If you watched last month’s World Cup Qualifiers, you probably noticed that many of the top European teams struggled. Sure, Germany’s loss to North Macedonia (the first qualifying loss for the Germans since the famous 5-1 loss to England in 2001) took most of the headlines, but others struggled against seemingly inferior opposition. If any team wanted to make a statement to be considered favourites for Euro 2020 this summer, it was hard to see.
In fact, there really isn’t a clear favourite for the Euros this summer, with many bookmakers putting Belgium, England and France as co-favourites, with Germany, Portugal and Spain not far behind. You could make a case for any of that sextet. But you could also make a case against each of them. That’s what we are going to do below – look at the main area of concern for each of the favourites:
A thin squad
We don’t need to repeat the fact that Belgium boast some brilliant players, many of whom have developed alongside each other down the years. But the squad is also full of misfits like Christian Benteke, Michy Batshuayi and Adnan Januzaj. Moreover, there is a lot of worry over the fitness and form of captain Eden Hazard. Plan A looks like it would give Belgium a good chance of success. But if Plan B needs to be enacted, say after an injury to De Bruyne or Lukaku, does Roberto Martinez have the quality in his squad?
A lack of identity
Saying that England lack identity sounds like a throwaway comment that means very little. However, it comes from the charge that Gareth Southgate does not know his best team, and, as such, has not been able to build a cohesive unit. Does he play Jack Grealish? What does he do now that Phil Foden has emerged as an elite performer? Luke Shaw or Ben Chilwell? Who plays at right-back? Does he revert to three at the back? What happens if Jordan Henderson is fit? These are problems suggestive of a deep squad, but Southgate might be faced with a problem of putting square pegs in round holes. If Belgium have a brilliant Plan A, it is down to the fact that the players know each other inside out. The same cannot be said for England.
It seems strange that a team with the likes of Mbappé and Griezmann should struggle for goals, but those pair like to drop deep. France need a focal point in attack, and it has caused Deschamps to experiment with Anthony Martial (one goal in 27 games) or Olivier Giroud (too slow) as a number nine. It hasn’t really worked out for either, although you can see Giroud as a useful addition off the bench.
Singing Ronaldo’s tune
Tom McGarry, writing in MansionBet’s UEFA Euro 2020 blog, claimed that Portugal might be a better team without Ronaldo in the line-up. And while that may seem almost sacrilegious to fans of the Juventus man, the writer has a point. There is a new generation of Portuguese talent coming through, and the 36-year-old Ronaldo might stand in the way of some of that development in the side. The performances in the Nations League – when Ronaldo was injured – lend some weight to that assertion.
Antonio Rudiger, Matthias Ginter and Emre Can are decent players, but where would they sit among the great German defenders of the past? That trio played as the back three for Germany in the 2-1 defeat at the hands of North Macedonia. Some of the scrutiny of that match went on the missed chances, but Germany have had problems with defence going back a few years now. If North Macedonia can get at them, think of the damage that the top teams could inflict.
A team in transition
Luis Enrique can look at plenty of young talent coming through his Spain squad and be sure that the future is bright. But it is difficult to make a case for them at the Euros this summer. The recent draw against Greece was indicative of Spain’s worst problems down the years – sterile possession with no bite (just two shots on target). The team feels like it is in transition, and it might only finally find its stride again when members of the new generation step up to replace the likes of Ramos and Busquets.