Euro 2020 is well underway now with a few of the opening group games having been and gone, but there is still so much more football to be played. Focusing on group E and Spain, coached by Luis Enrique are the favourites to outcompete Poland, Slovakia and Sweden with the opening games set to take place on Monday night. Covid has Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente likely to miss some games and there may will be further victims, this making the choice to take just 24 players, rather than the full 26 allowed, all the more baffling. The biggest name to be left at home by Luis Enrique is of course Real Madrid stalwart Sergio Ramos and talking of the side from the Spanish capital and Ramos’ exclusion means that there will be no Los Blancos players in this national team squad for the first time ever. Will Enrique, the former Barca man, live to regret this bold decision?
Having watched Poland in their recent friendly against Iceland, my expectations have dropped slightly regarding their abilities to challenge Luis Enrique’s Spain. Iceland failed to qualify for the Euros but they looked perfectly comfortable against Paulo Sousa’s side for the most part, a late Karol Swiderski strike only enough to rescue a draw after Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski scored in between Icelandic goals. Robert Lewandowski cut a frustrated figure and there were shades of Harry Kane in the way he kept dropping deep to get on the ball given the lack of creativity, especially when compared to Bayern Munich.
Zielinski is a top player but he’s hardly a playmaker whilst they’ve got Kamil Jozwiak who just about stayed up in the Championship with Derby and then Jakub Moder who hardly featured for Brighton. Elsewhere, Sousa has Placheta who has looked okay coming off of the Norwich bench but hasn’’t exactly set the world alight, not to mention striker Arkadiusz Milik has made the squad so we could see a long-ball structure into a tall strike duo, although Sousa has showed signs of something more expansive. Without wanting to be too negative they are probably going to be quite depressingly one-dimensional in the way they’ll revolve around Lewandowski, especially against someone like Spain and a superb coach like Luis Enrique.
Next to Slovakia, who were one of the last teams to qualify for the Euros this summer and they, like Poland, may be scared of the sight of Spain. This is Stefan Tarkovic’s second stint in charge and as is often the case with Slovakia, the majority of onlookers see a few names they mention and that is it. One clear issue is the absence of a prevalent goalscorer which could be the difference but they have showed again and again that they are defensively well-drilled. Milan Skriniar, ironically of Inter Milan, is at the heart of this, another known name being Hertha Berlin’s experienced Peter Pekarik.
Tarkovic’s plan looks to be one where they are hard to break down but then look to strike with a bit of quality out of the blue on the counter- they could certainly frustrate Luis Enrique in this way. Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka in goal as well as the aforementioned defensive destroyer Skriniar can have the former attributed to them whilst everyone’s favourite haircut belonging to Marek Hamsik is key going the other way. His supporting cast includes Vladimir Weiss who looked strong at Euro 2016 alongside the Goteborg man, Jan Gregus who along with Finland’s Robin Lod plays his football for MLS side Minnesota United and the ripe Parma man Juraj Kucka. Their centre forward’s role tends to be hold-up play as opposed to scoring goals and thus someone like Hamsik could be good for a couple of goals in group E.
Spain go into group E as the favourites yet many are pointing towards the quality being a large drop-off compared to yesteryear. Harking back a decade and there was that era of dominance where from 2008 to 2012, they were victorious in three major tournaments which is truly remarkable; the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Ramos and David Silva being at the heart of this. Three of that quartet mentioned are past international contention now but the exclusion of Ramos from the Spain squad courtesy of former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, making this the first time ever that there have been no Real Madrid players which has of course been heavily reported.
Zeroing in on the players that will feature though and putting the current covid worries aside also, there are a lot of young players who are getting big opportunities. Enrique definitely seems keen to blood the youth early which could play a part in Ramos’ exclusion, Eric Garcia getting the nod despite not featuring all that much under Pep Guardiola this year. Pedri is at the fore of this, he’s just eighteen but he’s played a ridiculous amount of minutes at Barca for Ronald Koeman and that may well continue this summer. Pedri may well start in the Spain midfield alongside Rodri or Busquets and maybe Thiago with Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal sure to be the wide-men, something which has been ramped up in importance levels under Luis Enrique. Can they upset the odds and go all the way again?
Dejan Kulusevski is reportedly, along with a few of the Spain squad, amongst the group to have contracted covid and those two nations will be going head-to-head in the group opener. The Juve winger would otherwise have surely played a big role in Jan Andersson’s plans after somewhat of a breakthrough season in Turin. The Swedes reached the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals which was beyond the expectations many had of them, Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn’t there now and he won’t be there this time around either. Marcus Berg, John Guidetti and Ola Toivonen were the main options for the World Cup and Berg is the only survivor three years later, meanwhile an injury has brought a premature end to Ibrahimovic’s return to the international fold.
Throughout the squad there is a number of players to have played on English shores; Robin Olsen who was on loan at Everton this year, Man United’s Lindelof, Newcastle’s Emil Krafth, newly promoted Pontus Jansson, former Sunderland man Seb Larsson and Watford’s Ken Sema. A fair few of these familiar names will be in the XI for the group E games and the last two names mentioned could play a big role in terms of creativity, Larsson obviously being known as a dead-ball specialist. Ibrahimovic’s absence has got a lot of press but his replacement is more than capable, Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad, a man that Luis Enrique will know all too well, with a huge chance to prove himself. He’s had a great couple of La Liga seasons and now that an icon of the country is out of the picture, Isak can now come to the fore.
That is the end of this group E preview with the main focus being the bold decision making of Spain coach Luis Enrique. I think although the quality of Enrique’s squad has faced a clear drop-off from yesteryear, there are still some superb talents involved and see them topping the group for sure. Poland and Sweden’s battle for second is an interesting one and in spite of Lewandowski’s presence for the former, Sweden are a better unit and I think they’ll be runners-up. Slovakia should not be rule out though! Do you agree with this? Do you think Luis Enrique will live to regret his selections? Let us know and stay with us here at WD for thorough coverage of Euro 2020!