Euro 2020 preview, Group E – Spain: Sam Marsden backs new-look Spain to perform
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Sam Marsden gives us his take on Spain…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
Spain beat Germany 6-0 six months ago, so it would be ridiculous to rule them out of contention this summer. However, there is a feeling that this is not a vintage Spain team.
The golden generation of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and David Villa are long gone and there will be no Sergio Ramos this year, either. The Real Madrid defender was the surprise omission from the 26-man squad for the tournament. Coach Luis Enrique explained that injuries made it impossible to call him up.
Despite the generational change, though, there is still enough talent in the Spain side to go all the way. They might not possess the star names of countries like France and England but there are no duds in the squad. Throw in the fact they will play their three group games at home, in Seville, and they look like a good bet to go far in the competition.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
A lack of dependence on one player combined with good depth and competition for places could be Spain’s major strength this summer.
The battle for places will be especially fierce in the middle of the park. In Sergio Busquets, Rodri, Pedri, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Fabian Ruiz and Marcos Llorente, Luis Enrique could lay claim to having the tournament’s best midfield options.
Further forward, there’s no Kylian Mbappe or Harry Kane, but in Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno, they have players in form. Torres has scored six times in 10 caps, including a hat-trick in that win over Germany, and Moreno has netted 29 times for Villarreal this season.
And any weaknesses?
There’s uncertainty at the back, starting with the goalkeeper position. Luis Enrique must choose between Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Simon and Manchester United’s David de Gea but neither have enjoyed great seasons with their clubs. Brighton’s Robert Sanchez is the third option.
In defence, with Ramos and Dani Carvajal missing through injury, and Gerard Pique long-since retired, there’s inexperience at this level. Villarreal’s Pau Torres and the newly nationalised Aymeric Laporte, both left footers, are likely to be the preferred pairing, although Manchester City’s Eric Garcia, who’s hardly played for his club this season, has been a regular recently. Leeds United’s Diego Llorente has also made the squad.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
There’s no stand-out candidate but Liverpool midfielder Thiago is perhaps Spain’s most important player. He’s the Spain player who was highest ranked in The Best FIFA Men’s Player last year, coming in at seventh after he helped Bayern Munich win the treble.
He struggled to translate that form to Liverpool immediately but there have been signs in recent weeks that he’s re-captured his best form after helping Jurgen Klopp’s side sneak a Champions League place. For Spain, he has an environment more conducive to his style and Luis Enrique will look to him to control the rhythm of matches.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
Pedri tired towards the end of the season for Barcelona but if he can re-find the form that propelled the Catalans on a 19-game unbeaten run at the turn of the year, then he will be one of the stars of the tournaments.
Few expected the 18-year-old to have the impact he’s had in his first year at Camp Nou. Ronald Koeman made him an ever-present in his midfield, alongside Busquets and Frenkie de Jong, and his relationship with Lionel Messi ahead of him was one of the highlights of Barca’s below-par campaign.
He still needs to add more goals to his game, but his technique, robustness and vision have drawn parallels with Andres Iniesta.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
Given 16 teams qualify from 24, Spain will have no problems getting out of their group. That’s not to say Sweden, a Poland-led by Robert Lewandowski and Slovakia won’t pose any problems, but with the benefit of a small home crowd in Sevilla, La Roja are favourites to win all three of those matches.
Topping their group, they guarantee themselves a third-placed side in the last 16 and, from there, they have one foot in the quarter-finals. Once they reach the last eight, a lot will depend on how their backline has gelled and whether the likes of Torres, Moreno, Olmo, Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal are firing in attack.
Given they lack the individual quality of some of the other nations involved, a semi-final run is perhaps the most realistic expectation for this developing Spain side.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
France to win the tournament and Romelu Lukaku top scorer.