Euro 2020 – What can we Expect?

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Recently I put together an article for Fantasy Football Scout detailing some of the facts and figures from EURO 2016. As UEFA EURO 2020 Fantasy managers finalise their squads ahead of the opening match on Friday evening I dig into those numbers to offer some advice on how to set up your fantasy team for the tournament and how you can fine tune your squad to get the most fun out of actually watching the games.

How many goals are individual players likely to score?

At EURO 2016 only seven players scored three or more goals. Only leading tournament scorer Antoine Griezmann managed more than three, finishing with a mighty six, partially thanks to France putting five past Iceland in the quarter finals. No player scored a hat-trick at EURO 2016. Twelve players scored exactly two goals in the tournament and 51 (FIFTY ONE) players scored one single goal.

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It took 20 matches before any team at Euro 2016 scored more than two goals in a game and it only happened six times at all in the group stages. No team achieved this more than once until the knockout phase when Wales managed to do it a second time in their quarter-final victory over Belgium.

Obviously, lots of goals will be scored at the Euros and fantasy managers need to find as many of the goalscorers as they can, but these numbers suggest that we should be pretty happy when our strikers score at all in a match rather than disappointed that they didn’t get more. If they manage a couple in a game then they will already have outscored most attackers in the competition!

A steady supply of goals here and there will keep you in contention in most fantasy mini-leagues, but it’s picking that player who does get two goals in the very occasional high-scoring games that can make all the difference. When using your Wildcard or your Limitless chip (a Free Hit with no budget constraints) look for fixtures where a strong team’s attacking focal point faces a defence that gives up a lot of shots, even if it hasn’t conceded heavily so far in the tournament.

And what about assists?

Quite a few goals, of course, don’t have an assist credited for them at all and, in the main UEFA competition at least, there’ll be no assist awarded when a defender taps a ball to a winger just before he goes on an 80 yard run to score.

In Euro 2016 only Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Aaron Ramsey registered three or more assists and a further six players registered exactly two. Everybody else registered none or one.

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In domestic fantasy competitions a steady diet of assists can make creative midfielders in particular useful assets to hang on to. In international summer tournaments it’s more about finding players who make a big impact in, for most countries, only three or four games. Prioritise shot-takers over chance-makers a bit more than you usually would.

What about defenders and goalkeepers? Are clean sheets common?

In Euro 2016’s 36 group matches there were 27 team clean sheets. Eight of those came from two goal-less draws in the second round of matches and another two in the third. Only six teams failed to keep a clean sheet at all.

This is good news in terms of choosing defenders and goalkeepers for EURO 2020. Most starters can expect to keep one clean sheet in the group stages. Anybody finding starters that get two (or even three as Germany managed last time out) should gain a key advantage. Look at the opposition your backline players will face and prioritise defenders and goalkeepers where the opposition is likely to be playing for a point rather than thinking this match is their chance to go for the win.

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How might all this affect my captaincy decisions?

Don’t forget that in the official UEFA game you can move the captain’s armband on to a new player every day if you’re not satisfied with the current captain’s score. You should definitely look to do this where sensible, but just be aware of the numbers above and that a goal, assist or clean sheet for your current captain might be much harder to beat in a later match than you might think.

Will it make a big difference to have a player who is definitely on penalties?

VAR wasn’t around during Euro 2016, so maybe we’ll see more penalties this summer, but back then there were only TWELVE open-play penalties given in the whole tournament and four of those were missed (including by Sergio Ramos, Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo). Only one team, Romania, was awarded two penalties. Even if the number of spot-kicks awarded doubles this year that’s still only one per team on average. Being on penalties could tip a close selection decision between two players, but it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

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How can I be sure a player is nailed on to start?

Each national team can make five substitutions in each EURO 2020 match  instead of the more standard three. This tournament could look more like some rugby internationals with players becoming ‘starters’ or  ‘finishers’ in their squads. A lot of attacking contributions could be made by players coming on around the hour mark as teams begin to tire. Starting will still be very important where clean sheets are the priority, but cheaper attackers regularly getting half an hour or so could be good value, especially on strong teams.

 A handful of, probably traditionally successful, countries may also be comfortable with their qualification situation after the first two group matches while others might be near certain of going home. Watch out for this ahead of the third round of group matches as this could lead to those nations playing reserve strikers and backup goalkeepers in contests that might be more open than expected.

Any special advice for goalkeepers?

It’s better to have two that will start rather than including a very cheap one that won’t as the UEFA game allows you to substitute out the first one to play if they get a low score. If you go for the popular pairing of a cheap risky keeper with a safer expensive one, make sure the cheap one is always playing on a CALENDAR day BEFORE your more expensive, safer keeper. That way, if the cheap guy does well you can keep him in, but you’ve always got a second bite with the safer pick if the cheap one blanks.

Any general player selection advice that might help me enjoy both playing Fantasy AND watching the actual football this summer?

If you’ve picked a lot of attackers in a group, don’t pick defenders or goalkeepers also in that group. It probably doesn’t make sense statistically and it’s agonising to watch.

Similarly, try to avoid selecting attacking midfielders on teams in matches where their country is basically just trying to avoid defeat. It’s no fun spending 90 minutes watching them cemented into position in a bank of four just outside their own area. Opening group games can be particularly bad for this.

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Pick midfielders that get shots on goal, preferably those supporting a main striker. It can be frustrating watching wingers in your fantasy team striving up and down the touchline being regularly pushed over or sending crosses hurtling to nowhere (only about 20% of crosses find a team mate).

It may also be more ‘relaxing’ to pick central defenders who come up for set pieces rather than full backs who give the same frustrations as the wingers, especially given how rare we know assists are in these tournaments. Fantasy Premier League managers might recognise that feeling from watching Joao Cancelo or Luke Ayling in the season just gone. If, on the other hand, those full backs often get on the end of chances themselves (like Stuart Dallas) the dynamic switches back in their favour. Ben Chilwell could be a good example of this, as could Mario Fernandes of Russia and Denzel Dumfries of the Netherlands.

Around 65% of international games are actually won on a set play (it might not be the only score) and a lot of international tournament goals come either from those or from crosses, so dead ball experts and two metre-tall centre halves may well be wise Fantasy investments.

Do try to work out which matches you’ll actually be able to watch most, or all, of and choose as many players as is sensible from the teams playing in those. International tournament fantasy is very hit-and-miss and also over before you know it, so you might as well get as much fun as possible from participating!

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