The European Championships are upon us! After eight months of scintillating domestic football, culminating in an 11th European title for Real Madrid, stars of several teams around Europe descend on France for their national service. Here is LWOS’ Players to watch at Euro 2016, and, no we’re not looking at the usual suspects:
Players To Watch at Euro 2016
Dimitri Payet – France
Starting off with the hosts, it’s the man idolized by many in East London, Payet has dazzled the Premier League in his first season at West Ham. The French faithful will be hoping to elevate that form into the Euros this summer as they seek to claim a second European crown on home soil. Having made his return to the national set up after a five-month hiatus, Payet will be hoping to scintillate crowds just as he did in London. His pinpoint free kicks combined with his flair while on the ball can rage fear in any defense.
The 29-year-old was involved in 21 goals this season in the Premier League alone (9 goals and 12 assists) and created a staggering 116 chances in 2570 minutes of football he was involved in. He also managed to gain a nomination for the PFA’s Player of the Year and earn a spot in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year becoming the first West Ham player to do so, since Trevor Brooking in 1978! And to think that he was injured for a large part of the first half of the season raises the question of where West Ham would have finished if that weren’t the case. Often lauded for his versatility in attack, Payet can play on the wings as well as just behind the central striker. And while on the wing, his crosses and long range shooting abilities will be a major asset to France and their forwards.
This will be Payet’s first major tournament for his country and he, as well as the French fans and management will hope that the famous ‘We’ve got Payet’ song in which he is compared to national icon Zinedine Zidane is entirely justified. He has the ability, and he will flaunt it on home
Joao Mario – Portugal
Portuguese football is on the rise. With local clubs such as Porto and Benfica, amongst others bringing in quality players through their carousel of talent, it won’t be long before Portugal resurrect the golden eras of Eusebio and Luis Figo. But for now, one man destined to be headlining that resurrection is Sporting’s Joao Mario.
Linked to a whole host of English clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool after a stellar breakthrough campaign with Sporting Lisbon, the midfielder, who managed 6 goals and 11 assists in 33 games, will set his sights on bring the Iberian nation their first major silverware. He was a key cog in Sporting’s challenge for the Primiera Liga title, where they finished 13 points clear of conventional contenders FC Porto and 2 points behind eventual champions SL Benfica. The 23-year-old, who can play in several positions in midfield as well as on the wing, made his Portugal debut in 2014, but is yet to score after nine caps.
The other midfield talent in the Portuguese ranks, including Bayern Munich‘s new recruit Renato Sanches as well as the experienced legs of Monaco’s Joao Moutinho will most likely force coach Fernando Santos to push the number 10 out to the wing, a role in which he managed a large majority of his goal contributions from (4 goals and 10 assists as a right winger). That will not make a difference in his evident talent as he will be one to fear, for opposition defenses.
Ricardo Rodriguez – Switzerland
Wolfsburg may have been unable to bring their top form from the previous season where they finished 2nd in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich, but one thing that remained consistent was the form of left-back Ricardo Rodriguez. The Zurich-born Swiss of Chilean descent enjoyed a stellar season and will be one of the key players for Switzerland as they aim to get past the group stages of the European Championships for the first time in three attempts, a task which seem highly likely.
Rodriguez managed two goals and three assists in his 24 games of German Bundesliga action, which isn’t a significant value, but he created several chances for his teammates and also scored for Die Wölfe against Real Madrid, in the Champions League during their magical 2-0 win, a tie which ended differently. He was largely influential in Wolfsburg’s run in the Champions League, in which they succeeded in making it to the knockout rounds for the very first time. Rodriguez has been linked with Arsenal and Manchester United over the last season and their probable intentions are entirely justified. His attacking flair, combined with his killer crosses are an asset to any team.
Rodriguez represented Switzerland at the World Cup in 2014 and is seen as an experienced figure in the squad, despite being just 25-years-old. His debut came in 2011 as a 20 year old, in a 2-0 defeat against Wales, but there will be different fortunes for Switzerland this time around as they have a much more improved and confident squad, with Rodriguez being a vital player for them.
Andriy Yarmolenko – Ukraine
Versatile forward Andriy Yarmolenko will spearhead Ukraine‘s charge as they aim to get through a tough group which contains World Champions Germany, neighbors Poland and tricky Northern Ireland. Often known for his speed and strength, the Dynamo Kyiv star can play on either wing and has an incredible goal scoring record for his country with 24 goals in 58 caps.
Linked to Barcelona and Everton in recent seasons, he has powered Dynamo Kyiv to two successive Ukrainian league titles, the first being after six years, breaking the Shakhtar Donetsk dynasty in the process. He made his debut for the Bilo-Syni in 2007 and has played a staggering 290 games for the club, scoring 113 goals and won eight trophies – a resume fit for a footballing icon in the country.
With the goals and successes comes the controversy. Yarmolenko has publicly shown off his flaws in continuous brawls with Shakhtar counterpart and Ukraine teammate Taras Stepaneko. In a game between the rivals in 2015, Yarmolenko committed a leg-breaking, potentially career-ending challenge on the Shakhtar midfielder, the two made up, but the rivalry didn’t end there. In April of this year, Yarmolenko infamously kicked Stepaneko after Shakhtar were celebrating their third goal of the game, an act which prompted Stepaneko to declare that he no longer considered the Dynamo forward his friend.
The fiery winger will be representing Ukraine in a major competition for the second time, the first being Euro 2012, and if Ukraine are to progress, their hopes will be pinned on Yarmolenko. Often considered to be the heir to the legendary Andriy Shevchenko, the talisman has enough in his locker to raise fear amongst opposition defenses.
Grzegorz Krychowiak – Poland
Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak’s stock has risen in recent years. With stellar performances for La Liga side Sevilla, the midfielder is highly touted for by a host of European clubs including Arsenal and Barcelona. The defensive midfielder joined the Andalusian club in 2014 and has won two Europa League titles. Despite being known for his defensive attributes, Krychowiak managed to get on the score sheet in the 2015 Europa League final against Ukranian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk – a goal which ended up being crucial in Sevilla’s evenetual win.
Born in Gryfice, Poland, Krychowiak left his home country for France at the age of 16 and joined French side Bordeaux, featuring for their youth set-up. Chances were few and far between at Bordeaux which forced him to have loan spells at FC Nantes and more notably Stade Reims. He made nearly 150 league appearances in France before sealing a move to Sevilla for €5,5 million – a move which is now a bargain. 85 games later, Krychowiak is seen as a pillar in this Polish side which has to face Germany, Ukraine and Northern Ireland in France. This should be no problem for Krychowiak, as he has shown pressure is no problem.
In team consisting of star-striker Robert Lewandowski and ex-Torino Kamil Glik, Krychowiak’s defensive abilities will be crucial. The 1.86 metre tall midfielder has one of the best ratios for winning aerial duels and has a knack for intercepting potential game-ending passes. His passing is one of the best in Spain and has the skill and technique to control the flow of a game. With him handling the midfield and being able to keep Lewandowski on his toes, Poland can cause havoc in France.