We’re only a week into the tournament, but Euro 2020 has been great to watch so far. Most games have been fairly open and we’ve seen a few unbelievable goals scored already, with Patrick Schick’s strike against Scotland widely regarded as the pick of the bunch.
Some of the games have also been a bit hard to predict. I remember watching Belgium last night against Denmark and not being very sure of their ability to go all the way, but Kevin De Bruyne came on as a second-half substitute and changed the game for Roberto Martinez.
Coming to the surprise packages of Euro 2020 so far, I’ve given it a lot of thought and made my five picks. I could’ve so easily gone for Cristiano Ronaldo, but people will say it’s an obvious one. What’s important is the fact that he is 36 years old and still regarded as one of the best players in the world, which is quite unbelievable.
Similarly, in the case of Gareth Bale, he has not made the cut despite being fantastic for Wales so far at Euro 2020. He’s been around for a while and also produced the goods at Euro 2016, so I’ve gone for a few other picks who have really taken us by surprise.
Sometimes I see things a bit differently, but it’s just what I’ve observed and I’ve also given reasons as to why I’ve selected these players.
#5 Manuel Locatelli | Italy, Sassuolo
Manuel Locatelli has been absolutely outstanding for Italy at Euro 2020. I’m going to be honest - I don’t watch a lot of Serie A, but he has really impressed me with his performances. Everyone talks about Patrik Schick’s goal against Scotland as the goal of the tournament and make no mistake, it was some strike from beyond the halfway line.
That said, I really enjoyed Locatelli’s first goal against Switzerland the other day. The ball he played with his left foot to start things off was outstanding, just like the rest of the Italy team on the night. He then ran 60 yards to get on the end of Domenico Berardi’s cross to tap home from close range and that pretty much sums him up in one passage of play.
We have to give credit to Roberto Mancini for unleashing Locatelli from the get-go. In major tournaments, players are sometimes stereotyped because they don’t play for the biggest clubs in the world, so there’s a feeling that they can’t handle the pressure at the top level. Locatelli is at the top now, but the hardest thing for a player to do is to stay there for the foreseeable future.
There’s absolutely no chance he will play for Sassuolo next season. Every club in the world will want him and his agent will be licking his lips at the prospect of brokering a big-money move.
#4 Leonardo Spinazzola | Italy, Roma
I know it’s another Italian player on the list, but they’ve been absolutely outstanding in Euro 2020 so far, so I’ve gone with Leonardo Spinazzola, the left-back. He has bombed up and down the pitch and defended with his heart, his performances have been A+ so far. I could so easily have put in so many other players from Italy because they’ve been incredible, but I’ve chosen Spinazzola because he has had a tremendous impact already at Euro 2020.
What I like about Italy is that they have a vision and they stick to it. So often now, teams play out from the back as it is the fashionable thing to do. Italy, though, seem to have a clear idea of what the other team will do and where their players will be, that’s what’s really impressed me at Euro 2020 so far.
Spinazzola has been a key player for an Italy side that has been a breath of fresh air in the tournament. Full credit to Mancini and his coaches for the way they've played.
#3 Antoine Griezmann | France, Barcelona
For my 3rd pick, I have gone with one of the stars of Euro 2020 - Antoine Griezmann. I know Antoine Griezmann is a household name who played a pivotal role in France’s World Cup triumph in 2018 and their Euro 2016 campaign, but he’s an example for up and coming footballers. It’s so rare to see a world-class player, who has achieved everything in his career, work his socks off for the team.
In the game against Germany, he was absolutely perfect. He popped up everywhere and acted as the link between midfield and attack and also struck up a good partnership with Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema. I know this lad can play, but the defensive side of his game and the way he works selflessly for his team - it’s a lesson for young footballers across the globe. He was more interested in being a team player than grabbing the spotlight, I really love that about his gameplay.
I said last week that sometimes players are forced to give the ball to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for club and country. At Barcelona, Griezmann finds himself being overpowered by the Argentine, but you can see for France at Euro 2020 that he’s a totally different player who enjoys his football a lot more.
#2 Kalvin Phillips | England, Leeds United
I like Kalvin Phillips as a player, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t see his performance against Croatia coming. Leeds United play like no other team in the world and their games almost feel like a training session at times. They are not afraid regardless of who the opposition is and they play the same way against everyone.
I remember when they got absolutely battered 6-1 by Manchester United, they still had a few good moments. If the scoreline wasn’t up on the telly, you’d have probably thought the game was 1-1 or something.
Against Croatia in England’s Euro 2020 opener, Phillips was outstanding, make no mistake. It was a 9/10 performance from him - he showed his industry and work rate in midfield and also provided the assist for Raheem Sterling’s goal. England's squad at Euro 2020 is filled with talented players like Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane among others, but it was Phillips who stepped up to the plate against Croatia.
You look at Gareth Southgate’s squad and wonder who is going to get left out for the games ahead, but Phillips should keep his spot for the remainder of Euro 2020 if he carries on playing like this.
#1 Andriy Yarmolenko | Ukraine, West Ham United
Andriy Yarmolenko is a known name in England, but he barely played in the 2020-21 season for West Ham due to a combination of injuries and poor form. That said, he arrived at Euro 2020 fresh as ever and has made an impact with two goals in as many games for Ukraine. He’s not got a lot of pace, but he’s very comfortable with the ball at his feet and is one of the best left-footed players in the tournament.
Ukraine were outstanding against North Macedonia and dominated the game despite the nervy ending. Yarmolenko was in the thick of the action and helped his side record three much-needed points to stay alive in the tournament. Their clash with the Netherlands has been the game of Euro 2020 so far, and Yarmolenko once again made his presence felt with a fantastic goal on the night.
I strongly believe that the best players perform on the grandest stage. That is why I think Diego Maradona is the greatest footballer I’ve seen in my life, the crème de la crème when it comes to the big games. I’ve given it a lot of thought and these are the players that I’ve gone for, but it’s important to remember that there’s a long way to go in Euro 2020, so the list could well look different in a few days.
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