Euros Come too Early for Improving Spain

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Spain will hope to turn the clock back to their recent glory period when they take their place in this summer's European Championships.

Luis Enrique

After a golden period for Spanish football between 2008-12, La Roja head into this summer’s European Championships needing to prove they haven’t slipped back into the category of perennial underachievers.

Gone are nearly all the big names that made Spain the best side on the planet with head coach Luis Enrique hoping to usher in the next generation of world-beaters.

There are sign’s Enrique’s hard work is paying off following some impressive displays over the last two years and they are certainly not without a chance of overall glory at 7/1 to win the Euros. However, with a lack of cutting edge up front, Spain might have to wait a little while longer before they can call themselves kings of Europe again.

La Roja Left Red-Faced by Recent Efforts

After becoming the first nation to win three consecutive major titles between 2008 and 2012, Spain’s most recent tournament outings have served as a nasty dose of reality.

After seeing their World Cup defence ended in the group stages in 2014, Spain have bowed out of the last two competitions at the last-16 stage, most recently losing on penalties to hosts Russia at the 2018 World Cup. That loss marked the end of the international careers for the likes of David Silva, Andreas Iniesta and Gerard Pique, leaving only Sergio Ramos and Sergi Busquets as reminders of Spain’s glorious past.

Slowly, the rest of the squad has been rebuilt around those two, Enrique picking up the pieces from that disastrous 2018 World Cup campaign in which then head coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament.

Qualification for Euro 2020 proved to be a breeze, Spain collecting 26 points from 10 games, scoring 31 and conceding five as they finished well clear of second-placed Sweden.

They have since followed that up with a mixed bag of performances in the Nations League and friendly games, being held to a few too many draws and losing to the Ukraine 1-0, albeit that is their only defeat in the last 19 matches. However, they ended 2020 with a performance that will give all Spain backers hope as they tore Germany to pieces, running out 6-0 winners in Seville.

Knockouts a Cinch

Spain will be expected to walk into the knockout stages this summer having been handed a fairly kind draw for the group stages. Enrique’s men are 3/10 to win Group E and that shouldn’t be a huge issue after being placed in the same pool as Sweden, Poland and Slovakia.

Spain open their campaign against Sweden on June 14 at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium, the venue for all their group games, and are 20/59 for the win. La Roja comfortably beat the Swedes 3-0 in qualification at home and dominated the away game, only to be held to a 1-1 draw. Sweden have struggled of late and not even the much-talked-about return of their most famous son, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, should be able to save the 15/2 underdogs.

That’s followed by a meeting with Poland, who have tended to struggle to produce their best showings at major tournaments, and Slovakia. While all three of those games should prove competitive and nice warm-ups for the knockout stage, Spain should have too much quality for each of their group opponents.

Attacking Options a Cause for Concern

Enrique appears to be doing a good job in what’s a difficult task of writing the next chapter in Spain’s footballing history and this squad, even without the star power of previous iterations, has a lot to like about it. Enrique is expected to go 4-3-3 at the Euros, a system that brought him plenty of success as Barcelona coach, albeit this is a very different pool of players he has to choose from.

They have proven to be extremely solid defensively with captain Ramos proving to be the lynchpin, just as he is at Real Madrid. Spain haven’t conceded more than one goal in a game for over two years and that could prove key in a tournament which could be low on goalmouth action.

Busquets or Rodri are the top-class options to provide that midfield screen for the backline, although who might play alongside them in Enrique’s first-choice midfield three remains unclear.

Moving further forward, the picture becomes even less clear in terms of who will lead the line. Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal both have good claims having performed well for their respective club sides and having done the business for Spain under Enrique. Oyarzabal has the most potential to be the breakout star from this Spain squad but at his first major tournament, it is asking a lot of the 23-year-old to shoulder a goalscoring burden.

The No.9 position is where it all falls apart for Spain. Gone are the likes of David Villa and Raul, who could conjure a goal out of nothing, and instead Enrique is having to select between the likes of Gerard Moreno and Alvaro Morata.

In Morata’s case, he’s proven time and time again he’s not a natural finisher and looks set to head to the Euros after playing a bit-part role for Juventus this season. So often under Enrique, Spain’s possession-based style has seen them dominate matches but not get the goals their play has deserved. That could ultimately prove their undoing at the Euros as they wait for their next great goalscorer to emerge.

*All odds correct at time of writing.

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.

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