Euro 2020: Chiesa, Isak, Musiala and the other under the radar stars looking to make an impact

By Sports Desk June 04, 2021

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). 

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  • Euro 2024 data dive: Ronaldo breaks assist record, Group E set for historic finish Euro 2024 data dive: Ronaldo breaks assist record, Group E set for historic finish

    The action continued at Euro 2024 on Saturday, with Portugal becoming the second side to clinch their place as group winners, after Spain.

    It was a memorable day for Cristiano Ronaldo, and not only because a total of six pitch invaders attempted to get a picture with the legendary forward.

    He laid on a record-breaking seventh goal at the European Championships as the Selecao crushed Turkiye 3-0, while there was nothing to separate Georgia and Czechia in a 1-1 draw elsewhere in Group F.

    In Group E, meanwhile, it's all to play for with all four teams on three points after two games, following Belgium's 2-0 victory over Romania.

    Here, we run through all the best Opta stats to emerge from the day's matches.

    Georgia 1-1 Czechia: Mikautadze replicates Shevchenko feat

    The first game of the day served up yet another entertaining encounter as Georgia claimed their first point at a major tournament against Czechia in Hamburg. 

    Georges Mikautadze gave Georgia the lead after Robin Hranac was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area, scoring from the penalty spot to become the sixth player to net both of his nation's first two goals at the European Championships, and the first since Andriy Shevchenko in 2012 for Ukraine.

    Giorgi Mamardashvili made eight saves in the first half, equalling the most of any goalkeeper in an entire game at Euro 2024, as Georgia held their advantage until the break.

    Despite his heroics, Georgia's lead was gone 14 minutes into the second half as Patrik Schick moved ahead of Milan Baros as Czechia's top scorer at the Euros, putting the ball in off his chest from close range for his sixth goal at the competition (five in 2020).

    Czechia continued to dominate proceedings, but their lack of clinical edge in front of goal proved costly. They recorded 12 shots on target against Georgia; the most by a team who failed to win a match at the European Championships on record (since 1980). 

    But a lot of that was down to the inspired performance of Mamardashvili. The Georgia goalkeeper made three saves in the second half, taking his tally to 11 for the match, with only Latvia's Alexanders Kolinko (12) making more in a game at the Euros on record (since 1980), against the Netherlands in 2004. 

    However, Georgia had a golden opportunity to earn their maiden win at a major tournament when they found themselves three-on-one with the clock ticking down, but Saba Lobjanidze could only fire the ball over the bar. 

    Georgia now know they must beat Portugal in their final group game in Gelsenkirchen next Wednesday, but they can take confidence from their recent form. 

    Since losing three in a row between June and September 2023, Georgia have only lost two of their last nine games in all competitions (four wins, three draws).

    Turkiye 0-3 Portugal: Ronaldo breaks all-time assist record

    259 miles west of Dortmund, Portugal became the latest team to confirm their place in the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a comfortable triumph over Turkiye, recording their joint-biggest victory in a match at the Euros in the process. 

    Roberto Martinez's side were aided by a defensive disasterclass from their opponents, having taken the lead through Bernardo Silva's first international goal at a major tournament.

    Samet Akaydin's calamitous own goal doubled their advantage, the defender's misplaced back pass rolling in for only the second own goal from outside the box in European Championship history, after Pedri achieved the unwanted feat for Spain against Croatia at Euro 2020. 

    Portugal will, however, be without Rafael Leao for their final group game against Georgia, having picked up his second yellow card of Euro 2024, both for diving, becoming the only player on record (since 1980) to have multiple cards for simulation at the tournament.

    Bruno Fernandes made sure of the victory 10 minutes into the second half, with more defensive blunders allowing Ronaldo to lay the ball on a plate to secure his seventh assist at the European Championships – the most on record (since 1968) of any player in the competition’s history.

    Manchester United midfielder Fernandes continued his stellar spell for his national side, and he has now been involved in 28 goals in his last 23 appearances for Portugal in all competitions, scoring 15 and assisting 13.

    Martinez's side have now won both of their group-stage games so far in Euro 2024, more than they did in the 2016 and 2020 editions combined (one win, four draws, one defeat). It’s the third time they’ve won their opening two games at a single edition of the competition, after Euro 2000 and Euro 2008.

    After an impressive opening display against Georgia, Turkiye suffered their 11th defeat in the group stages of the Euros, with only Denmark (13) having more such defeats in the history of the competition.

    Belgium 2-0 Romania: De Bruyne the star as Red Devils bounce back

    Following their surprise 1-0 defeat to Slovakia on matchday one, Belgium bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Romania in Cologne, ensuring they continued their run of winning at least one game on all seven of their appearances at the European Championships.

    They wasted little time in getting their noses in front, with Aston Villa's Youri Tielemans lashing home from the edge of the box after just 73 seconds.

    That was Belgium's fastest ever goal at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) and the third-fastest strike in Euros history, after Russia's Dmitry Kirichenko (76 seconds) against Greece in 2004 and Albania's Nedim Bajrami (23 seconds) versus Italy this year.

    It was Tielemans' first goal at a major international tournament on his 13th such appearance, with five of his eight strikes for his country coming from outside the area. 

    Domenico Tedesco's team continued to dominate as they sought a two-goal cushion, with Romelu Lukaku penalised for offside in the second half following a VAR review, having a third goal chalked off at this tournament – more than any player has scored thus far.

    Fortunately for Belgium, Kevin De Bruyne stepped up to make the points safe 11 minutes from time, prodding past Florin Nita when one-on-one. 

    Since the start of the 2014 World Cup (his first major tournament), no Belgian has been involved in more Euro or World Cup goals than the Manchester City star, whose 13 goal contributions (four goals, nine assists) put him level with Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

    De Bruyne's five shots against Romania were his most in a Euros match since 2016 (seven versus Hungary). No player on the pitch had more shots, shots on target (three), made more tackles (four) or won more fouls (four) than the Belgium skipper.

    The result means all four teams in Group E have three points with one game remaining, setting up a tense finale for next Wednesday.

    This is the first time that a European Championship group has featured four teams level on points ahead of the final set of fixtures.

  • Ronaldo's record-breaking assist 'should be shown in every academy', says Martinez Ronaldo's record-breaking assist 'should be shown in every academy', says Martinez

    Cristiano Ronaldo's record-breaking seventh assist at the European Championships should be shown to all young players across the world, says Portugal boss Roberto Martinez.

    Portugal sealed their place in the last 16 of Euro 2024 as Group F winners with a game to spare on Saturday, thrashing Turkiye 3-0 in Dortmund.

    Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes scored either side of a comical own goal from Samet Akaydin, as the Selecao produced a far more complete performance than they managed in their last-gasp 2-1 win over Czechia on matchday one.

    Fernandes' clinching goal came when Ronaldo sprang the Turkiye offside trap before unselfishly squaring for his former Manchester United team-mate when they were two-on-one versus goalkeeper Altay Bayindir.

    Ronaldo's assist was his seventh at the European Championships overall, the most on record (since 1968) of any player in the competition's history.

    Martinez believes that incident proved Ronaldo will always put the team first and should serve as inspiration for young players everywhere.

    Speaking at his post-match press conference, Martinez said: "We saw something extraordinary, in front of the goalkeeper, he gave it to Bruno Fernandes.

    "He is an example that should be shown in every academy in Portugal and throughout the world of football, he showed the team is the most important thing."

    Ronaldo also holds the all-time goalscoring record at the tournament, with 14, while Saturday's victory was his 23rd at major international tournaments (World Cup/Euros).

    Only Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose (25 each for Germany) have recorded more such wins among European players.

    Portugal's victory was overshadowed, however, by a total of six pitch invaders making it onto the playing surface, seemingly emboldened by Ronaldo posing for a photograph with the first to reach the pitch – a young boy.

    Asked about those incidents, Martinez said: "It's a concern because today we were lucky that the intentions of the fans were good.

    "I think we all love a fan that recognises the big stars and the big icons, but you can understand it would be a very, very difficult moment if those intentions are wrong."

  • Turkiye 0-3 Portugal: Ronaldo breaks assist record as Selecao top Group F Turkiye 0-3 Portugal: Ronaldo breaks assist record as Selecao top Group F

    Cristiano Ronaldo became the European Championships' record assist-maker as Portugal won Group F with a 3-0 victory over Turkiye at Euro 2024 on Saturday.

    Having won late against Czechia in their opening game of the tournament, Roberto Martinez's side knew an improved display was needed on matchday two in Dortmund.

    The Selecao dominated from start to finish, with defensive errors aiding their triumph as Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes netted either side of a calamitous Samet Akaydin own goal.

    Portugal now have the luxury of being able to rest key players when they face Georgia in Gelsenkirchen next Wednesday. 

    Meanwhile, Turkiye know they must avoid defeat against Czechia to be certain of their progression to the knockout stages.

    With Arda Guler and Kenan Yildiz, who starred in Turkiye's opener against Georgia, both on the bench, Portugal were able to dominate from the off and went ahead after 21 minutes.

    A slick move down the left-hand side saw Nuno Mendes' delivery deflect kindly into the path of Silva, who swept the ball home from inside the area for his first goal at a major tournament.

    But for all their intricate passing play, Portugal would double their lead in comical fashion. Joao Cancelo's attempted pass to Ronaldo was cut out by Akaydin, but the defender sent a blind back pass beyond Altay Bayindir to score the sixth own goal of Euro 2024. 

    The Selecao further extended their advantage 10 minutes into the second half, profiting from more poor defending from Vincenzo Montella's side. 

    A simple ball over the top picked out Ronaldo as he was played onside by Zeki Celik, and with the goal at his mercy, he unselfishly squared for Fernandes to tap home. 

    Portugal tried to add to their tally as Silva saw his effort blocked late on, but they did not need a fourth as they clinched progression to the last 16.

    Bernardo breaks major tournament duck

    With 11 goals and 10 assists for Manchester City this past season, it is incredible to think Silva had yet to register a goal involvement at an international tournament until Euro 2024. 

    The 29-year-old finished well when presented with the first clear chance of the contest, and his overall play was excellent as Portugal cruised.

    Silva created more chances (three) than anyone else on the pitch, while also recording a 92.2% pass accuracy from 51 attempted passes. 

    Defensive howlers cost Turkiye

    Having impressed in the forward areas against Georgia in their opening Group F fixture, all eyes will now be fixed on Turkiye's defence following an error-strewn display.

    Perhaps a breakdown in communication contributed to the own goal after Bayindir was brought in between the sticks, and now Montella has a decision to make as to who he starts against Czechia next week. 

    Turkiye have now lost all four of their encounters with Portugal at the Euros without scoring a single goal: 1-0 in 1996 (group stages), 2-0 in 2000 (quarter-finals) and 2-0 in 2008 (group stages).

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