Spain are in Group E at Euro 2020, along with Poland, Sweden and Slovakia. While expectations are relatively low for La Roja at this tournament, they should progress comfortably from this group, even if there are more Covid-19 problems to come on the back of Sergio Busquets’ positive test this week. Their opponents though all have a few talented individual players and will pose different kinds of tests for Luis Enrique’s side. Here’s our Euro 2020 Group E preview.
Coach: Luis Enrique
First appointed after the 2018 World Cup, the former Barcelona boss finally gets to lead Spain at a major tournament this summer. He was always a slightly controversial appointment with Real Madrid supporting Spain fans, and hasn’t endeared himself to them any further by picking no players from Los Blancos in his Euro 2020 squad. There have been attempts to move Spain in a different direction after the slow, uninspired football which brought early exits in recent tournaments, however results and performances have been mixed with the 6-0 Nations League thrashing of Germany in the autumn, the only major highlight of his reign to date.
Spain squad for #Euro2020:
GKs: Simón, De Gea, R. Sánchez
Defenders: Gaya, Alba, Torres, Laporte, E. García, D. Llorente, Azpilicueta
Midfielders: M. Llorente, Busquets, Rodri, Pedri, Thiago, Koke, Fabián, Sarabia
Forwards: Olmo, Oyarzabal, Morata, G. Moreno, Ferran, Adama
— LaLiga Expert (@LigaExpert) May 24, 2021
Spain are a bit of a strange case in that there are still lots of very good Spanish footballers, including many that didn’t make the squad, but few if any who could be seriously placed in the “world class” bracket. The most obvious candidate is perhaps Liverpool’s Thiago but otherwise it’s a mixture of talented young players who haven’t quite established themselves at that level, and the fading final remnants of that golden generation with Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba the experienced campaigners in this squad.
Spain’s strengths, as has so often been the case, lie in central midfield. The likes of Thiago, Koke, Busquets and Rodri will compete for starting roles with Marcos Llorente, one of the standout midfielders of this LaLiga season, likely to be shoehorned into the team at right-back. They are still very good in possession and showed in the Germany victory a greater ability to break with pace, which will come in handy should any team be bold enough to really look to play on the front foot against them.
Weakness may be too strong a word, at least in the group stage, but if Spain reach the deeper end of the tournament then there are several areas where they may be found wanting. The goalkeeper position is a concern with both Unai Simon and David de Gea looking shaky. There has even been talk that Brighton’s uncapped keeper Robert Sánchez could land a starting role, although this seems doubtful. The injury absence of Sergio Ramos also leaves them short on international experience in central defence with recent Spanish convert Aymeric Laporte having only made his debut in the friendly with Portugal last week. Up front, Alvaro Morata isn’t on the same level as some of the elite strikers in the tournament but Luis Enrique seems likely to stick with him over Gerard Moreno who has had an excellent season with Villarreal.
Fixtures: 14/6 – Sweden (Sevilla) | 19/6 – Poland (Sevilla) | 23/6 – Slovakia (Sevilla)
Coach: Paulo Sousa
Following criticism from star man Robert Lewandowski, Poland coach Jerzy Brzęczek was replaced in January of this year with former Portuguese international Paulo Sousa taking over. The 50 year old has previously managed in England and Italy but this is his first international job. He didn’t get off to a great start with Poland claiming only 4 points from their 3 opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers, with their sole victory coming against Andorra.
— RouteOneFootball (@Route1futbol) May 17, 2021
The undisputed star of this Poland team is striker Robert Lewandowski and he’ll be a popular choice in Euro 2020 Fantasy Football teams. He scored a ridiculous 41 goals in the Bundesliga this season but has struggled to make a big impact at major international tournaments in the past. They also have two solid options in goal in the shape of Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański and whoever starts will need to have a good tournament if Poland are going to progress beyond the last 16.
Marseille striker Arkadiusz Milik is a capable partner to Lewandowski in attack so they are a team that could be dangerous if they can get the supply right to their strikers. Poland also look solid in the middle of the park with Piotr Zieliński and Grzegorz Krychowiak an experienced pairing in central midfield while Southampton’s Jan Bednarek has emerged as a key figure in defence.
Poland’s tally of 18 goals in a relatively weak qualifying group wasn’t that impressive and a lack of creativity in midfield combined with a dearth of talented wide players suggests they may again struggle to make the most of the quality they have up front. Leeds’ Mateusz Klich could be drafted into the XI to try and add a bit of spark from an attacking midfield role, but there’s every chance Lewandowski will end up a frustrated figure again this summer.
Fixtures: 14/6 – Slovakia (Saint Petersburg) | 19/6 – Spain (Sevilla) | 23/6 – Sweden (Saint Petersburg)
Coach: Janne Andersson
Sweden are still coached by Janne Andersson who guided the Scandinavian side through a tough qualifying run, all the way to the Quarter Finals of the 2018 World Cup. While the personnel has changed slightly since, the style is likely to be similar again, particularly after an injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic means the Swedes will be without their legendary striker who only recently came out of international retirement in a bid to feature at this event.
— Asempa 94.7FM (@Asempa947_FM) May 31, 2021
With no Zlatan, this Swedish squad is lacking in big names, although that didn’t stop them doing well in Russia three years ago. Two of their three group games will be in Saint Petersburg so Andersson will be hoping a return to Russia will help recreate the spirit of 2018. Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf will be important again, although he’s likely to have a different central defensive partner this time around with Filip Helander perhaps the most likely candidate although experienced Andreas Granqvist is still in the squad and still the captain. Further up, Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak is one to keep an eye on. He’s the kind of striker that can get on real hot scoring streaks and that’s something which could be the difference between Sweden going home in the group stage and having another decent run.
Sweden are a pretty settled side and they’ll be hoping their extra tournament experience could be significant. The likes of 34 year old Mikael Lustig and 36 year old Seb Larsson are still likely starters and their main strength as always comes in the team unit and how well they collectively defend. They were in Spain’s group in Euro 2020 qualifying and held La Roja in Stockholm but have more recently suffered 3-0 and 4-2 defeats to Portugal and France respectively in Nations League action, which suggests the stronger teams will find them a bit easier to break down than in previous years. Going forward, they’ll likely carry a threat from set-pieces and may have some joy on the break with the pace of Isak and perhaps Dejan Kulusevski – the other big future hope for Swedish football.
You have to feel as though what is largely an ageing team may struggle fitness-wise in a summer tournament at the end of a congested season. Playing one of their group games in the June heat of Seville won’t help with that and you sense it may be one tournament too far for some of their older players and a bit too soon for the likes of Kulusevski to really shine. If the 21 year old fails to make a big impact, then a bit like Poland, they may end up short on real quality in the midfield and wide roles and service to the front players may be limited.
Fixtures: 14/6 – Spain (Sevilla) | 18/6 – Slovakia (Saint Petersburg) | 23/6 – Poland (Saint Petersburg)
Coach: Štefan Tarkovič
48 year old Štefan Tarkovič has been part of the Slovak national team set-up for much of the last decade. He served as assistant to Ján Kozák for five years, a period which saw Slovakia feature at the Euros for the first time in 2016. He got the top job in October of last year, replacing Pavel Hapal and secured Euro 2020 qualification in his first match in charge with an Extra Time play-off victory away to Northern Ireland.
— Euro 2020 Fantasy Football Updates & Tips (@EUROfantasy2020) June 2, 2021
Marek Hamšík stands out as Slovakia’s most recognisable name and he is also both their captain and most capped player. After a spell in China, the 33 year old has been with IFK Göteborg in Sweden building up his fitness again but it’s questionable whether he is still the force of old. Their most important player these days is probably Inter defender Milan Škriniar who is fresh from a good season with the Serie A champions.
In truth, Slovakia are a side short on real strengths besides the odd individual player. Škriniar is the standout and they also have a pretty good goalkeeper in the shape of Newcastle’s Martin Dúbravka. Former Celta Vigo midfielder Stanislav Lobotka is the other name that will be somewhat familiar to fans of Spanish football, however they have other defensive flaws and are rightly viewed as the outsiders in this group.
While they did beat Russia in a World Cup qualifier in the spring, this is also a side that has been held by both Cyprus and Malta this year and they have weak points right across the team. Their biggest flaw is perhaps in attack with no really convincing options. Feyenoord’s Róbert Boženík may end up leading the line despite only scoring once in the Eredivisie this season. Unless Hamšík manages to roll back the years and produce his best football, Slovakia may struggle for goals and their defensive flaws are likely to be exposed by the stronger teams.
Fixtures: 14/6 – Poland (Saint Petersburg) | 19/6 – Sweden (Saint Petersburg) | 23/6 – Spain (Sevilla)