For the past 3 days, Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn has been out with a strained quadriceps. In light of this, the top defensive end in the NFC South would be tough to keep off the field, especially against the Carolina Panthers, who will be missing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on Sunday.
The MLS is full of great players, but when it comes to picking a favorites list, it’s a tough task. Who are the most talented players in the league? Do you go by goals, assists, or appearance? Or do you go by the eye test, looking to see which players are more consistent than others? When it comes to top young players in MLS, there are a number of players to consider. Some are rising into the first team, others are just starting to show up on the radar, and yet others are those that have caught people’s attention but are yet to fully realize their potential.
The top players of tomorrow have already been born. Here are my top five:
One of the benefits of writing for ESPN is the variety of tools at your disposal. Our TruMedia Football Dashboard brings together StatsPerform data from most of the major leagues in the world, as well as numerous club friendlies and virtually every international match from the last decade. (There’s also WC data from the 60s and ME data from the 80s, and gee, I’m going to find a way to use that in my work). While it doesn’t contain all the details of every player participating in this summer’s European Championship, there are quite a few. – Euro 2020 on ESPN: Live matches and replays (US only) – Euro 2020: Match, ESPN live broadcast, match dates, times and locations for – European Soccer Pick ‘Em : Win $10,000. This is a good way to ask a simple question: Who played too many minutes last year? And from there: Why is this important? Without a goalie, from mid-June 2017 to mid-June 2018 – I have the 11th goalie. June is used as end date, because then the European Championship starts. 29 players have played more than 5,000 minutes in all competitions of which we have data. Only one has exceeded the 5,500 mark: Defender Fabian Balbuena (then Corinthians, now West Ham United). 2 Connected The 2018-19 season, which included the World Cup finals, saw a slight increase in numbers. 33 players made more than 5,000 minutes, eight more than 5,500: defenders Daley Blind, Toby Alderweireld, Richard Keogh, Matteis de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk, midfielder Joshua Kimmich and strikers Dusan Tadic and Antoine Griezmann. In 2019-20, the end of coronavirus has significantly changed the equation. With most leagues taking a break between March and May, no player has yet crossed the 5,000-minute mark, and only two – Kimmich and Corinthians defender Gil – have crossed the 4,500-minute mark. However, this status quo has led to oversaturation. Most leagues resume play in the summer, end it in July or August, and then begin the following seasons in September. The international competition is on. The Europa League and Champions League are also included. It’s been a year of overloaded games and soft tissue injuries; now, after the shortest break, the Euros start next Friday. We enter the second most important international competition with 76 players having played at least 5,000 minutes, 26 over 5,500 and four over 6,000 : England’s Harry Maguire, Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Dias and Scotland’s Andy Robertson all play in the Premier League for teams that have had great success in UEFA competitions. Maguire missed May due to injury, but still led all players with 6,345 minutes played. That’s the equivalent of 70.5 full games in almost 11 months! Of course soft tissue injuries and breakdowns are hard to predict, but it’s still worth looking at the teams that face these problems the most based on these absurd minute figures. Go to : France | England | Belgium | Germany | Spain | Portugal | Italy | Netherlands First, let’s look at the number of players on each team who played at least 5,000 minutes last year. (Again, these figures may not be complete, but they come close). 6: England, Italy 5 : France 4 : Netherlands, Spain 3 : Belgium, Denmark, Portugal 2 : Germany, Austria, Scotland, Switzerland 1 : Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Wales 0 : Finland, North Macedonia, Russia*, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine. * Russia is the biggest league for which we have no data, but it should be noted that the season lasts only 30 games, which limits the possibility of reaching a maximum of 5,000 minutes. As might be expected, those who have more players on teams participating in prestigious European tournaments have more players with tired legs. But let’s take a closer look at the competition’s favorites. According to Caesars, eight countries have a winning chance of +1200 or higher to win the Euro: France (+450), England (+500), Belgium (+600), Germany (+700), Spain (+750), Portugal (+800), Italy (+1100) and the Netherlands (+1200). These odds correspond to a win rate of 8 to 18%. After that, the proportions increase significantly – Denmark follows with +2800 (3%), while Finland and North Macedonia complete the top three with +50000 (0.2%). So let’s focus on the top 8. Average minutes played by position (June 2020 to date): Highest number of minutes played: HC Hugo Llaurice (6,225), DF Jules Kaunde (5,699), FS Antoine Griezmann (5,542), DF Clément Lenglet (5,216), DF Rafael Waran (5,144), FS Karim Benzema (4,995), MF Adrien Rabiot (4,947), FS Kylian Mbappe (4,650), DF Lucas Ding (4,514), MF Paul Pogba (4,472) With the exception of goalkeepers, defenders generally make up a large percentage of players with the most minutes played, but only English defenders accumulated more miles on their collective counter than French defenders last year. In other words, some parameters may still be fresh. Bayern’s Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez have less than 4,000 minutes behind them, while Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma (4,074) barely crosses that rather usual threshold, and in attack the team is virtually free of attrition. Veterans Griezmann and Benzema have played huge minutes, but Mbappé has missed time through injury (which may now be paying off), and virtually every other striker – Kingsley Coman, Wissam Ben Yedder, Ousmane Dembele, Marcus Thuram, Olivier Giroud – has played less than 3,000 minutes or barely more. Fresh creeping star N’Golo Kante. Man of the match in the Champions League final, Kante suffered injuries late in the season but that didn’t stop him from dominating and the earlier rest meant he played less than 4,200 minutes last year. France are all stars ahead of this summer’s European Championship, but their stars have played a lot in the last 12 months. Will that be a factor? FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images Highest number of minutes played: DF Harry Maguire (6,545), MF Mason Mount (5,768), FW Marcus Rashford (5,498), FW Harry Kane (5,479), FW Raheem Sterling (5,096), DF Conor Cody (5,014), DF Kyle Walker (4,969), MF Bukayo Saka (4,779), MF Declan Rice (4,756) Manchester United played in the final of the Europa League, while Chelsea and Manchester City were in the final of the Champions League. The England team has 11 players from these three clubs. Five of them have played 5,000 minutes or are close to it, as is team captain Harry Kane, who is having a fantastic season. It will be interesting to see how manager Gareth Southgate handles the minutes with this in mind. England don’t necessarily have to play a game without an appearance – they start with second-placed Croatia, then face neighbouring Scotland and, of course, the choice of ground for the final game against Tomas Soucek’s Czech Republic is still unclear – but will Southgate just field his best XI and hope for the best? Does he rely on the fantastic depth of the England team and divide the minutes between the players? We can assume it is the first hypothesis, but in any case the risk is clear. Fresh creeping star Jack Grealish and Jaydon Sancho. The two most creative players in England have played less than 3,700 minutes in a season. Their form – and it’s worth noting that Sancho has played his best game of the season in recent weeks – could play a crucial role in what could well be the team’s toughest tournament. Highest number of minutes played: HC Thibaut Courtois (5,940), IF Yuri Thielemans (5,900), FV Romelu Lukaku (5,589), DF Toby Alderweireld (4,656), IF Kevin De Bruyne (4,541), GC Simon Mignole (4,162), DF Timothy Castaner (3,993), DF Jan Vertonghen (3,978), MF Leander Dendonker (3,895), DF Jason Denyer (3,730) Belgium’s two main figures, Thielemans and Lukaku, are in good form, but as you can see in the table above, this team is fresher than the other main contenders. It’s just as well, because this team is also poor and old. Six of the 26 players in the squad are over 32, eight others are at least 29 and only four – Leicester City stars Thielemans and Castaigne, Lyon defender Jason Denyer and Rennes teenager Jeremie Dockou – are under 26. The talent is obvious: Belgium has the best playmaker (De Bruyne) and one of the best strikers (Lukaku) in the world. But De Bruyne will miss the start of the tournament after suffering multiple facial fractures in the Champions League final, Eden Hazard has rarely been healthy in recent seasons and other players such as Axel Witsel are returning from injury. Form can be an issue even if minutes and skills are not. Fresh creeping star Danger. The injury problems of the 30-year-old Real Madrid player are well known – he played just 1,318 minutes (14.6 games) in the last 12 months. But 250 of those minutes were played in the club’s final month of the season, and if he regains his form, he’s still Eden Hazard. Highest number of minutes played: GC Manuel Neuer (5,521), DF Mattias Ginter (5,233), IF Ilkay Gündogan, GC Bernd Leno (4,777), DF Robin Gosens (4,766), DF Antonio Rüdiger (4,704), FS Timo Werner (4,693), DF Mats Hummels (4,615), MF Joshua Kimmich (4,547), FS Thomas Mueller (4,526) Germany is a real wild card in this tournament: Group F includes the last two world champions (France and Germany), the reigning European champion (Portugal) and a weak Hungary. The team combines an absurdly deep midfield, plenty of attacking quality (despite Timo Werner’s disappointing finish)….. and a defense that doesn’t have as many miles on the clock, but also doesn’t have as much outstanding talent as the rest of the players. Do they have enough legs to play the attacking football they want without constantly exposing their back line? Sane hasn’t played much this season after a long injury, but the Bayern star could be a key player. M. Donato/FC Bayern via Getty Images Fresh creeping star Leroy Sane. Sane’s first season at Bayern since tearing his ACL in August 2019 has been great, with 10 goals and 45 chances created in all competitions, and even better, he’s played for a team that has the deepest collection of winger talent in the world. He played in 41 games, but averaged just 60 minutes per game. In the last 12 months, he’s accumulated just over 3,000 minutes. (By comparison, Bayern Munich striker Serge Gnabry has just 3,600). For a team that will likely need to score a lot of goals to win the tournament, Sane’s contribution could be crucial and he should have the legs to do so. Highest number of minutes played: DF Jordi Alba (5,568), GK Unai Simon (5,422), DF Pau Torres (5,415), MF Rodri (5,203), MF Coque (4,969), MF Sergio Busquets (4,887), Cesar Azpilicueta (4,643), GK David de Gea (4,575), MF Marcos Llorente (4,572), FW Gerard Moreno (4,568) Spain have two more Barcelona veterans in Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, who are both 32 and played more than 10,000 minutes together last year. You also get a bunch of other veterans like Cesar Aspilicueta, Thiago, Coque, etc. However, there is also an enigmatic and intriguing array of young players with unique skills and influences and, on average, quite fresh legs, such as Rodri, Adama Traore, Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres and Pedri. If Luis Enrique wants to field a team that has most of the characteristics of the Spanish team that won everything a decade ago, he can do it. But if he wanted to act weird, he could. Personally I will always support the latter, but I am not and never will be the coach of the national team. Fresh creeping star Thiago. The 29-year-old scored perhaps the finest goal of his long Bayern career late in the match, playing the role of organiser and occasional pyrotechnician for the Champions League winners. Then he went to Liverpool, got the COVID-19, injured his knee and barely played for a few months. In 30 games at his new club, he has scored just one goal and provided no assists, and he has less than 3,000 minutes behind his name since June last year. The fresh and hungry Thiago can work wonders for any team in the world. Highest number of minutes played: MF Bruno Fernandes (6,345), DF Ruben Dias (6,088), FW Cristiano Ronaldo (5,779), GK Rui Silva (4,950), GK Rui Patricio (4,769), DF Joao Cancelo (4,668), MF Bernardo Silva (4,562), GK Anthony Lopes (4,440), DF Nelson Semedo (4,332), MF Ruben Neves (4,214) Portugal won the European Championship in 2016 and now comes with what looks like an even more talented team. Bruno Fernandes is arguably the best attacking midfielder in Europe, Ruben Dias is one of the best central defenders and Cristiano Ronaldo is still Cristiano Ronaldo. Of course, these three players played over 18,000 minutes last year. Eighteen thousand! Manchester City’s big names Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva are excellent players, but both have odds above 4500. There is a core of younger, equipped strikers – Joao Felixas, Diogo Jotas and Andre Silvas – who will need to contribute in time if this team is to go deep again. But aside from the heavy legs, there’s a lot to like about this team. Felix is only just fitting into Atletico Madrid’s plans, but he is dynamic and intelligent enough to captain the Portuguese national team alongside Ronaldo. Getty Fresh creeping star Joao Felix. The 21-year-old has yet to find his feet at Atletico Madrid – he scored three times in eight Champions League games, but just seven times in La Liga – but if you’re looking for a moment of inspiration, especially at the end of a game, he can provide that like no other, and he played less than 3,400 minutes on foot last year. Highest number of minutes played: GC Gianluigi Donnarumma (6,437), MF Nicolo Barella (5,546), DF Giovanni Di Lorenzo (5,436), FV Lorenzo Insigne (5,426), DF Francesco Acerbi (5,306), DF Alessandro Bastoni (5,204), FS Ciro Immobile (4,682), MF Lorenzo Pellegrini (4,510), DF Rafael Toloy (4,504), MF Manuel Locatelli (4,491). The Azzurri’s minute count is quite high, with six players having played a total of over 5,200 minutes, but it’s spread out nicely from here. It’s a deep team without much fatigue. He’s also relatively young, at least by Italian standards. Only five players are over 30 and eight, including Donnarumma, Federico Chiesa (Juventus) and Nicolo Barella (Inter), are under 25. But even the distribution of talent is a cause for concern. Italy has many top pros, but not as many contenders for the title of best team in Europe as the teams above. Still, Roberto Mancini certainly has options and Italy are in a relatively easy group with Switzerland, Turkey and Wales. Fresh creeping star Domenico Berardi. Instant annoyance. Berardi has scored 22 goals and provided 12 assists in 41 Serie A appearances for Sassuolo in the last 12 months. For the national team, he scored another four goals in just 265 minutes. Several minor injuries forced him to sit out, however, and he only played 3,641 minutes in that time. If Italy make it far in the tournament, he will probably be one of the main reasons. Highest number of minutes played: MF Frenkie de Jong (5,885), MF Georginio Wijnaldum (5,559), DF Stefan de Vrij (5,453), MF Marten de Roon (5,359), GK Tim Krul (4,840), MF Davy Klaassen (4,761), MF Ryan Gravenberch (4,637), DF Owen Weindal (4,504), DF Matisse de Ligt (4,412), FW Memphis Depay (4,359). Frank de Boer has a very comfortable group (Austria, Ukraine, North Macedonia), so he can probably juggle minutes in midfield. That would make sense, as only seven players have played more than 4,600 minutes in the last 12 months, but five of them are nominal midfielders: Barcelona’s De Jong, Liverpool’s Wijnaldum, Atalanta’s de Roon and Ajax’s duo of Klaassen and Gravenberch. If you can solve this problem, you have a very interesting team of mature and talented players. We’ll see if there’s enough raw talent to win, but there are some nice ingredients, and few of them have tired legs. Fresh creeping star Donnie van de Beek. Manchester United’s embarrassment could be a boon for the national team. Van de Beek was an incredible player for Ajax, playing all positions from winger to central defender for his country over the years. He played just 1,550 minutes for the Red Devils and often came on as a substitute, which hurt his performance. But he’s back on the home team and he’s rested.Even in a league that still doesn’t produce as many world-class players as other top leagues (think Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich), there are some European stars that are proving to be hard to ignore.. Read more about chelsea opinion and let us know what you think.
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