head up high after impressing in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.

He was the man for the big occasions, scoring a couple of goals in January's league victory over Milan and the winner in Juve's Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

The 23-year-old was a regular threat down both flanks ​– only Benevento forward Riccardo Improta (77, 29.87 per cent) had more open-play crosses in Serie A last season with a higher success rate than Chiesa (69, 27.54 per cent).

That ability to both create and score goals, plus his never-say-die spirit – best embodied by his three goals in two legs of the Champions League last-16 knockout defeat to Porto – means he is already a fan favourite in Turin.

"He tries to ignite the fans at home on the couch to let them feel the game like the players in the pitch," former Juve striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Stats Perform. 

"He always sends a strong message to Juventus fans, the true DNA of Juventus of never giving up like it says in the motto: 'Till the end'."

 

Alexander Isak (Sweden and Real Sociedad)

Whisper it quietly, but Sweden may have a new superstar forward emerging to rival the legendary figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Isak's 17 strikes in 34 league appearances for Real Sociedad last season saw him become the Swede with the most goals in a single LaLiga campaign, surpassing Ibrahimovic's 16 for Barcelona in 2009-10.

He may be tall and blessed with great technical ability, but Isak is a lot different to Ibrahimovic – ruled out of Euro 2020 with a knee injury – in terms of his playing style.

And with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City reportedly keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, it may well be one day that other youngsters from the Scandinavian country are described as 'the next Isak'.

 

Unai Simon (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)

Luis Enrique has not shied away from putting his faith in youth at the expense of those who have been there and done it, with veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos arguably the most high-profile omission from any squad at Euro 2020.

That is also true between the sticks, where 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao stopper Simon has usurped David de Gea to take control of the number-one spot.

Unlike Manchester United keeper De Gea and Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has not made the cut for Spain, Simon played regularly for his club side in 2020-21.

Indeed, the only Spanish goalkeepers to play more minutes last term in Europe's top five leagues than Simon (3,330) were Alex Remiro and Fernando Pacheco of Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alaves respectively.

Simon saved 63.3 per cent of the shots he faced in LaLiga in 2020-21, compared to 65.22 per cent for De Gea in 26 Premier League games, and the six-cap keeper will need to be at his best if Spain are to banish their demons from the 2018 World Cup.

 

Jamal Musiala (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Musiala switched international allegiance from England to Germany four months ago in the same week he became Bayern's youngest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 363 days.

Despite strong competition for places, Musiala featured regularly for the German champions last season with 35 appearances in all competitions, albeit the majority of those outings being as a substitute.

The former Chelsea product made his first two appearances for Germany in March's World Cup qualifiers and only adds to a plethora of options available to Joachim Low in the final third.

Musiala may not be considered a regular just yet, but the stats suggest Low should perhaps consider using the youngster from the beginning of games.

Bayern's win rate increased from 62.5 per cent without Musiala in their side in the Bundesliga last term to 73.1 per cent with him, while their average goals for climbed from 2.5 to 3.0, and their passing accuracy in the final third went from 72.4 to 74.1.

Not so much a lucky omen, but a player who is clearly already good enough to make a telling impact on even the biggest sides.

 

Marcus Thuram (France and Borussia Monchengladbach)

No nation boasts a collection of forwards quite like France, who can call upon Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and the returning Karim Benzema.

What chance does Borussia Monchengladbach forward Thuram have, then, of ousting any of those players from the side?

While the 23-year-old may not be used as a regular starter, he will provide an intriguing option for spoiled-for-choice head coach Didier Deschamps to choose from off the bench for group games against Germany, Portugal and Hungary.

Thuram, the son of World Cup winner Lilian, certainly knows how to make the most of his minutes on the field and has the ability to score via a range of different ways.

All eight of his Bundesliga goals last term were scored inside the box, but they were shared between his right foot (three), left foot (two), head (two) and other means (one).

In fact, he was one of just nine forwards to start 20 games or fewer in Europe's top five leagues last season and still score more than once with his right foot.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia and Monaco)

Monaco midfielder Golovin was plagued by injuries and illness in 2020-21 but still played a starring role in Monaco's unlikely Ligue 1 title bid that went down to the final game.

The 25-year-old found the net five times and set up nine more in 21 appearances, three of those goals coming in one game against Nimes in early February.

That made Golovin the first Russian to score a hat-trick in Europe's top five leagues since ex-Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in 2012.

He is undoubtedly the key creative talent in the Russia squad and, in a group that contains a defensively-strong Denmark and Belgium, plus Finland, it will likely be the Monaco man that holds the key to his side's hopes of progression.

His effectiveness with set-piece deliveries could be particularly vital.

 

 

Yusuf Yazici (Turkey and Lille)

Lille's incredible Ligue 1 triumph was down to a collective effort, but a few players certainly stood out for the shock title winners.

Look no further than breakthrough star Yazici, whose return of a goal every 153.71 minutes was the fourth best of any midfielder with at least five goals in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, trailing just Joe Willock, Lars Stindl and Musiala.

The 24-year-old scored seven league goals in total and netted the same amount in the Europa League, where Lille made it to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Ajax.

That includes a couple of three-goal hauls in the group stage as he became the first player to score an away hat-trick against Milan in all competitions since Rivaldo in October 2000 for Barcelona.

With experience of scoring in big matches and winning silverware with rank outsiders, Yazici will now be looking to guide many people's dark horses Turkey deep into Euro 2020.

 

Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands and Ajax)

A member of the Netherlands' Under-17s European Championship-winning squad in 2018, Gravenberch has gone from strength to strength in the three years since and is now a regular in Ajax's central midfield.

Gravenberch also has two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups to his name to go with that age-grade continental triumph, all before he even turned 19 last month.

The teenage talent, another product of Ajax's fabled academy, made his senior international debut earlier this year and has a chance of starting – or at least playing a prominent part in – the Oranje's quest for a second European Championship crown.

If nothing else, Gravenberch will certainly bring a level of calmness to the Dutch midfield.

He had a pass accuracy rate of 87.21 per cent in the Eredivisie last season – the only midfielders younger in Europe's top five leagues to play 20 or more times with a better return were Pedri (87.66) and Lucas Gourna-Douath (87.29). 

With just nine days to go until the start of Euro 2020, preparations are hotting up.

There are systems to train, friendlies to navigate and injuries to heal – hopefully – for the 24 teams involved before the delayed competition begins on June 11.

That year-long wait for the finals has helped some, with certain players able to recover form and fitness after looking likely to miss out entirely had the tournament gone ahead last year.

However, there are others for whom the rescheduling has come as a bit of a blow.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform examines some of the major contenders for the trophy and why the postponement could prove a particular problem...

 

Belgium

Roberto Martinez has been left with a major headache around three of his biggest names.

Eden Hazard may have hoped the extra year would help him recover peak form with Real Madrid but, if anything, matters have become worse.

He was limited to just 21 Madrid appearances in 2020-21, scoring four goals and providing two assists from a mere nine chances created, as fitness problems and fan frustrations persisted.

There are also worries now around Kevin De Bruyne, whose magnificent season for Manchester City ended with broken facial bones in a losing Champions League final, while Axel Witsel has not played since January 9 due to an Achilles injury.

 

Croatia

Ivan Rakitic caused a shock last September when he announced his retirement from international football, having been all set to play at the Euros had they gone ahead as planned.

While the 2018 World Cup finalists still have Luka Modric at the heart of their midfield, the Real Madrid man will be 36 this year and has come off a hectic season in which he played 48 games.

Another veteran, Ivan Perisic, last played a full match for Inter in February and Mateo Kovacic missed seven of Chelsea's final nine games of the season through injury.

England

England have some concern around Raheem Sterling, who has scored one league goal since February and fell out of favour at Manchester City. There are also problems with Marcus Rashford, who has been managing an ankle issue for several weeks and only has four league goals to his name since the turn of the year.

In midfield, Jordan Henderson has not played since undergoing groin surgery in February, Jack Grealish missed three months of action for Aston Villa and Harry Maguire's ankle ligament damage has left him battling to be fit enough for the start of the group stage.

And what of Trent Alexander-Arnold? The Liverpool right-back, sensational in 2019-20, was left out of the World Cup qualifiers in March after an inconsistent season and is hardly guaranteed a starting spot under Gareth Southgate.

 

Netherlands

The Netherlands will have to make do without Virgil van Dijk. The Liverpool star was integral to the Oranje's run to the inaugural Nations League Finals and seemed destined to head into the tournament as Europe's best centre-back. As it is, he will watch from afar, having failed to recover from the knee injury he sustained in October.

Frank de Boer became the first Netherlands head coach to fail to win any of his first four fixtures, and though he managed to correct that dismal form, his record since leaving Ajax does not exactly bode well heading into a major tournament.

There is also the issue of Donny van de Beek, who has started just four Premier League games for Manchester United and finished his first season with the Red Devils as an unused substitute as they lost on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League final.

Spain

Ansu Fati is the big new hope for Barcelona and Spain, but injury ended the winger's season prematurely and he has not recovered in time to make Luis Enrique's 24-man squad – a selection that does not feature Sergio Ramos or any of his Real Madrid team-mates.

Ramos has only played only once – in a Champions League defeat to Chelsea – since March, and it was felt he needed time to recover away from the international stage.

It also seemed as though Adama Traore would prove a valuable impact player in the Spain attack, but the Wolves forward managed only two goals and two assists in 37 Premier League games in 2020-21.

Didier Deschamps has said Aymeric Laporte was incorrect to say the France coach ignored a message from the defender prior to him switching his international allegiance to Spain.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte declared for La Roja last month after being granted Spanish citizenship, leading to him being included in their 24-man Euro 2020 squad.

Laporte represented France at youth level, including the Under-21s, but was never handed a senior cap despite being called up by Deschamps.

It has previously been suggested that Laporte reached out to Deschamps to ask why he was continually overlooked, but the France head coach has strongly refuted that claim.

"He has the freedom to do what he likes," Deschamps said in an interview distributed to regional media in France.

"Ten seconds with the senior side would have been enough. But I don't select a player with the purpose of blocking him from having another choice. I was not going to do that.

"He was always included on the shortlists, but there is competition as well. What annoys me is what has been said, which is a lie.

"The only message I have received from him was in October, and that was regarding a specific situation after sustaining an injury.

"We considered him in November and March, and this time around. Leaving him out is not a mistake, it is just my decision. I wish him the best and he's free to make that choice."

Laporte spent nearly a decade in the Basque region while with Athletic Bilbao, initially as part of the youth squad before then graduating into the first team.

The centre-back's most recent call-up to the France squad was in August 2019 during qualifying for Euro 2020, which was pushed back by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He scored City's winner in April's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collected a third Premier League title in four seasons, but 2020-21 was still a mixed campaign for Laporte.

John Stones and Ruben Dias were Pep Guardiola's preferred pairing at the back, though Laporte still made 27 appearances in all competitions during a gruelling campaign.

That total includes 16 outings in the Premier League, with the 27-year-old averaging 0.87 tackles per 90 minutes, as well as 0.47 blocks.

To put that into context, Raphael Varane – who looks certain to be a regular for France at Euro 2020 – averaged 0.73 tackles for Real Madrid in LaLiga this term, though did manage 0.6 blocks and won 2.42 aerial balls.

Presnel Kimpembe, meanwhile, impressed for Paris Saint-Germain with 1.09 tackles per 90 minutes, 0.43 blocks and 1.44 aerials won across his 28 Ligue 1 appearances.

Deschamps also has Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Digne, Lucas Hernandez, Clement Lenglet, Kurt Zouma and Leo Dubois to call upon in terms of defensive options.

France face Wales and Bulgaria in friendlies over the next week before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign against Germany in Munich on June 16.

A hectic, congested year of football culminates in the delayed European Championship, which starts on June 11 when Turkey take on Italy in Rome.

Euro 2020, hosted in 11 cities spread across the continent, was meant to be a celebration of the 60th anniversary of UEFA's international tournament. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic derailed the plans, forcing the postponement of the event until 2021.

Though the qualified teams had been readying themselves to play last year, and the pandemic has forced a much-altered football calendar in 2020-21, some countries may have benefitted from the delay.

For others, it may be a case of what might have been. Here, using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at how the main favourites to go all the way have been boosted by the postponement. 

Belgium

Romelu Lukaku – Belgium's record scorer – has built on a brilliant debut season with Inter, going on to help the Nerazzurri claim the Scudetto, with the 28-year-old netting 24 times in Serie A (a tally bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo), at an average of one goal per 120 minutes, and providing 11 assists in the process.

Another player who has gone from strength to strength in 2020-21 has been Youri Tielemans, who lashed in an exceptional strike to win Leicester City's first FA Cup. The midfielder racked up 4,438 minutes of playing time, the sixth-highest total in Europe's top five leagues, so Roberto Martinez – whose future is uncertain – may have to manage him carefully.

England

Gareth Southgate named a 33-man provisional squad, and while the England boss does have doubts over the fitness of some key stars, he cannot complain at the wealth of talent at his disposal, with several players having come to the fore in the last year.

John Stones is back to his best, and right-backs Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier have won titles in England and Spain respectively. Ahead of them, Jude Bellingham – who could become the youngest Three Lions player to appear at the Euros – had an outstanding season with Borussia Dortmund, though it is in attack where Southgate really is spoilt for choice.

Harry Kane won the Premier League golden boot and topped the assist charts, while back-up Dominic Calvert-Lewin registered a top-flight goal every 179.63 minutes. Behind them, Phil Foden and Mason Mount are talismanic figures Champions League finalists City and Chelsea, while Jack Grealish created 81 chances – the third highest in the division – for Aston Villa, despite missing 12 games through injury. 

 

France

England's options somewhat pale in comparison to the depth Didier Deschamps has to play with. Eduardo Camavinga looked set to be one of the youngsters to break onto the scene for Les Bleus, but the Rennes teenager has not even made the squad for the rearranged tournament, while Anthony Martial is another big name to miss out.

Kylian Mbappe reached last season's Champions League final and has gone on to score 42 goals in 47 appearances across all competitions this term, averaging a strike every 89 minutes, while Antoine Griezmann is looking sharp.

As if it was not enough, Deschamps has also recalled Karim Benzema, who scored 30 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid to earn his first call up in over five years. In midfield, N'Golo Kante has been spectacular for Champions League winners Chelsea, with only six Premier League midfielders who have attempted over 75 tackles recording a higher success rate than his 53.16.

Germany

Joachim Low has decided to call it quits after the tournament, with Hansi Flick incoming. But surely that will only spur Germany on as they look to end Low's tenure on a high, and he has recalled 2014 World Cup winners Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels to help the cause.

With Timo Werner having struggled to convert chances into goals for Chelsea – scoring 12 times in 52 appearances and registering a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 in the Premier League – Muller, who created the most chances (93) and provided the most assists (18) in the Bundesliga – will share the burden, while Jamal Musiala, Bayern Munich's youngest Champions League goalscorer, is surely one of the youngsters to watch.

 

Italy

After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy were in need of a rebuild, and Roberto Mancini has provided the steady hand required.

Mancini is unbeaten in all 26 games of his Italy tenure, as he closes in on the all-time record of 30 set by Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930, and the Azzurri look well placed to challenge. One question mark could be over goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who seems destined for a move to Juventus.

Netherlands

Perhaps no team has undergone more change in the past year than the Netherlands. Ronald Koeman looked set to have a strong side heading into Euro 2020, albeit injuries would have shorn him of Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

As luck would have it, both of those attackers will be fit for the Oranje, and come in off the back of strong seasons with Lyon and PSV respectively. But it will not be Koeman who is in charge – he is of course now at the helm at Barcelona, though whether his tenure continues for much longer remains to be seen – with Frank de Boer his replacement.

Portugal

More records tumbled in 2020-21 for Ronaldo, though there is no doubt the 36-year-old's powers are waning slightly with age.

Portugal are, of course, the holders, having seen off France in 2016, but Fernando Santos' squad is arguably much stronger than it was five years ago, with Andre Silva – who finished behind only Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga scoring charts this season – providing a focal point up top, while Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Joao Felix have continued their trajectories of improvement in the last year.

But it is Ruben Dias' form over the last season that may benefit Portugal the most. The centre-back has been imperious for Man City, playing a crucial role in a defence that has conceded just 42 goals in all competitions.

Spain

With Sergio Ramos not judged to be fit, Luis Enrique has picked a relatively inexperienced – at least at international level – defence, with only 24 players named in his squad.

Pau Torres is certainly a player who has improved over the past 12 months. He has just helped Villarreal to a Europa League triumph, with the centre-back, who is sure to be interesting some of Europe's biggest clubs, being the defender with the most games played in the competition without being dribbled past (nine). Spain have also been buoyed by Aymeric Laporte's switch of allegiance from France.

Thiago Alcantara has not always hit his best form at Liverpool, though Spain's midfield is boosted by two title winners in Atletico Madrid duo Koke and Marcos Llorente, who was involved in 23 goals in 2020-21.

Up top, Gerard Moreno netted 30 goals in all competitions for Villarreal – among LaLiga players, only Lionel Messi played a part in more goals.

Sergio Ramos accepts his omission from Spain's Euro 2020 squad is for the best as he prepares for a close season of "rest".

Real Madrid captain Ramos, Spain's most-capped player with 180, was the standout absentee when Luis Enrique named a 24-man party for the tournament, which begins next month.

The 35-year-old struggled with injury problems throughout 2020-21 and was restricted to 21 appearances for Madrid across all competitions, with only one of those coming since the end of March

Nevertheless, Luis Enrique's decision not to select Ramos caused surprise on Monday, particularly as he did not fill the full allocation of 26 players allowed in expanded Euro 2020 squads, nor find a spot for any other Real Madrid players.

But while there was a degree of shock, especially from Madrid fans, Ramos concedes it was probably the best decision for everyone.

"After a tough few months and a strange season unlike anything I have experienced in my career comes the Euros," he wrote on his official Twitter account.

"I have fought and worked every day, in body and soul, to be able to reach 100 per cent for Real Madrid and the national team but things don't always work out the way we'd like.

"It pains me not to have been able to help my team more and not to play for Spain but, in this case, the best thing to do is rest, fully recover and come back next year like we've always done. It hurts not to represent your country, but I have to be honest and sincere.

"I wish all my teammates the very best of luck and I hope we have a great Euros. I'll be another fan cheering on from home. A big shout to everyone and 'Viva Espana', and 'Hala Madrid' always!"

Either way, Luis Enrique's decision looks set to come under significant scrutiny for a while.

The former Barcelona coach explained Ramos "has not been able to compete since January in the right condition, or even train with group", meaning he could not be included.

Yet, the Madrid defender has actually played more club minutes in that time (395) than Eric Garcia (360) – who in this squad – though the latter was left out of the Manchester City team due to Pep Guardiola preferring alternative options, rather than a patchy fitness record.

By the closing round of LaLiga fixtures on Saturday, which Ramos watched from the bench as Madrid lost their title, the 35-year-old had been absent for significantly more matches (31) for the side this season than he had played (21).

Those 21 games and 1,790 minutes are by far the fewest Ramos has played across a season since joining Madrid in 2005, undercutting the previous low marks of 33 and 2,843 in 2015-16.

Ramos was still able to play his part in seven clean sheets, more than the six Madrid managed with their captain on the field in 2016-17 when he appeared 44 times.

Ramos seemingly plans to keep going on the international stage and with good reason – he is just four caps behind the all-time international caps record in world football, which is held by Egypt great Ahmed Hassan.

Nevertheless, Ramos does have competition from Kuwait's Bade Al-Mutawa, whose last cap in March put him on 181.

Sergio Ramos has been left out of the Spain squad in perhaps the biggest coaching call heading into Euro 2020.

There have been returns for big names elsewhere – Karim Benzema for France, and Thomas Muller with Germany – but Luis Enrique has not selected his captain.

"Any decision I made about Sergio Ramos would have been controversial," the coach acknowledged. "I know where I am and accept there will be media noise."

But was it the right decision? We break down the Opta data to look at the reasons Ramos did not make the cut.
 

MAIN MAN MISSING FOR MADRID

Luis Enrique explained Ramos "has not been able to compete since January in the right condition, or even train with group", meaning he could not be included.

The Madrid defender has actually played more club minutes in that time (395) than Eric Garcia (360) – who was selected – but the latter was left out of the Manchester City team due to Pep Guardiola preferring alternative options, rather than a patchy fitness record.

Garcia also started all three matches for Spain, playing 266 minutes to Ramos' 50, in March.

Knee, calf and hamstring complaints have limited Ramos' involvement in 2021, but he had also already missed more matches than Madrid would have liked in the first half of the campaign.

By the closing round of LaLiga fixtures on Saturday, which Ramos watched from the bench as Madrid lost their title, the 35-year-old had been absent for significantly more matches (31) for the side this season than he had played (21).

Those 21 games and 1,790 minutes are by far the fewest Ramos has played across a season since joining Madrid in 2005, undercutting the previous low marks of 33 and 2,843 in 2015-16.

Ramos was still able to play his part in seven clean sheets, more than the six Madrid managed with their captain on the field in 2016-17 when he appeared 44 times.

His 2020-21 win rate of 62 per cent was a marginal improvement on the previous campaign, too.
 

BLEND OF BATTLER AND BALL PLAYER

Had Ramos been able to get on the pitch more often, his performances would surely have seen him included by Luis Enrique.

Among Ramos and the five centre-back options named in the squad – Diego Llorente, Pau Torres, Aymeric Laporte, Cesar Azpilicueta and Garcia – the snubbed skipper ranked fourth of the six for tackles (0.9) and tackles won (0.7) per 90 minutes this season.

Ramos was second behind only Llorente (1.5) for interceptions (1.4) and also trailed just the Leeds United man (7.4) in recoveries (5.6).

The World Cup winner was bottom of the pile in blocks (0.3) but third for clearances (2.6), holding his own in the majority of defensive categories.

Llorente (10.4 and 6.0) and Azpilicueta (9.5 and 5.3) led Ramos in duels (7.0) and duels won (4.1), although Laporte (4) joined that duo in contesting more aerial duels than the former Sevilla man (3.8). Ramos (2.4) won more of these battles per 90 than Azpilicueta (2.2), however.

It might come as no surprise that Manchester City pair Garcia (90.1 and 85.5) and Laporte (88.1 and 80.6) top the charts in passes and successful passes, but Ramos (78.5 and 72.1) is third. He is fourth for touches (88.3), too.

Ramos' numbers are competitive in both natural defensive metrics and in ball playing, whereas the others in the squad specialise in one or the other.

Luis Enrique will feel confident he has a wide array of options, but it is clear to see why a conversation with Ramos was "difficult and tough", even if the player later posted on Twitter "the best thing to do is rest, fully recover and come back next year".

The coach and the rest of Spain must hope this is not a costly call.

Athletic Bilbao defender Inigo Martinez withdrew himself from contention for a place in Spain's Euro 2020 squad because of concerns over his physical and mental health.

Luis Enrique named a 24-man squad for the tournament on Monday, with Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos the headline omission.

Ramos' absence would ordinarily mean a prominent role for Martinez, although he was another notable absentee, with Pau Torres, Diego Llorente, Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia and Cesar Azpilicueta comprising Luis Enrique's central defensive options.

Speaking at a news conference after the squad announcement, Luis Enrique did not go into detail over Martinez not being selected, simply saying there would be a statement after his briefing.

The 30-year-old then posted an explanation on social media, saying that he felt it was time to put his own wellbeing first for the good of both the national team and himself.

"These lines are very hard to write. The truth is that for some time I have not been 100 per cent physically or mentally to compete at the level of maximum demand required by the Athletic and national team jerseys," Martinez's statement read.

"I have come to the conclusion that, out of honesty with these shirts and with myself, I must stop. Take a step to the side to disconnect, recharge the batteries and quickly recover the strength that has always accompanied me.

"A few days ago I transferred this difficult decision to my club and to the national team, since I have been fighting all season to the fullest for my club and for the goal of participating in the Euro. 

"I have left everything on the pitch for it, but I believe that sincerity is the best for the national team in this difficult challenge that lies ahead."

Martinez has played 28 times for Athletic in LaLiga this season, largely matching the levels he has set throughout a distinguished career in Spain's top flight, the bulk of which came with Basque neighbours Real Sociedad before moving to San Mames in 2018.

A 68.2 per cent tackle success rate sits alongside his overall output in LaLiga (68.9) and is better than his average in Bilbao (60.3).

He has won 57.3 per cent of duels contested in 2020-21, a slight drop when compared to his whole career (59.5) and stint at Athletic (61.1).

Martinez is also reliably smooth in possession, completing 82.8 per cent of his passes this season – putting him 11th among Spanish-qualified defenders to have played 2,000 or more minutes in the division. That is up on 79.4 per cent for Athletic overall and 79.6 in his career to date.

Luis Enrique believes his decision to omit Sergio Ramos from Spain's Euro 2020 squad is in the best interest of the national team.

Real Madrid captain Ramos, the all-time record international appearance holder with 180, was the standout absentee when Luis Enrique named a 24-man party for the tournament, which begins next month.

The 35-year-old struggled with injury problems throughout 2020-21 and was restricted to 21 appearances for Madrid across all competitions.

However, Luis Enrique's decision not to select Ramos caused surprise on Monday – especially as he did not fill the 26 places allowed in expanded Euro 2020 squads, nor find a spot for any Real Madrid players.

"I'd like to send message to Sergio Ramos, our captain, who is not on the list as he has not been able to compete since January in the right condition, or even train with the group," Luis Enrique told reporters.

"I told him by phone last night, it was difficult and tough, but it's best for the team.

"My conversation with Sergio yesterday remains private, I won't tell anyone. It was not easy to tell him something which was not positive for him, but I have to make decisions which I and my staff consider is best for the team.

"Any decision I made about Sergio Ramos would have been controversial. I know where I am and accept there will be media noise."

Aymeric Laporte is now expected to play a key role in the heart of Spain's defence, even though he only changed international affiliation from France earlier this month.

Luis Enrique was reported to have lobbied the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to allow for Laporte's inclusion and insists the Manchester City centre-back's availability and Ramos being cast aside were not related.

"The Aymeric Laporte decision is nothing to do with the Ramos situation," he said.

"He is a top player, can help our national team a lot and plays at one of the best clubs in history.

"Please don't mix Ramos not being in the squad with call ups for others. I'd have liked him to be here, to have recovered."

Like his call not to pick Ramos, Luis Enrique neglecting to select 26 players was also one he attributed to nurturing squad unity.

"We are taking 24 players. Most have picked 26, but we just added another striker [to the original limit of 23] as we value a lot the feeling that each player can participate in any moment," he explained.

"Also, it is better to train with this number of players."

The former Barcelona boss failing to pick a single Madrid representative in his party will undoubtedly raise eyebrows, with fitness woes having also compromised Dani Carvajal's prospects.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente is likely to be an option at right-back in Carvajal's absence.

"I cannot pick the squad based on whether some people will be happy or not," Luis Enrique responded when the lack of a Madrid contingent was raised.

"Llorente can play at full-back but we won't forget what he can do in other positions, breaking forward from midfield. I like to have versatile players who can fill different roles."

Spain have been drawn alongside Sweden, Poland and Slovakia in Group E and are aiming to improve upon last-16 exits at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Nevertheless, Luis Enrique sees no reason why the glory days of three consecutive major tournament successes between 2008 and 2012 – successes to which Ramos was so pivotal – cannot return.

"Previous Spain teams have won trophies," he added. "I believe we are among the six or eight favourites this year, we will have to show on the pitch what we are capable of.

"Why not aim to win it all?"

Spain captain Sergio Ramos has not been included in Luis Enrique's Euro 2020 squad after an injury-troubled 2020-21 season.

Aymeric Laporte, who only this month switched his allegiance from France to Spain, is among the centre-back options to have been preferred to the veteran.

Ramos was part of the national team that won three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012 and has remained a key man for club and country ever since, breaking Italy great Gianluigi Buffon's all-time international appearances mark of 176 earlier this season.

The 35-year-old has had the armband for Spain under Luis Enrique but played only 50 minutes of the March World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Kosovo before returning to Madrid injured.

Ramos was limited to 21 appearances in all competitions for Madrid this term, missing 31 matches. Zinedine Zidane's side actually conceded more often (1.0 per game vs 0.8) with Ramos in the team.

Remarkably, former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique did not name a single Madrid player in his finals squad.

Right-back Dani Carvajal is injured, leaving Spain light in that area of the pitch where Atletico Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente may deputise, while Los Blancos team-mates Marco Asensio and Isco have fallen out of favour.

Madrid's Nacho is another centre-back ignored, with Manchester City pair Laporte and Eric Garcia preferred to he and Ramos despite spending much of the season behind Ruben Dias and John Stones in the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium.

French-born Laporte, City's premier defensive option prior to this season, has made 27 appearances in all competitions for the Premier League champions but is in line for an international debut after this weekend's Champions League final.

Garcia – widely expected to join Barca when his contract expires next month – was limited to just 12 outings and nine starts, with a solitary clean sheet.

Spain squad for Euro 2020:

Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbo), David De Gea (Manchester United), Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion); Jose Gaya (Valencia), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Eric Garcia (Manchester City), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea); Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri (Manchester City), Pedri (Barcelona), Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Fabian Ruiz (Napoli); Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Gerard Moreno (Villarreal), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Adama Traore (Wolves), Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain)

Spain captain Sergio Ramos has not been included in Luis Enrique's Euro 2020 squad after an injury-troubled 2020-21 season.

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos will be fit for a decisive weekend in LaLiga's title race, news that also hands Spain a major boost for Euro 2020.

Eden Hazard, though, has sustained an injury that will rule him out on Saturday, after head coach Zinedine Zidane delivered a pre-match injury update at his news conference.

Real Madrid are two points behind leaders and city rivals Atletico Madrid ahead of the final round of fixtures.

Atleti travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid while Real Madrid are at home to seventh-placed Villarreal.

If Atleti are crowned LaLiga champions it means Madrid will end the season without a major trophy, and there has been speculation that Zidane will quit as head coach.

But the presence of Ramos, who has been restricted to 15 top-flight appearances after sustaining a series of injuries this season, will lift the spirits of Madrid as well as giving Spain cause for cheer.

The defender has been out since he suffered a hamstring injury against Chelsea on May 5. That had been his first Madrid appearance for seven weeks after a previous absence.

"Yes, tomorrow he will be with us," Zidane said about Ramos. "Then, in the team, you will see him.

"I would always take Sergio [to the Euros if I was in charge] – always, whatever happens. He is one who always gives everything.

"Hazard has something. Not much, but we don't want to risk. If he doesn't train with the team, it's because something's wrong with him. That's it. So, he won't be there.

"It is a special day; it is the last game of a league with difficulties. We know who we are going to play against, a team that is doing very well. We are going to strive to get the three points."

Aymeric Laporte is set to represent Spain at Euro 2020 after switching his allegiance from France.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte has represented Les Bleus 51 times in total across the under-17 and under-21 age groups.

However, the 26-year-old was never handed his senior debut, despite being called up three times by Didier Deschamps.

Laporte came through the youth ranks at Athletic Bilbao and made 222 appearances for the Basque club until joining City in January 2018.

He was granted Spanish citizenship earlier this week and FIFA has confirmed he can play for Spain with "immediate effect".

A report by Marca earlier this week claimed Spain boss Luis Enrique lobbied the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to look into the possibility of Laporte changing allegiance, so it feels safe to assume he will be a key part of the former Barcelona head coach's plans for Euro 2020.

But how does Laporte compare to Spain's other options at centre-back?

Regular game time

Despite scoring the winner in last month's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collecting a third Premier League title in four seasons at City, it has been a mixed campaign for Laporte on a personal level.

He went into 2020-21 as Pep Guardiola's go-to centre-back but the arrival of Ruben Dias and John Stones' resurgence means he is no longer first choice at the Etihad Stadium.

Nevertheless, the packed schedule undertaken across all competitions by the Champions League finalists means he has still played 27 games, starting 24 and completing 2,250 minutes.

Of centre-backs used by Luis Enrique this season, that places Laporte third behind Villarreal's Pau Torres (41 games, 3,675 minutes) and Athletic's Inigo Martinez (32 games, 2,914).

Sergio Ramos, who is now widely expected to have a new centre-back partner for La Roja, has been restricted to 21 games and 1,790 minutes by injuries this season, while Diego Llorente (14 games, 1,160) was compromised by a serious groin injury after joining Leeds United.

One would-be international colleague Laporte knows very well is club team-mate Eric Garcia. The 20-year-old is set to leave City after declining to sign a new contract last term.

While running down the clock to his anticipated move to Barcelona, Garcia has become a marginal figure in Manchester, despite Guardiola continuing to profess his admiration of his talents.

His 10 appearances and eight starts amount to 693 minutes, not significantly more than 514 minutes across seven caps for Spain this season.

Indeed, Luis Enrique started Garcia in all three of the March internationals, suggesting his lack of club action is not overly hindering his case.

Keeping it tight in Manchester

City's defensive improvements have been central to their success this season and, although no longer an automatic selection, Laporte has more than played his part.

The 14 goals conceded with him on the field are just four more than Guardiola's side have let in amid Garcia's sporadic outings. Only Torres (13) has amassed more than his 12 clean sheets.

Laporte ranks well across all of the key defensive metrics this season, with 18 tackles placing him level with Ramos and Torres.

Martinez has made 24, while Marcelo Bielsa's famously intense style of play might be largely responsible for Llorente going into 31 tackles during his relatively smaller workload.

Laporte's duel success rate of 63.7 per cent is the best of the bunch, with Martinez contesting and winning the most overall (263 and 149), while Torres is out in front in terms of recoveries (232).

In the air and on the ground

Standing at 6ft 3ins, Laporte will provide the kind of imposing presence Spain have perhaps lacked.

He has contested 100 and won 69 aerials, similar numbers to the 103 and 62 returned by Torres, who is of similar stature. Martinez's 136 contested and 82 won again show the Athletic man getting through plenty of work.

Perhaps Laporte's most celebrated quality is his capacity to start moves from the back via his superb left foot.

Centre-backs completing a high proportion of their passes is not unusual, given the generally simple nature of them, but Laporte generally plays in a notably progressive manner.

He has made 244 passes into the final third this season, more than any of the Spain centre-backs mentioned (Torres 240, Martinez 235), a trait that is sure to be welcomed by the attacking talents in Luis Enrique's squad.

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