The players to watch in Portugal this summer
‘It’s going to be a long summer without any football’ they’re all saying. Nothing to watch, follow or get excited about. You, an intellectual with your finger on the pulse of football culture, sit back in your chair and laugh.
We've got some time until we need to think about domestic football again. There’s the small matter of an international tournament that England – yes, England – are the favourites to win.
Not only are the Three Lions looking to take the next step after the heroics of last summer, but they’re up against some interesting, developing teams; sides who have undergone a transformation in recent times, ready to usher in a new era.
We get it though, you’ve got more interesting things to do this week – Love Island won’t watch itself. You just don’t have the time to sift through the squads and pick out the players who will stand out over the next few days but, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s all the information you need to show off in front of your mates.
This boy is the talk of the metaphorical town. He only made his first team debut at club level at the start of this season but has found the back of the net 20 times in all competitions, including 15 in the league and a hat-trick in Europe. That level of performance has caught the attention of some of the world’s biggest clubs, but this 19-year-old won’t come cheaply – he’s carrying a price tag in excess of €100 million.
He’s yet to make an international appearance for Portugal but this is the perfect opportunity to get him up to speed with international tournament football ahead of Portugal’s defence of their European title next summer.
Technically gifted, agile and with a football intelligence that belies his years, Felix could pose problems for even the tightest of defences. A couple of good displays for his country and the hype around him will reach new levels.
Notable attributes: Technique, Dribbling, First Touch, Passing
Another Portuguese player yet to earn an international cap, but who could well find himself in the starting XI come the start of the tournament. Jota has had an excellent first season in the top flight in England, scoring 10 times in all competitions and earning plenty of praise for his performances across the season.
FM fan Jota’s preferred position is on the left wing where he’s able to make full use of his speed, dribbling ability and agility. Look for him to cut inside from the left and deliver the ball in to you-know-who up front. If he can carry his club form into the tournament then there’s every chance that he could be one of Portugal’s key players this week.
Notable attributes: Dribbling, Acceleration, Technique, Flair
He’s gone from unknown quantity to superstar in the blink of an eye. At just 19 years of age, he’s quickly becoming a household name across Europe and it almost feels strange to call him a wonderkid after what he’s achieved in such a short space of time.
He’s one of the most signed players in FM19 for good reason. Sancho is both direct yet subtle simultaneously, he has the ability to slow down and speed up at the flick of a switch, stopping on a dime to pull defences apart. He’s just what this organised, structured England side need; a catalyst, a game winner.
Notable attributes: Dribbling, Acceleration, Technique, Vision
What a season this boy has had. He’s been the best right-back in the English top flight this season and played a pivotal role in his team’s fantastic season that culminated in a European trophy. He could well find himself in another final within the space of a week.
Alexander-Arnold is highly adept at the defensive duties of his full-back role but thrives on getting forward and assisting his team in the attacking phase of play. He notched up 12 assists in the league this season and presents another attacking threat for England side that plays with a new-found confidence going forward.
He’s pretty handy from set-pieces too and that could be decisive in England’s semi-final against the Netherlands and their resolute defence.
Notable attributes: Pace, Crossing, Determination, Free Kick Taking
Frenkie De Jong
Frenkie de Jong has been nothing short of sensational for his club side, Ajax, this season. He played an instrumental role in winning the domestic double and their run to the semi-finals in Europe while he has also earned himself a transfer to join the Spanish champions this summer in a deal worth an initial €75 million.
Here’s what our Head Researcher for the Netherlands, Jeroen Thijssen, has to say on the young star: “de Jong plays mostly as a number six, but has excellent box-to-box qualifies to perform his defensive tasks and switch to offensive tasks as well. Look for his calm demeanour, not shying away on challenges but winning the majority of them on balance, timing and technique – his first touch is often sensational as is his drive to want to play the ball forward. Despite his sometimes possibly dangerous style, his choices are often the right ones. Frenkie can very likely be the Dutch National Team’s go-to midfielder for the next 10 years.”
Notable attributes: First Touch, Teamwork, Passing, Technique
Matthijs De Ligt
He may only be 19 years old but de Ligt can already be considered as one of the world’s best centre-backs. Like his team-mate de Jong, he was crucial to Ajax’s success this season and even scored the goal that secured their place in the semi-finals in Europe. The boy certainly knows how to deliver on the big stage.
He’s imposing, mature and possesses ridiculously good technical skill and his performances are likely to be massively important to the Netherlands’ success in Portugal. A landmark transfer to one of the European big boys surely awaits once this tournament is over and a couple of strong performances here could add an extra few million to the transfer fee.
Thijssen thinks that will be money well spent. “Matthijs de Ligt is already a very gifted central defender, but I believe he will the absolute best in the world in a few season’s time. The only question is, where will he move to as every self-respecting top side is chasing him. He’s still just 19 (almost 20), measures 1.89 metres and 89 kilograms and can be tough if needed. Look for him to excel at his marking and positioning duties, pass the ball and not be afraid to dribble into the opponent’s half. As for his heading? Well, he’s bagged a few from corners already.”
Notable attributes: Tackling, Marking, Passing, Heading
This defender was one of Borussia Dortmund’s most consistent performers in the Bundesliga this season as Der BVB finished just short of winning their first title in seven years. Swiss fans will be hoping he can carry his club form into their semi-final clash against Portugal.
Our Swiss Head Researcher, Oliver Zesiger, thinks Akanji will have a big say in his country’s success at the tournament: “Manuel Akanji is crucial to this team. He is a tall centre-back with lots of abilities. Despite his size, he's very quick. His timing in the tackle is excellent as well. He's been played as a ball playing defender due to his prowess in passing. He can take out one or two lines with his passes with ease. He also captained Dortmund this season for brief stints. At only 23 years of age, he still is very young. If the Swiss team wants to win this Final Four tournament, Akanji will have to perform at a high level.”
Notable attributes: Pace, Strength, Tackling, Composure
Xhaka has been plying his trade in England’s top flight for the past three seasons and has earned a reputation as a hot-headed, but tough-tackling midfielder. For Switzerland, he takes on a playmaker role with his vision and passing ability driving the team forward from midfield.
Zesiger points to one game in particular that defines his importance to his country’s hopes this week. “Switzerland led 3-0 at home in a European qualifier against Denmark, with ten minutes left to play. Vladimir Petkovic then subbed out Xhaka and the team fell apart and conceded three goals. That's how important he is. In the Swiss team, he's the captain, the brain and the heartbeat. He dictates direction and tempo of play with his passes. Granit has matured into a person ready to take over a leadership role.”
Notable attributes: Passing, Vision, Technique, Teamwork