A week in and Euro 2016 has been a tale in which ex, rather than current, Manchester City players have frolicked. Between them, the seven Blues that have traveled with their countries to France currently boast a grand total of 0 goals and 0 assists. Très décevant.
There is, of course, still time to impress incoming manager Pep Guardiola who will most definitely be keeping a close eye on the tournament. England’s late and thoroughly delightful win over Wales on Thursday afternoon means Joe Hart will likely have time to remedy the error that allowed Gareth Bale’s long-range free-kick to wriggle through his gloves. Speaking after the 2-1 win, the relieved goalkeeper asked: “Why do you want to talk to me? I’m the villain. Talk to the heroes.”
Raheem Sterling’s miss in that game, however, may well be judged to be more newsworthy than former Blue Daniel Sturridge’s last gasp strike and Roy Hodgson will face a battle against public opinion should he hand Raheem his third start against Slovakia on Monday night. Isn’t it appalling that in two games of football the 21-year-old has failed to reach the height’s of the world’s most expensive player?
The Great British cracker was perhaps Euro 2016’s best clash so far, though Russia vs Slovakia on Tuesday, a mightily ugly fixture on paper, came close. Fighting between bald-headed men in the stands is what we expected, but it was an exhibition of fantastic goals that we saw in Slovakia’s 2-1 win. Vladimir Weiss, who hasn’t aged a day since making his debut for us at the tender age of 19 back in 2009, opened the scoring with a fine finish into the far corner before Napoli midfielder Marek Hamšík wrapped up the game for the Slovaks with the best goal of the show so far. Hamšík has been linked with moves to Manchester throughout his career and has been tipped by his international manager Ján Kozák to play for a “bigger club”.
Hosts France have been unconvincing but have taken maximum points from their two games against Romania and Albania. Bacary Sagna, showing the composure that earned him a permanent place on City’s right-hand flank last season, has been solid, while Eliaquim Mangala has somehow been overlooked by his manager Didier Deschamps. And things just keep getting better for West Ham midfielder Dimitri Payet who has two belters under his belt. The Frenchman was linked with a £30m move to the Etihad by the Sun in February and Guardiola may seriously be considering a move for the dead-ball specialist should he maintain this form.
Unfortunately, City fans wont get a look at new signing İlkay Gündoğan, presumably watching from a mansion somewhere in Bowdon, this summer, but his Germany side were a pleasure to watch in the first half of their 2-0 win over Ukraine. Toni Kroos, a target of Guardiola’s, put on a masterclass of passing in this one, but there’s no reason to suggest Real Madrid will want to sell one of their best players to us.
Meanwhile, FIFA ranking toppers Belgium were brutally disposed of by tournament veterans Italy in their opening game. Chelsea flop Kevin De Bruyne’s anonymous display was more the fault of his confused manager than his own, though I await Martin Samuel’s scathing piece comparing him to Jesus Navas with anticipation. One man who was quite the opposite of anonymous in this one, though, was Juventus’s and one of Pep Guardiola’s “favourite players of all time” Leonardo Bonucci who angled a sublime 50-yard pass into Emanuele Giaccherini for his side’s opener. This piece of brilliance came on the same day that Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte – a man who was supposedly nailed on to become Guardiola’s second signing of the summer – pledged his future to the Basque club. Bonucci, you may agree, wouldn’t be a bad second choice.
And finally, David Silva was as magician-like as ever in Spain’s 1-0 win over the Czech Republic, creating 5 chances. The holders look a little timid but will fancy their chances with David, Pique, Ramos and Iniesta in the squad.
The standout performers so far include Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, Bonucci, N’Golo Kante, Kroos, Payet, Bale, Hamšík, and Romania forward Bogdan Stancu. Guardiola will be hoping the members of his new team begin to find their feet in the next few days.