ESPN writers Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens delve into the thankless job of putting together our 2020 Euro Group Stage Best XI.
It seemed logical to limit ourselves to players who had played a minimum of two games and to employ a 4-3-3 formation, because that’s what many of the top sides played. Sure, it meant putting some square pegs into round holes, but we tried to avoid doing that. The old Best XI stand-by of packing the midfield with No. 10s and playing three centre-forwards up front isn’t for us. And, yes, sentiment might have played a part in one or two of these — we’re only human — though we tried to go by impact as the main criterion.
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Other keepers like England Jordan Pickford and Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma have yet to concede, but we went with Olsen because he made some big saves and few mistakes to help his team top Group E ahead of Spain and reach the knockout rounds.
He hasn’t really played right-back as much as he’s played right wing-back, but he’s deserving of a spot and this is where he fits in a 4-3-3. Scored the winner against Ukraine and then found the net again in the following game against Austria. A shout out to Vladimir Coufal from the Czech Republic here, as well.
Italy haven’t conceded with Bonucci starting all three games and hardly putting a foot wrong. In fact, he surpassed Gab’s expectations, after a tricky end to the season at Juventus. We were unanimous on Kjaer as well. Even if not for his leadership and reaction in the first game when teammate Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch, he’s been a steady and calming influence throughout the other group games. Presnel Kimpembe gets an honourable mention too as France’s best defender thus far.
An easy unanimous choice here. Spinazzola was devastating going forward in the two games he played for Italy, but also recovered very well defensively when called upon. Gab liked Sweden’s Ludwig Augustinsson too and we had to give a shout out to Robin Gosens of Germany as well for his performance against Portugal. However, given our criteria, it had be Spinazzola.
Three slots to fill here and Wijnaldum has to be an obvious choice for his three goals alone, even without considering his all-out effort and leadership on a Dutch team that looked full of holes heading into the tournament.
Pogba was a somewhat more difficult choice, given his relatively lacklustre display against Hungary, but he was a real difference maker in the other two games and that pass for Karim Benzema to score against Portugal was highlight reel stuff.
The third midfielder took some more discussion and maybe we were a bit swayed by the backstory (and Juls, who loves his fancy passing, was definitely swayed by that goal against Turkey). It’s Italy’s Manuel Locatelli, who wasn’t even supposed to start the tournament and yet he stamped his authority in both his appearances and played with personality and fearlessness, while scoring two goals. Honorable mentions go to Spain’s Koke, Wales’ Aaron Ramsey, Italy’s Jorginho, for Scotland’s all-around performance and effort, and, because we have soft spot for him, Luka Modric of Croatia.
Yes, Memphis plays in a two up front formation, but he often starts wide. And his electricity, unpredictability and downright class in the first three games as Netherlands went perfect in winning Group C get him in the team.
De Bruyne missed the opener, but he turned the second game against Denmark on its head with a goal and an assist and followed that up with a stellar performance in the third game as well for Group B winners Belgium. As Juls, says, you know he’s going to be good from here on out, too.
Having witnessed his goal against the Czechs in person, Gab had to give a shout out to Croatia’s Ivan Perisic as well, while we both loved Mikkel Damsgaard’s goal, and performances, for Denmark. Raheem Sterling’s two goals — without which England would have zero — also deserve a mention.
Ronaldo and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku both deserved to be here in our opinion, but we only have room for one player up front. And, frankly, since it’s about impact, you can’t really ignore Ronaldo’s five goals, even though three were from the penalty spot. The headed clearance and run against Germany was special, as was the one-two with Rafa Silva for the third against Hungary. (Yes, it was in garbage time, but you try doing that in the 90th minute).
Lukaku has been not just a road-grader, he’s been a leader as well and unselfish to boot. But there’s only one spot here and that’s also why Czech Republic’s Patrik Schick — with thee goals and a goal of the tournament candidate — has to make do with an honourable mention.