The Euros are (finally? belatedly?) upon us. Juventus have representatives on nine of the 24 teams in the competition, and we’re going to keep track of the exploits of each of those players in each round of games, from the group stage and as deep as the last team standing happens to go.
With Tuesday’s games over and this article going live, the first round of games in the group stage has been completed. So, let us take a look at how Juve’s players fared as the tournament got underway.
Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi
Roberto Mancini chose the old stalwart pair of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci to start the tournament opener against Turkey on Friday, and the results were spectacular. Chiellini in particular was stellar in the 3-0 win, taking advantage of Italy’s dominance to make those classic marauding runs downfield that he often made out of the left center back spot of the 3-5-2 when playing under Antonio Conte and/or Massimiliano Allegri. He came the closest of anyone to scoring in the first half when he got free on a corner kick, only to see his header palmed over the bar by Ugurcan Cakir. He finished the day with that shot and a key pass, along with three interceptions and three clearances — Turkey never put him in position to need to make any tackles. Bonucci was similarly unchallenged for much of the game, and used his passing abilities in the back to help set the foundations for moves as the Azzurri laid siege to the Turkish goal.
Of course, it didn’t help that the main threat they had to deal with was a 35-year-old Burak Yilmaz, who offered little to no vertical ability to expose the duo’s biggest weakness — the lack of pace to chase after a player who blows the top off the defense. Chiellini and Bonucci were completely untested in this regard over the entire 90 minutes. The only time a Turkey player did get in behind, it came after a free kick for which Chiellini and Bonucci were in the box serving as targets, so it was Leonardo Spinazzola, one of Italy’s fastest players, who had the job of (successfully) chasing down Cengiz Under.
With Switzerland — and pacy striker Breel Embolo, who repeatedly rand through the lines against Wales on Saturday — next on the docket, it might not be the worst idea in the world to give Chiellini the day off on Wednesday and give a faster player like Alessandro Bastoni a start to give the back line some more speed.
As for the Wings of Fede, they were relegated to mop-up duty after Italy had put the game away. With the current starting front three of Domenico Berardi, Ciro Immobile, and Lorenzo Insigne (the former two of whom were both Juventus assets at some point) in great form and showing a ton of chemistry, it’s probably not wise to break them up. Chiesa and Berna will likely have a better chance of starting in the game against Wales if Italy beat the Swiss to confirm their place in the last 16 and Mancini opts to rest some guys. In the meantime, they’ll have to serve as subs on the wings—in Chiesa’s case possibly of the super-sub variety.
Demiral will forever be the answer to the trivia question “When was the first time an own goal was the first goal of the tournament?” But his game wasn’t really that bad. He led the game with nine clearances, intercepted three passes, and blocked a shot. The own goal was a really difficult situation to be in. He was in no position to make controlled contact with the ball, but if he got out of the way Immobile was right behind him for a tap-in. His only real option was to get in the way and pray the ball bounced away from his goal. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t.
Turkey as a whole were shockingly poor, but Demiral was one of the more solid elements of the team on the night, even if his team did take a beating.
After Ramsey intimated that he was unhappy at Juve, reports say that a move back to the English Premier League is more and more in the cards for the oft-injured midfielder. Ramsey was relatively anonymous in Wales’ 1-1 draw with Switzerland, making one key pass but not managing a shot and completing only 88 percent of his passes overall. One would hope he’d show a little bit of life to perhaps drive any transfer fee up, but if an EPL club want him they’ll probably pay a decent number for him.
Still, you want to showcase someone in form when you’re trying to sell.
Matthijs de Ligt
De Ligt strained a groin muscle in training before the tournament, and he wasn’t passed fit to start in the Netherlands’ opener against Ukraine. The Oranje are probably saying a few prayers for him to be ready for game two, because his absence was rather keenly felt. After dominating Ukraine for an hour and going up 2-0 in the early stages of the second half, Frank de Boer decided he could let Daley Blind kick up his heels for a bit — and paid the price 10 minutes later when Ukraine scored twice in four minutes to tie the score. They took the lead again thanks to a good cross and some spectacularly poor goalkeeping, but once Blind left the field Ukraine immediately became more of a threat, and de Boer even ended up replacing 19-year-old Jurrien Timber, who had started in de Ligt’s stead, before the 90 minutes were up. With Virgil van Dijk missing out on the tournament thanks to a long-term injury, the lack of depth in the Dutch center-back chart was brutally exposed on Sunday, so they’ll need de Ligt to get back into the lineup as soon as possible.
Wojciech Szczesny got off to the worst possible start for Poland, being charged with a rather comical own goal at his near post to open the scoring against Slovakia. Szczesny has been having a rough couple of months, and this game will only put him further under the microscope.
To be fair to Woj, the Polish defense in front of him was also a complete shambles, which isn’t a shock when you consider that Kamil Glick is still one of the integral parts of the back line. That being said, Szczesny needs to get past this bad patch of form and tighten up if Poland are going to have a chance to get out of Group E.
Morata may have just sealed his stay at Juventus for another year, but the day before that he had a forgettable night. Tasked with leading the Spanish line in their tournament opener against Sweden, Morata missed two golden chances on either side of halftime, and was pulled after 66 minutes in favor of Pablo Sarabia. The game was marked by wasteful finishing on either side and two fantastic saves by Robin Olsen (most likely sending the blood pressure of Roma fans into the stratosphere) and was the only game in the first round of competition to end goalless.
Morata has always been streaky as hell, which is why he hasn’t been more of a mainstay in the Spanish side. It will now be on coach Luis Enrique to decide whether he will remain the starting striker going forward. On the one hand, Morata has by far the most prolific scorer amongst the 26-man Spanish squad—he has 19 international goals, the closest on the squad has five—but if he’s in a rut, he could drag Spain down for the tournament. The decision could decide how this group will shape out.
Kulusevski is currently out after testing positive for COVID-19 in the run-up to the tournament, but he was kept on the roster and is expected to return once he clears protocols. With Sweden likely to be an extreme counterattacking side for much of this tournament, Kulusevski could prove quite useful for his country when he does make it to the field.
Adrien Rabiot finished the season on an upswing in form, and he kept that going in France’s first game of the tournament on Tuesday, which ended 1-0 to Les Bleus after a Mats Hummels own goal. The midfielder contributed on both sides of the ball, finishing the game with two tackles, two interceptions, and a 93 percent pass completion rating. He nearly put France two up minutes into the second half when he got behind the defense and into the left channel, but cracked the ball off the post as he tried to beat Manuel Neuer near post. Neuer had committed to a far-post shot, so had he hit the target he would have had his first international goal. It’s certainly easy to run in a midfield that also includes Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, but Rabiot looked very good here, and if he keeps up like this, screw capital gains, dude needs to be made into a building block in Turin.
The only Juventus player to score a goal for his own team this week, Ronaldo’s Portuguese side had a slog of it dealing with Hungary, who held out for 84 minutes before the defending champions finally broke through with three goals in the last six minutes plus stoppage time.
The last two of those goals came off the boot of Ronaldo, one from a penalty and second after a silky combination with Rafa Silva left him with an easy move to round the keeper and put the ball into the net. The goals gave him 11 total at the European Championships proper, beating the record of nine set by Michel Platini.
Ronaldo’s future is anything but clear, but his present is stark: after struggling in the one easier game in the tournament’s clear Group of Death, any success Portugal has is going to come from Ronaldo dragging them there.