Europe’s greatest goalscorer, youthful talent & eyes on Thiago – Euro 2020 Group E

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Group E contains the formerly best national team on the planet, but can Spain take steps to get back to that level? It’s a new era for sure and a tricky group to navigate.

On the one hand, this group on face value looks somewhat boring: a couple of teams who try not to lose first and foremost and the Spain side past their very peak.

But look a little deeper and there’s quality throughout at least three squads, with Poland in particular perhaps having the squad to shock a few people along the way.

Here’s a rundown of everything to do with Liverpool and who to watch out for in Group E.


Group E Liverpool links

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 23, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the final FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Thiago! He’s our only player featuring in the group, and he’s likely to play a very central role.

We’ve been linked with his team-mate Adama Traore, plus Slovakia’s Milan Skriniar more recently. Further back in time, Polish duo Dawid Kownacki and Piotr Zielinski were regular gossip-column mentions.

All told though this isn’t a group with a huge Reds-related contingent, so you can feel safe in the knowledge that with all eyes on our No. 6, you won’t miss a thing elsewhere.

Fixtures

June 14 – Poland vs. Slovakia
June 14 – Spain vs. Sweden
June 18 – Sweden vs. Slovakia
June 19 – Spain vs. Poland
June 23 – Slovakia vs. Spain
June 23 – Sweden vs. Poland


SPAIN

Thiago Alcantara, Spain (Photo by Mutsu Kawamori/AFLO)

Big calls from Luis Enrique came in not picking Sergio Ramos (good choice) and only naming 24 in his final squad (strange choice).

Into the squad come former French hopeful Aymeric Laporte and Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.

Is it enough to push them back toward the best challengers on the continent?

There are certainly lots of talented individuals and the likes of Marcos Llorente provide an element of versatility, but there are still questions over the forward line and who can be reliable for goals every single game.

They could be brilliant to watch and rather less burdened by the weight of the past with a renewed squad, but maybe also lack the elite quality in the biggest games.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Pau Torres is surely a starter after a strong season with Villarreal, but if and how they pair him with Laporte – both left-sided defenders – will be a key factor in how well Spain fare.
  • Thiago is quite simply the best midfielder they now have. Sergio Busquets has dropped his level, Koke is great but not elite and the others do not yet have Thiago‘s standing in the game. Controller and creative conduit.
  • Gerard Moreno will be the one they look to for goals first. He’s not a lethal penalty box No. 9, but an all-rounder with great link play, clever movement and relentless work ethic. Sound like anyone we know?

Prediction: They should cruise through to the quarter-finals before a big test. We predict they lose there. Out in the last eight.


POLAND

LISBON, PORTUGAL - Sunday, August 23, 2020: FC Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski bites his winners’ medal after the UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. FC Bayern Munich won 1-0. (Credit: ©UEFA)

A squad packed with both brilliant individuals and those beyond the margins of top-tier action.

Juventus and Norwich, Bayern Munich and Chicago Fire, Leeds and Benevento. It’s an eclectic mix of elite technical ability, versatile water-carriers and potential talent – and it really works for Poland.

They topped their group in qualifying with just one defeat in 10 – well clear of Austria – and conceded just five along the way.

It’s fair to suggest they might need everyone fit and on form to trouble the best nations around, but of those among the massed ranks of second-level squads, Poland can feel they’ll be able to more than hold their own.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Robert Lewandowski. Bit of a no-brainer as he’s captain, the most-capped player and the top scorer of all time by a mile for the Polish national team, but he’s also coming off a 48-goal season. Irreplaceable.
  • Kamil Glik should be at the heart of the defence whether they play with three or four at the back. Aggressive, experienced and fearless, he’ll be the leader to see Poland through when under pressure.
  • Karol Swiderski could be either a starter or bench option depending on the system, but is a great link player and second forward for the side. He has the work rate and the technical edge to help out Lewandowski and a big tournament could see him become a target for much bigger clubs than PAOK.

Prediction: They’ll get through the group stage, then it’s a tough call in the 16 depending on who they face. That might be the end of the adventure. Out at the last 16.


SWEDEN

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Monday, April 12, 2021: Everton's goalkeeper Robin Olsen during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Everton FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With apologies to the Swedish enthusiasts out there, this simply isn’t a strong vintage.

There are a few key components who could see Janne Andersson’s side sneak victory if they remain rock solid at the back, but individual inspiration is few and far between at times if they don’t get certain players on the ball.

Injury took away Zlatan’s chance of featuring at the finals and while that might actually be a plus anyway in terms of squad-building after his long absence, he also brought a goal threat which the younger forwards haven’t quite been able to replicate yet.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Alexander Isak is the one who will have to provide the clinical edge. He’s had a good year in Spain but must add significantly to his less-than-one-in-three strike rate at international level.
  • Dejan Kulusevski. The real individual with match-winning talent in the squad. Could play either side or up top, is powerful, has great dribbling control and a fierce shot. If he clicks, they have a chance.
  • Victor Lindelof. The two attackers are 21; most of the defence is somewhere approaching double that age. Lindelof is somewhere in the middle and he’ll have to carry the physical exertions of a team expected to defend well for long periods at times.

Prediction: Sneak through as one of the third-placed teams, but no further than that. Defeat in the last 16.


SLOVAKIA

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - Thursday, October 10, 2019: Slovakia's Milan Škriniar (L) challenges Wales' Kieffer Moore during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying Group E match between Slovakia and Wales at the Štadión Antona Malatinského. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Came third behind Wales in qualifying, which hints at their level. Progressed through the Nations League playoff, but they have five wins in the last 16 matches in all competitions stretching back to late 2019.

It’s not really the sort of form which will have most opponents trembling in fear, and Slovakia will be hard-pressed to be competitive in this group.

The only teams they’ve kept clean sheets against in that almost two-year run are Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Ireland and Scotland.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Martin Dubravka has earned himself a reputation as a decent shot-stopper in the Premier League with Newcastle and his talents will no doubt be required with regularity here.
  • Milan Skriniar, in front of Dubravka, will be just as vital. The Inter Milan man has to hold the defence together and set the platform for counter-attacks with his searching balls from deep.
  • Juraj Kucka. An experienced head in the centre of the park could provide not just ball-winning ability but the penetrating passes and support from the second line to give Slovakia a chance on the break.

Prediction: Bottom and out, unless they can frustrate and shock Sweden. Group stage exit.

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