Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t want his Sweden comeback to end in humiliation, Eden Hazard is aiming to put his Madrid nightmare to one side… while Jadon Sancho is auditioning for a possible transfer: 10 players with a point to prove at the Euros
- After a frustrating 2020, the delayed Euros finally kick off in over a months time
- Many players will be desperate to prove their worth on the international stage
- Ibrahimovic will be eager to make a statement after returning to the Sweden fold
- And Hazard, Werner and Co know they must shine after disappointing seasons
After a hugely disappointing 2020 that saw the sporting calendar decimated by the Covid pandemic, football fans can finally see the Euros on the horizon and kick-off can’t come soon enough.
When the Euros get underway in just over a months time on June 11, there will be plenty of world-class players desperate to prove a point for various reasons.
Some players will be hoping to answer their critics following disappointing seasons domestically while others are looking to put themselves in the shop window.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at 10 players who know they must make their mark and play a major role in this summer’s flagship tournament…
Kick-off is fast approaching ahead of this summer’s postponed Euros – which begins on June 11
For Ibrahimovic, he doesn’t fall into either of the above categories but he arguably has the biggest point to prove following his decision to return to the international fold with Sweden just months prior to the Euros.
Many saw his return from an egotistical point of view, believing the veteran striker wanted to grab all the headlines at the showpiece tournament having not played for Sweden after initially retiring from national duty in 2016.
So there will be pressure on 39-year-old Ibrahimovic to deliver for Sweden, who begin their campaign with a tricky test against Spain on June 14.
Ibrahimovic made his emotional homecoming for Sweden during March’s World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Kosovo, and he returned in style.
Ibrahimovic, who has played for European giants like AC Milan, Inter, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United, set up the only goal in the 1-0 win over Georgia before laying on another two assists in the 3-0 victory over Kosovo.
He later joked he was the ‘new King’ of Sweden after his heroics and you can expect much more of the same if he delivers during the Euros. And you wouldn’t put it past him – after all he does usually shine on the biggest stage.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be looking to shine for Sweden after returning to national duty
Hazard has endured a nightmare time since his mega-money move to Real Madrid from Chelsea and the Euros – providing he doesn’t pick up yet another unfortunate injury – will come as a very welcome change for the Belgian winger.
Hazard was expected to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo at Madrid but instead it has been a horror show for him in the Spanish capital after setting the Premier League alight.
The 30-year-old winger has been plagued by injuries, which has coincided with poor form, throughout his time in Spain and has come in for criticism for reportedly turning up for club duties overweight a couple of times now.
In fact, Hazard has only played 39 times for the LaLiga and European giants in almost two years at the club – scoring just four goals and creating seven assists in that time.
Madrid certainly haven’t got what they expected out of the winger following his dazzling days in London but perhaps the Euros gives Hazard the chance to rediscover his form.
The weight will be lifted off Hazard’s shoulders at the Euros, and he will be desperate to lead Belgium to glory. Roberto Martinez’s side have gone into recent tournaments as one of the favourites but have yet to get over the line.
If Hazard – who captains Belgium – can lead his country to a historic triumph this summer, then it could be the catalyst that gets his Madrid career back on track.
Eden Hazard is desperate to put his Real Madrid nightmare behind him this summer
Sterling certainly wouldn’t have been on this list not that long ago but his recent expulsion to the sidelines under Pep Guardiola means the England international will be aching to make his mark for the Three Lions.
Sterling appears to have fallen slightly out of favour under Guardiola in recent weeks, with the Spaniard leaving him out of their most important games as they eye Champions League glory as well as the Premier League title.
In fact, he has been left out for fellow England international Phil Foden for many games, with the City youngster enjoying his best season to date under Guardiola.
The winger has now gone 11 matches without scoring for City and he will have been left hurt and disappointed by his recent axing from the side’s strongest line-up.
Sterling’s overall tally of 13 goals compares unfavourably to last season’s haul of 33, and he will be hoping that his fortunes change when he rocks up for national duty with England.
Gareth Southgate’s men start as one of the front-runners for glory this summer, and in a group against Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland, Sterling will quietly fancy his chances of getting on the scoresheet and making the difference up top at Wembley.
After a tough couple of months at Man City, Sterling will be hoping to deliver for England
Another England star who needs a huge summer is Sancho, who could be auditioning for a transfer away from Borussia Dortmund.
After a £100m plus move to Man United didn’t come to fruition last summer, Sancho’s performances had dipped at the start of the new season but slowly and surely he has recaptured his form.
The England winger has 12 goals and 18 assists to his name in 34 matches across all competitions this season, which represents a very decent tally when you consider his start to the new season.
Sancho could finally be on his way out of the Dortmund exit doors in the coming months, with Man United still interested in his services while rivals Liverpool and Chelsea are also closely monitoring his situation.
It is believed that Bundesliga outfit Dortmund have a gentleman’s agreement in place with Sancho that will allow him to leave for the right price, so he knows he will have to perform to keep clubs in hot pursuit of his signature.
However, he has endured limited game time for England recently. He missed out on the last international break due to a muscle injury while he was used off the bench predominantly during last November’s fixtures against Belgium and Iceland in the Nations League – seemingly falling down the pecking order.
So it will be intriguing to see how much game time Sancho during the Euros, especially with the vast array of attacking talent at Southgate’s disposal, as he looks to grab the headlines ahead of what could turn out to be a huge summer for his future.
Jadon Sancho will likely be auditioning for a move away from Borussia Dortmund at the Euros
When Bale returned on loan to north London with Tottenham from Spanish giants Real Madrid, there was plenty of expectation on his shoulders, but simply put he hasn’t delivered consistently enough.
He appears to have rediscovered some form following Jose Mourinho’s sacking last month, but Bale will be the first to tell you that he hasn’t lived up to the standards expected of himself.
But the Welshman has in fact endured a difficult few seasons, not just at Tottenham, but before that at Madrid as he was cast to the sidelines after falling out of favour under Zinedine Zidane. They have always endured a fractious relationship and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Bale beyond the summer.
Bur first and foremost – Bale will be desperate to prove that his career isn’t falling to the wayside and that he still has what it takes on the biggest stage of all.
Bale, along with Aaron Ramsey, will be the men expected to produce the goods for Wales at the European Championships.
And in a group consisting of Switzerland, Turkey and Italy, Wales will be quietly confident of advancing to the knockout stages. Could Bale replicate his heroics of Euro 2016 that saw his country defy the odds to reach the semi-finals?
Wales’ Gareth Bale will be hoping to put his disappointing season with Tottenham to one side
From north London to west London now, and this time it’s Germany international Havertz who is under the spotlight.
Havertz has failed to live up to his reputation at Chelsea following his £89m move from Bayer Leverkusen last summer.
Havertz won plenty of plaudits during his time in the Bundesliga thanks to his goalscoring knack but his return hasn’t been good enough yet for the Blues – scoring just eight times and setting up eight assists in 40 matches overall this season.
But he is slowly showing signs that he is starting to burst into life at Stamford Bridge, playing a starring role in the recent 2-0 victory over Fulham in the Premier League by scoring both goals for Thomas Tuchel’s men.
Consistency has plagued him in the English capital, but he could still play a key role for Chelsea between now and the end of the season, as they go in search of Champions League glory as well as a top four finish.
But in the back of his mind, the attacking midfielder will also be fully focused on delivering consistently for Germany this summer and proving his critics wrong. In a daunting group against world champions France, Portugal and Hungary – there would be no better time to prove his worth.
Germany’s attacking midfielder Kai Havertz has endured a tough first season at Chelsea
Another Premier League player, and specifically another Chelsea star who has flattered to deceive.
Werner, along with Havertz, were the two marquee signings for the Blues last summer with the former joining from Bundesliga giants RB Leipzig in a £53m deal after emerging as one of the best striker’s around in Europe.
But so far, despite a decent enough return, Werner has grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons due to his wastefulness in front of goal.
Werner is Chelsea’s second-highest scorer this season in all competitions with 11 to his name – only Tammy Abraham has more – but his ability to fluff his lines from close range on a consistent basis leaves much to be desired.
His latest was a glaring miss against Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League. With only Thibaut Courtois to beat in the six-yard box, Werner struck straight at the former Chelsea keeper to be denied.
He simply should have more goals for Chelsea considering the positions he gets into regularly. And his task this summer is simple, to show fans that the club were right to fork out £53m by being ruthless in front of goal for Germany.
Timo Werner must show a ruthless streak for Germany when the Euros come around
The Portuguese star has transformed Man United’s fortunes since arriving for £68m from Sporting Lisbon in January last year, chipping in with crucial goals and assists both domestically and in Europe.
So far this season, Fernandes sits joint-third in the Premier League goalscoring charts (16) and second in the assist standings (11). Considering he plays as an attacking central midfielder, these stats are ridiculously impressive.
Fernandes’ signing has massively helped United close the gap at the summit of the Premier League and he could finally end the club’s four-year wait for silverware with Europa League glory.
To be honest, he has nothing to prove in England, but more back home as he looks to step out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow.
For so long, Ronaldo has been Portugal’s main man and the reasons don’t need explaining. But his powers appear to slowly be diminishing, and at the age of 36, this could perhaps be the last major national tournament fans see him at.
For Portugal’s sake, they need someone who can carry the burden left by Ronaldo and take centre stage. Therefore, it’s imperative that Fernandes steps up to the plate and delivers at the Euros with a change of the guard in the reckoning.
Bruno Fernandes will be looking to ease the attacking burden on Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoulders
For Dutch forward Depay, the Euros represent an opportunity to put himself in the shop window with his future at Lyon far from clear following talk of a move away from France.
The 27-year-old’s contract at the Ligue 1 side expires in June and he has been heavily linked with a move to Spanish giants Barcelona, where he would link up with compatriot and former Holland boss Ronald Koeman.
Recent reports from Spain, specifically Mundo Deportivo, claim that Depay has started searching for a house in the country after agreeing to take a pay cut to join cash-strapped Barcelona as a free agent.
So with a move to Spain firmly expected, Depay knows that there will be plenty of attention on him at the Euros.
Depay failed to live up to the hype at Man United after arriving from PSV Eindhoven in 2015, so he is fully aware that a move to Barca could perhaps be last chance saloon on the biggest stage domestically.
After building his reputation up again at Lyon, Depay will therefore be eager to ensure the positive headlines surrounding himself remain in place throughout the summer ahead of a potential move to Barca.
Memphis Depay will aim to make a statement ahead of his reported move to Barcelona
Just like his former Real Madrid team-mate Ronaldo, this could arguably be the final tournament Ramos plays for Spain before a calling day on his international duties.
As well as being his country’s most-capped played ever with 168 appearances, Ramos has won one World Cup and back-to-back European Championships with Spain. But it could soon be the end of an era.
Ramos, whose future in Madrid is up in the air, isn’t getting any younger and Spain have some talented centre backs at their disposal now.
The likes of Eric Garcia and Pau Torres are coming through for Luis Enrique’s side and could be the future for Spain – so could Ramos potentially be getting ready for an emotional swansong at international level?
If that’s the case and he does bow out after the showpiece Euros, he will be determined to go out with a bang.
Captain Sergio Ramos could say an emotional goodbye to Spain following the Euros
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