Euro 2020 only kicked off a few days ago, but we've already seen a few cracking performances and goals from some of the best players in the world. From Patrik Schick's wondergoal against Scotland to the Netherlands' thrilling victory against Ukraine, Euro 2020 has produced its fair share of drama.
It's still early days, but a handful of players have impressed in unfamiliar positions due to a combination of factors. Gareth Southgate's decision to start Kieran Trippier at left-back ahead of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell was a major talking point ahead of the game against Croatia, but the Atletico Madrid man enjoyed a comfortable outing.
Sometimes, we are a little disrespectful and show a lot of resentment towards managers, but it's important to understand that they see their players day in and day out. They have a level of trust with a few players that could see them get the nod ahead of someone else.
Euro 2020 is just a month of football, so players don't have to do what they'd do over a 10 month period. Many of them are also aware of the fact that what happens at Euro 2020 could define their futures, so we have an interesting few weeks of football ahead of us.
That said, here are five players who I believe could impress in unfamiliar positions over the course of the tournament.
#5 Thorgan Hazard | Belgium, Borussia Dortmund
The younger Hazard, Thorgan, started as a left-wing back in Belgium’s Euro 2020 opener against Russia. Roberto Martinez’s side weren’t really troubled on the night, but Hazard had a feistiness about him and was prepared to give it whatever he had.
He’s primarily a left-sided attacker and has been so for most of his career so far. Hazard wasn’t always starting for Borussia Dortmund in the 2020-21 season, but when he did, he played as a left-winger and also as a center forward against RB Leipzig. For Belgium, though, he operated as a left-wing back, so it’s a big change for him.
What I really liked is that his new role also allows him to get high up the pitch and make a difference in the final third. He came up against Mario Fernandes, but Russia didn’t pose much of a threat in their Euro 2020 opener. That said, there were positive signs for Hazard, who could retain his spot in the side for the games ahead.
Having played in that position myself, you need to have an appreciation of where to be and when. Hazard knew exactly when he had to drop back and sacrifice his attacking freedom, and I thought he did that very well.
Belgium had an easy night to begin their Euro 2020 campaign, but Hazard didn’t get caught out defensively.
#4 Kalvin Phillips | England, Leeds United
For Leeds United, Kalvin Phillips plays a deeper position like what Declan Rice does for England and acts as Marcelo Bielsa’s comfort blanket. When he plays, everything seems a little bit more balanced. Against Croatia, England played a 4-3-3 with Phillips in a slightly advanced role, but it can also be looked at as a 4-1-4-1.
Leeds play a similar formation as well, so he understood the assignment perfectly. He’s seen the likes of Mateusz Klich operate in that role at club level, so he knew exactly what was expected of him.
Phillips is a sumptuous passer from a deeper role, but against Croatia, he played a role that’s more crowded in terms of space. I think in terms of that, he was absolutely fearless in the way he played. He doesn’t just run with purpose, he marauds forward with the ball and makes his presence felt on the pitch. The conditions were very hot at Wembley, but he managed the game well.
Phillips is a vital cog in what they refer to as ‘murderball’ at Leeds United. They play at 100 miles per hour throughout the 90 minutes and that’s helped him a lot. For England, though, he made a terrific adjustment to his gameplay in an advanced role and embraced the license to express himself more.
He has a great appetite for the game and covered every blade of grass against Croatia. I loved his stamina and work rate. I sincerely hope Phillips carries on in the same vein for the rest of Euro 2020. As things stand, he’s probably a definite starter for Gareth Southgate.
#3 David Alaba | Austria, Real Madrid
David Alaba has played as a full-back, wing-back, left midfielder, central midfielder and a center-back, so it wasn’t that much of a shock to see him in a back three for Austria. What stood out, though, was the fact that he played in the center of the backline and went on to set up what turned out to be the match-winning goal for his side from the left side.
I watched the game and asked myself why his coach has decided to play him centrally. I even looked back on their recent games and realized that Austria were beaten 4-0 by Denmark in a World Cup qualifier earlier this year, with Alaba deployed as a left midfielder on the night. He’s clearly been brought back to the rearguard for his composure and leadership qualities, he’s essentially their manager on the pitch.
Austria faced North Macedonia to kick-start their Euro 2020 campaign and they were eager to get three points against the competition debutants. Having started centrally, I liked the way he swapped positions with Martin Hinteregger to end up providing the assist for the match-winning goal.
Alaba played a small part in North Macedonia’s goal as he pretty much jumped over his goalkeeper, but that can be sorted out of course. His presence, experience and seniority could make a massive difference in bossing the backline for Austria. We have to wait and see if he plays there in the games ahead, but with Austria set to lock horns with the Netherlands next, he should retain his spot at the heart of the backline.
#2 Kieran Trippier | England, Atletico Madrid
Gareth Southgate caught us all by surprise with his decision to use Kieran Trippier as a left-back. Playing on the wrong side of the backline can be a problem, but in this instance, he wasn’t put under too much pressure by Croatia. Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw would’ve probably felt hard done by, but Trippier was in the team to do a job.
The England full-backs were contained in their roles - there was a discipline in their game that was designed so that Croatia wouldn’t hit them on the break. Even when Rice dropped back as a third central defender, the fullbacks went halfway and held their ground. There was a reluctance to overcommit and get too far up the pitch.
England did have a dynamism to their gameplay, but they were conservative and didn’t demand too much from their full-backs. I have myself played on the right hand side during my Leeds days, but I was happier to play on my better side, as everything is more natural on your stronger side.
Gareth Southgate knew he’d get the job done from one of his reliables in Trippier, but what stood out was that he emerged as the natural leader of the backline against Croatia. Tyrone Mings was vociferous, but Trippier took over on the night to ensure England had a stranglehold on the game and was a leader at the back in the absence of Harry Maguire.
We have to wait and see if he retains his spot against Scotland. Maybe Southgate thinks he needs a Shaw or a Chilwell to open things up a little bit more? Only time will tell.
#1 Marcos Llorente | Spain, Atletico Madrid
Watching Marcos Llorente last night, the first thing that came to my mind was that UEFA Champions League night at Anfield. I remember being in the stadium when he scored two absolutely wonderful goals to knock Liverpool out of the UEFA Champions League last year. He’s a midfielder playing at right-back for Spain, so naturally, he’s excellent on the ball.
He feels at home when he gets up on the pitch and has no problem with picking a pass; that comes from his midfield upbringing. Sweden were playing very deep, so he enjoyed a comfortable night at the back for Spain.
Like I mentioned about Thorgan Hazard earlier, I liked his positioning. If you’re playing as a full-back, your primary job is to defend and stop opposition players. Whatever happens in the final third is a bonus. Llorente did well, but he could have offered something different in the form of whipped crosses from deeper positions to break down a resolute Swedish backline.
That said, I think he will retain his spot in the team against Poland. After losing to Slovakia, they will be nervous and will most likely present themselves in a low block, so Spain will need to be more incisive. In terms of what he offers to the side going forward, he should keep his place at the back over Cesar Azpilicueta.