Take on Tokyo: 5 to watch in the Mens Football Tournament
As the dust settles on an exhilarating European Championship, tournament football is still available before another domestic season gets underway. The 2021 Olympics in Tokyo officially starts on the 23rd July; however some events start before including the men’s football with a range of stars representing their nations. Defending Champions Brazil will be looking to retain their title in a tough group alongside Germany, Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia. Host nation Japan will be looking to claim Gold in their own backyard but will have to get past South Africa, Mexico and heavyweights France. Squads are made up of 22 players instead of 18 as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, with 3 players being deemed to be overaged by being born before 1 January 1997. Some players competing will have had little break from their representations at either the Euro’s or Copa America. Here I’ll be looking at 5 rising stars who will be looking to make an impact at the games and then implement themselves at club level.
Pedri – Spain – FC Barcelona
After a sensational debut tournament with La Roja, the 18 year old will be looking to build on a semi final place that he achieved in the Euros. This comes after some dazzling performances for Spain controlling the midfield and possessing the ability to dictate the tempo of the game. So much so, he was named in the UEFA team of the tournament alongside experienced internationals in the form of Chelsea and Italy’s Jorginho and Tottenham and Denmark’s Pierre Emile Hojbjerg. After 1 season on loan at Las Palmas, Pedri has integrated himself into the Barcelona first team playing all but 1 league game for the Catalan giants last season, this being the final game of the season away to Eibar. A graduate of the La Masia academy, Pedri has taken on the role of playing progressive passes forward at the right time as well as mastering the art of ball retention, a trademark element of club and international teammate Sergio Busquets. This is emphasised by his ranking of 4th in progressive passes forward during the Euros with a total of 43, with Germany’s Toni Kroos top of the list with 53. However, he was ranked 1st in completed passes into the final 3rd with 68, beating Kroos by 4 who was level with international teammate Aymeric Laporte. Let’s see whether he can emulate this form into the Olympics with Spain looking to win their first gold medal since 1992, with the games coincidentally being held in Barcelona.
Amad Diallo – Ivory Coast – Manchester United
The 19-year-old will be looking forward to the games as a good chance to impress United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before arriving back to Carrington ahead of the new season. Diallo has featured in the majority of match day squads since his transfer from Atalanta, however his minutes have been sporadic. He has mainly been used as a late substitute in games where United have already been leading and part of mixed squads for “rotation based” reasons. His most important introduction was in United’s Round of 32 match against AC Milan in the Europa League, where he scored just 5 minutes after coming on as a half time substitute. Diallo showed clever movement and intelligent timing of his run to loft a header over keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma after being expertly found by Bruno Fernandes. Diallo will be looking to recreate his form for the United Under 23 side where recorded 3 goals and 4 assists in 3 games, including a brace against Liverpool on his debut. His nimble feet, blistering pace and ability to beat a player make him a threat either in wide areas or down the middle. With the arrival of Jadon Sancho imminent, Diallo might have to bide his time for first team opportunities. However, he will be a threat for opposition defences for many years to come.
Lucas Tousart – France – Hertha Berlin
Before signing for Hertha Berlin in the summer of 2020, Lucas Tousart established himself as part of an emerging and dynamic Lyon midfield comprising of Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aoaur. The trio’s superb ball manipulation made them difficult to read and even more difficult to disposes. Tousart predominately plies his trade as a number 8 looking to help out in all areas of the pitch. He uses timely tackles to regain possession whilst driving forward into the space looking to offload to attacking minded players. This was most likely Memphis Depay whilst at Lyon but now at Hertha Berlin is mainly Matheus Cunha who will also be competing at the games for Brazil. Tousart possess an ability to find passes between lines and look to play forward through half-spaces for chances to be created. His progressive offloads to Cunha helped the Brazilian finish 8th on the amount of shot creating actions in the Bundesliga last season with a total of 105, with Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller top of the list. Hertha have had a difficult season but Tousart has imposed himself well on matches attempting to become the vocal point in midfield. He was the target of 715 passes and was successful with those 83.3% of the time. He also travelled 2003 yards by progressing forward with the ball, which would then be offloaded forward to start attacks or backward to retain possession allowing Hertha to control the tempo. Tousart and France will be looking to make amends for their performances in the Euro’s and will be looking to emulate the success of the gold medal winning team of the 1984 Olympics in USA
Antony - Ajax - Brazil
After coming through the ranks at his boyhood club Sao Paolo, Antony moved to Ajax for a initial fee of £13 million pounds. The left footed right winger had an impressive debut season with the Amsterdam giants racking up 17 goal involvements last term (9 goals, 8 assists). This tally is the 7th highest in the league of goals/assists per 90 with club mate Dusan Tadic coming out on top with a score of 1.11 goals/assists per 90. The Brazilian posses quick and nimble feet with the ability to chop inside to shoot, or use his pace to down the line to then deliver into dangerous areas. This has become a large part of his game with the player accumulating 3.01 shots per 90 minutes with 39% of these being on target. His close control dribbling and body feints have been compared to a recent departure from Ajax in the shape of Hakim Ziyech, who’s boots Antony aims to fill by cutting inside to cause havoc. This is emphasised by his assist’s vs both Den Haag and Heerenveen, where he lofted a perfect pass into an area for a 3rd man runner to attack. His versatility going forward combined with an eye for goal in the final third make him a threat to opposition defenders and coaches alike. Furthermore, he has a great record for the Brazil U23’s scoring 6 goals in 17 games. A tally which he will be looking to add to this summer. Below is a heatmap of Antony’s average positioning whilst at Sao Paolo
Ritsu Doan – Japan – Bielefeld
Ritsu Doan is another player who has burst onto the scene this season with Arminia Bielefeld after being sent out on loan from PSV. The 23-year-old has impressed greatly whilst at the Bundesliga side and is up there with esteemed company in some key performance indicators. He achieved 18 dribbles last season which led to a shot, more than any other player in the Bundesliga. As a result, this beats the efforts of big-name stars such as Jadon Sancho and Kingsley Coman who could only manage 14. In addition to this Doan managed to dribble past 82 players this season, finishing 5th highest in the league with 1st place going to Amine Harit of FC Schalke with a total of 102. He also managed 63 carries into the final 3rd which was the 9th highest, with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho coming out on top. These stats show that Doan possesses a quick turn of pace to evade defenders whilst being able to draw players in to then knock past them. Predominately operating on the right side of midfield, he has an ability to drift inside to combine and create chances with teammates which shows a great range of passing either long to switch the play or short and sharp to put players through on goal. His playing style is relatively similar to Franco Cervi of Benfica and Daniel Podence of Wolves, with all 3 players looking to use their pace and nimble footwork to evade challenges. Despite being only 5’6, Doan has a low centre of gravity meaning he is difficult to knock off the ball and even more susceptible for fouls. With 89 shot creating actions, he poses a danger by dribbling or shooting once in the final third. With the country looking to him to help lead the Samurai Blue to Gold, he hopes to impress in front of his own nation. Lets see what he can get up to in their opening game of the tournament as Japan take on South Africa in Tokyo on Thursday 22nd July.
This article was written by Tom Carter