Klopp’s fringe men, long-term targets & potential finalists – Euro 2020 Group A

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Euro 2020 is on the way and, while mid-season internationals can be disruptive, foolish and downright irritating, football fans the world over come together to enjoy summer tournaments – which might be exactly what’s required after the past year or so.

What are the best things about summer international tournaments? For some it’s the faces and names they don’t get to watch mid-season. For some it’s the kits, the fans, the style of play.

And sure, for some it’s nothing at all – but given the involvement for Liverpool players and scope for watching potential targets, Euro 2020 could be fantastic.

The first group looks one of the most interesting and unpredictable of the six; with three teams potentially able to push their way through to the knock-out phase, this one is wide-open as all nations realistically look in with a chance if they find their best form.

Here’s a run-down of everything Reds-related and what to watch out for in Group A.

 

Group A Liverpool links

CARDIFF, WALES - Sunday, September 6, 2020: Wales' Neco Williams celebrates at the final whistle after scoring the winning goal in injury time to seal a 1-0 victory during the UEFA Nations League Group Stage League B Group 4 match between Wales and Bulgaria at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Reds winger Xherdan Shaqiri is a key component of the Switzerland squad, and his side will be optimistic about their chances of progression to the last 16.

He could come up against a team-mate or two along the way: Ozan Kabak – just finished his loan with the Reds – is in the Turkey squad, hoping to add to his 12 caps, while Wales have two Liverpool players involved: Neco Williams has been handed the No. 3 shirt and Harry Wilson is wearing No. 8.

There are a host of players who the Reds have been linked with involved, ranging from the spurious to the frequent: Nicolo Barella (Italy), Denis Zakaria (Swiss), Ugurcan Cakir (Turkey).

There’s also, err, Ben Davies involved…but not ours!

Fixtures

June 11 – Turkey vs. Italy
June 12 – Wales vs. Switzerland
June 16 – Turkey vs. Wales
June 16 – Italy vs. Switzerland
June 20 – Switzerland vs. Turkey
June 20 – Italy vs. Wales


ITALY

Topped qualifying with a 100 percent record and only four goals conceded in their 10 games.

The focus in the build-up has been on World Cup-winners France, Germany changing manager and of course the home nations, but Roberto Mancini has built a winning machine with the Azzurri.

They are unbeaten in 26 across Euros qualifiers, friendlies, Nations League and World Cup qualifiers – all but four of them victories.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Roberto Mancini, the head coach. He has them organised, tactically flexible, very calm on the ball and scoring goals from all over the park.
  • Marco Verratti, in midfield. It’s fairly tough to call definite starters outside of centre-back as there have been a lot of changes, but if the PSG man is fit, he’s in. Aggressive, creative, a real leader and utterly excellent in possession.
  • Manuel Locatelli as the wildcard option. He’s super talented, has had another really good season with Sassuolo and will be the heart of Italy’s midfield for years to come – but we’ll see if he’s a starter or an option off the bench this time around.

Prediction: Group winners and a total of zero points dropped. A run to the quarter-finals should be assured, then we’ll see just how good they are under pressure. Beaten semi-finalists.


SWITZERLAND

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 3, 2018: Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri with a ball in hands in the Knockout Stage Round of 16 football match between Sweden and Switzerland at Saint Petersburg Stadium (Krestovsky Stadium) at FIFA World Cup Russia 2018; Sweden won 1-0. Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

They’re always just…there, aren’t they? Switzerland qualify without you noticing, turn up and get a win, you’re vaguely sure they make it through to the knock-outs but are always comfortable if your nation gets drawn against them.

Perhaps this time around they can do something more: the squad is really decent, packed with Bundesliga talent and a few scattered across other Europa League-level teams…and Arsenal.

Our boy Xherdan should come out of the tournament just shy of a century of caps, a phenomenal achievement – and he’s the squad’s top scorer, too.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Kevin Mbabu is a midfielder-turned-rampaging-right-back who definitely bears watching. He can carry the ball extremely well, is strong in the tackle and decent with his final ball.
  • Nico Elvedi will be charged with holding the defence together. At his best he gets in the way of everything and is a threat off set-pieces, too.
  • Xherdan Shaqiri, of course. Nobody has more than his 23 for the national team in this squad, or more than his 90 caps either. Their go-to creator, a central, roving force of wizardry and the one who will probably earn them an unexpected victory.

Prediction: Getting through the group should be no real issue, but how far can they go?

Our predictions show one big performance in the knock-outs – against the Netherlands, if you want to know – could see them make a run all the way to the last four, which would be a huge (over-)achievement. Beaten semi-finalists.


TURKEY

Ozan Kabak, Turkey (PA Media) (V o l k s b a n k B o c h u m - W i t t e n )

Came second in their qualifying group, behind France, while inflicting defeat on the world champions along the way.

This looks a more balanced squad than in previous tournaments in terms of how good the starters and second string are, with a strong emphasis on home-based players with the top teams.

The defence is without question their strong point: choose from Juve’s Demiral, Leicester’s Soyuncu and briefly Liverpool’s-Kabak in the centre and add Ligue 1 title-winner Zeki Celik on the right. Lots to admire here.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Senol Gunes, a real legend of the game in Turkey. He was in charge when Turkey came third at World Cup 2002; a couple of league titles with Besiktas later he’s back to do it again.
  • Yusuf Yazici. Can play right up top or in behind, has a fantastic strike on him and is happy to run at the whole defence if he has to.
  • Hakan Calhanoglu. It feels he should be about 38 by now given how long he has been around, but he’s only 27, still central to Turkey’s plans…and about to leave Milan on a free.

Prediction: Turkey to progress but drawing France isn’t ideal, so there their run ends. Last 16.


WALES

DUBLIN, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND - Sunday, October 11, 2020: Wales' Harry Wilson during the UEFA Nations League Group Stage League B Group 4 match between Republic of Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Earned their place at the Euros with a second-place finish in qualifying, behind World Cup finalists Croatia. Even so, it was far from vintage and relentless from the Welsh, who won just four of their eight.

Given the ongoing managerial issues – no giving it Giggsy until the end of the Euros – and a few fitness concerns, it’s hard to see them doing a Wales (Euro 2016 vintage) this time around.

Despite that, they have match winners. Organisation and work rate will be key, along with concentration…then waiting for their stars to strike.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Gareth Bale. With apologies for stating the bleeding obvious, his strike rate of one-in-three, his ability to carry the ball and his national pride all make him the go-to saviour if they are to win games.
  • Joe Rodon, because Wales will have to be near-perfect in defence given how much possession they are likely to concede. The youngster needs to be right on it.
  • Tyler Roberts, finally. Wales will need goals to come from somewhere else and despite a really good season with Leeds, Roberts just doesn’t provide much firepower. He needs to find his shooting boots here to go with the dribbling and effort he brings.

Prediction: A brave but ultimately fruitless struggle for the Dragons. Exit at the group stage.

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