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Sports

Granit Xhaka: Leading Switzerland’s Euro 2024 Charge with Masterclass Performances

After playing a pivotal role in a flawless Bundesliga triumph, the 31-year-old Granit Xhaka is now perfectly positioned to make more history with his country.

READ: Dramatic Showdowns Urawa Red Diamonds Unfold in International Club Football! From Shocking Dismissals to Last-Minute Heroics

Granit Xhaka

Switzerland’s 3-0 loss to Italy at Euro 2020 has long bothered Granit Xhaka. He felt his team failed to show up for the group game in Rome. However, last weekend was different. Switzerland didn’t just take to the field at the Olympiastadion in Berlin; they made it their own private playground, knocking the defending champions out of Euro 2024 with a dominant 2-0 win.

“I have never seen the Azzurri in such difficulty on the field as against us,” Xhaka enthused after the last-16 showdown in Berlin, and rightly so. “We won even before going on the pitch, just as they did with us three years ago. They were scared.”

One wonders if England will be feeling a little fearful themselves right now. Despite picking up a minor adductor injury against Italy, Xhaka is expected to start against the Three Lions in Saturday’s quarter-final clash in Dusseldorf, meaning there’s a very real chance that a player in the form of his life will deliver another midfield masterclass on the biggest stage.

‘In Granit We Trust’

One Switzerland supporter showed off a poster during the dismantling of Italy that read, “In Granit we trust.” And why wouldn’t they? Xhaka is proving himself not just a great leader at Euro 2024 but also a great player. Indeed, he’s been one of the best central midfielders on show in Germany, alongside Toni Kroos and Rodri.

He’s already claimed two Player of the Match awards, after Switzerland’s 3-1 win over Hungary and the 1-1 draw with Germany, taking his overall Euros tally to five – only Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo have claimed more (six apiece).

His most impressive performance to date, though, came against Italy.

Xhaka’s ‘Positive’ Passing

For a long time, Xhaka was known for his more destructive qualities: making interceptions, winning tackles, and recovering loose balls. However, after the opening-round win over Hungary, Xhaka said his focus is on helping his team “by being positive” – and he’s unquestionably delivering in that regard.

Working wonderfully well with Remo Freuler, within a dynamic, disciplined, and well-drilled Swiss side, Xhaka is dictating games and constantly putting his team on the front foot with his swift and precise use of the ball.

Against the Azzurri, no other player on the pitch had more touches (101), completed more passes (94/98), or created more chances (three). Even more significantly, he made a whopping 25 line-breaking passes – a single-game tally that only Kroos has bettered so far this summer.

Alonso’s Special Six

Anyone who watched Bayer Leverkusen last season won’t be surprised by Xhaka’s excellence at the Euros. The German outfit made several astute signings last summer, but Xhaka’s arrival from Arsenal was integral to their historic domestic double.

Under Mikel Arteta at the Emirates, Xhaka was deployed in a more advanced role, like a box-to-box No.8, but fellow Spaniard Xabi Alonso saw the Swiss as a No.6 and made him the fulcrum of his team.

Granit Xhaka may not have dominated the headlines last season in the same way as Florian Wirtz, for example. He didn’t even register a single assist across the unbeaten Bundesliga campaign, but absolutely everything Leverkusen did went through Granit Xhaka.

‘I Have Come to Lead’

Alonso didn’t just want Granit Xhaka for his playmaking skills. His character was also key. Alonso had an abundance of promising players at his disposal in Leverkusen; what he needed was someone with experience and an insatiable will to win. Consequently, he saw Xhaka as an “essential” addition to his relatively young squad.

“I also think that Granit had a vital need [to change] after his time in London, where he spent seven years,” Alonso explained. “I motivated him to return [to Germany] to take on a different role, and he did so with a different level of maturity, saying, ‘I have not come to follow anymore; I have come to lead.'”

He did exactly that at Leverkusen – and now he’s doing likewise with Switzerland.

‘We Drank a Lot of Wine Together!’

It’s probably been forgotten by most, but Switzerland didn’t arrive in Germany in particularly good form. Worse still, there were rumors that Granit Xhaka and manager Murat Yakin weren’t seeing eye to eye after a dour qualification campaign that featured five draws in 10 games.

However, the coach and the captain cleared the air in a succession of meetings in the run-up to the Euros.

“We were both grown-up enough to clarify everything,” Granit Xhaka told reporters on the eve of the Hungary game. “We are both ambitious and we want to be successful for ourselves and for the team. So I’ve had a great relationship with the coach in the last six to eight months. It has been better than in the past. He came to see me many times. We had dinner together. We drank a lot of wine together! So everything is going fine.”

It’s going even better now. With the exception of the Scotland game, when the Swiss risked losing a game they should have won, Yakin has got his tactics spot on, drawing the best out of players like Granit Xhaka Ruben Vargas, Dan Ndoye, and Michel Aebischer, who is flourishing in a left-wing-back role he had never previously played.

‘Not Finished Yet’

Hardly surprising, then, that Granit Xhaka is talking openly and optimistically about Switzerland reaching the semi-finals of the Euros for the first time in the nation’s history. “I have a feeling,” he revealed after the Italy game, “that we are not finished yet.”

He certainly isn’t. There was a misconception last summer that Granit Xhaka had returned to the Bundesliga to wind down his career in his wife’s homeland. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was seeking a new challenge, and Alonso offered him one that excited him so much that he cried tears of joy when the transfer to Leverkusen finally went through.

Granit Xhaka  remains an incredibly emotional character, but there’s a newfound calmness and composure about him now. He also says that undertaking a coaching course has allowed him “to look at the game differently and be a step ahead” of his opponents.

Italy certainly couldn’t get near him in Berlin, and England could find themselves in just as much difficulty in Dusseldorf this weekend. This is a positive force currently playing at the absolute peak of his powers. In that sense, he’s everything that England’s midfield has been missing in Germany. So, if Gareth Southgate wasn’t already scared about facing the Swiss, he really should be.

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