Group E Preview

Poland

Poland national football team - Wikipedia

Form

For the first time in their history, Poland have qualified for three successive major tournaments, and did so with a set of four consecutive wins sandwiching a loss to Slovenia and a draw with Austria. They head to this summer’s tournament hoping to improve on from Euro 2016 where eventual winners, Portugal, eliminated them on penalties.

Since qualifying, their only Nations League victories came against bottom team Bosnia, with Italy and Netherlands finishing above them.  

They have had a mixed bag of results in their opening three World Cup qualifying matches, picking up 4pts from their opening two matches before a narrow defeat against England.

Manager

Former QPR, Swansea & Leicester manager Paulo Sousa replaced Jerzy Brzeczek in 2020 after the latter was dismissed for underwhelming performances in the recent Nations League campaign. 

He will be the least experienced international manager at the tournament with just three games under his belt, and he has already come under criticism for his team selections when he dropped veteran defender Glik against Hungary, and started talisman Lewandowski against Andorra where he picked up an injury and missed the game against England. 

Sousa likes to play a three at the back, but generally tends to change the system during games.

Defence

You will struggle to argue that Juventus’ Szczesny (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) is better than West Ham’s Fabianski (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) but is likely that the former will get the nod to start between the sticks.

Regardless if Poland play three at the back or not, it will be pretty much nailed that Southampton’s Bednarek (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) will partner Benevento’s Glik (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) in the centre of defence. 

If going for the three centre-backs, then they will be joined by one of Barnsley’s Helik (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) or Rakow Czestochowa’s Piatowski (FT: TBC / EO: £4m) – with the former having started 2/3 of the recent World Cup qualifying matches. However, both of these are very inexperienced international players with only three caps between them – all of which came in the last three games.

On the right side of defence, Sampdoria’s Bereszynski (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) can operate as either a right back or right wingback, with Crotone’s Reca (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) battling out with Loko Moscow’s Rybus (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) for the left hand slot. It should be noted that the former has the slightest of edges if Poland go for a 3-5-2/5-3-2 setup, as left-midfield is his natural position. He also listed as a midfielder on Fan Team.

Midfield

Like the centre-back predicament, at least two of the Polish central midfield positions are almost guaranteed with Leeds’ Klich (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) scheduled to partner Lokomotiv Moscow’s near ever-present Krychowiak (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m), with the former only missing out on the last squad call-up due to coronavirus.

In a three-at-the-back system, the third midfield spot should be Napoli’s Zielinski (FT: £5m / EO: £7m) for the taking who would play in pretty much a no. 10 position – the same role he would have played in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

If Poland either a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation is used by the (so far) inconsistent Sousa, then the likes of Derby’s Jozwiak (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) and Dynamo Moscow’s Szymanski (FT: £5m / EO: £6m) would find themselves in the reckoning for an attacking wide spot.

Forward 

Without a doubt, Poland will be looking to their legendary sharpshooter, Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski (FT: £9m / EO: £11.5m) to come up with the goods. FIFA’s Best Male Player for 2020 has also, unsurprisingly, won the Polish footballer of the year 9 times in the last 10 years – but astonishingly, only 2 of his 66 international goals have come in major tournaments (1-1 v. Greece at Euro 2012, and 1-1 v. Portugal at Euro 2016).

Although Lewandowski was primarily used as the sole striker in the Poland team, he is more likely to be joined by Hertha Berlin’s Piatek (FT: £5.5m / EO: £8.5m) up front. However, he does face competition from Marseille’s on-loan Milik (FT: £6m / EO: £8m) and PAOK’s Swiderski (EO: TBC / FT: £6m) who scored on his debut in the World Cup qualifier against Andorra.

Slovakia

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Form

Slovakia made their Euro debut in 2016, which was only their second major tournament after qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. On both occasions, they reached the last 16. 

They were too inconsistent during qualification to secure their route to Euro 2020 via an automatic place, and instead had to rely on penalties and a goal in extra-time to knock out Ireland and then Northern Ireland respectively in the play-offs. 

Things took a turn for the worse in their Nations League campaign when they finished bottom of Group B2, winning just a single match (v. Scotland) and therefore enduring relegation to League C. 

However, World Cup qualification has gone a bit better with a win and two draws.

Manager

Stefan Tarkovic spent 5-years as assistant manager and took over in an interim capacity in October 2020, replacing Pavel Hapal who was dismissed after a poor Nations League campaign, before being permanent until the end of 2021. During his brief time as manager, he has yet to play the same formation in successive matches but is consistent with four at the back.

Defence

Since qualifying, Slovakia have used four ‘keepers but that has been down to Newcastle’s Dubravka (FT: £4m / EO: £5m) being absent for the whole of the Nations League campaign due to a heel injury, whilst he missed the last two World Cup qualifying matches because of a stomach complaint. 

In the centre of defence, Inter Milan’s Skriniar (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) has built a reputation as one of the best modern defenders in Europe. His defensive partner has yet to be settled though. The most likely candidate is Lech Poznan’s Satka (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) who has started 3 of the last 6 matches under the new coach, and seems to be preferred over Mallorca’s Valjent (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) and Salernitana’s Gyomber (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m)

The fullback positions seem more certain with Hertha Berlin’s Pekarik (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) at right back and Sparta Prague’s on-loan Hancko (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) situated at left back, although successive injuries meant the latter missed the whole of Slovakia’s Nations League campaign.

Midfield

Indispenable captain, Hamsik (FT: £4.5m / EO: £8m) is the country’s most-capped player whilst also being their record goal scorer (26 goals in 126 games). He seemed to fade into obscurity when he left Napoli, but broke his contract with Dallan Pro in China to return to Europe with IFK Goteburg. However, a calf injury has seen him miss the World Cup qualifying games.

He should form a key trio in the centre of midfield with Parma’s Kucka (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) and Napoli’s Lobotka (FT: £4m / EO: £5.5m) – with the latter being the most expensive Slovakian footballer in history when he moved from Celta Vigo to Napoli for £21.5m. Lobotka should perform a deep playmaker role, which would allow Hamsik and Kucka to raid the box. Another option for an attacking midfield spot could be Cologne’s Duda (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m), who also has been deployed as the sole striker.

The wide roles will seemingly be occupied by Ferencvaros’ Mak (FT: £4.5m / EO: £7m) and Real Salt Lake’s Rusnak (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) – although the former is listed as a forward in the Official game.

Forward 

Slovakia are not blessed with natural goal scorers, with a majority of goals coming from midfield, but Omonia Nicosia’s Duris (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) is trusted the most to lead the line in the one-man attack. The likeliest opposition for the role would be Feyenoord’s 21-year old Bozenik (FT: £4m / EO: £6m) who has played 39 games less than Duris at international level, but is just three goals behind him. 

Spain

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Form

Spain won consecutive Euro’s in 2008 and 2012, sandwiching their 2010 World Cup success. However, at Euro 2016 they fell to Turkey in the round-of-16. 

In qualifying, they had a near flawless record in qualifying, scoring 31 goals and conceding just five, (a Josh King penalty for Norway was the only goal that they conceded at home).

A 6-0 win over Germany in the recent Nations League campaign helped heighten the deteriorating optimism surrounding the national team after they were deemed as a less dominant force than what they were during the Euro 2020 qualifying stages.

A disappointing draw with Greece in the opening World Cup qualifier was followed up with successive victories over Georgia and Kosovo.

Manager

Luis Enrqiue first took charge of Spain in July 2018 from Fernando Hierro following their disastrous 2018 World Cup campaign where they only managed one win and went out on penalties to hosts Russia in the last 16. 

However, he left shortly after in March 2019 due to personal reasons, with his assistance Roberto Moreno guiding them through the Euro 2020 qualification stages. Enrique came back for his second stint in November 2019 and removed Moreno as assistant due to a ‘lack of loyalty’. 

He has gone on record stating that he will only pick players on form and not reputation (hence why the likes of Asensio, Saul Niguez and Isco were dropped from the latest squad call-up), and favours the 4-3-3 formation.

Defence

Heading into Euro 2020, it seems that Athletic Bilbao’s Simon (FT: £6m / EO: £5m) has the slightest of advantages over Man Utd’s de Gea (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) to be Spain’s no. 1 goalkeeper, having started the last five competitive matches. 

Lack of form, injuries and rotation has meant that Spain have not fielded the same back four for consecutive matches since qualifying began. The most consistent of positions has to be the centre-back area where Real Madrid’s veteran Ramos (FT: £6.5m / EO: £7m) will take the captains armband and will be joined by Villarreal’s’ Pau Torres (FT: £6m / EO: £4.5m), who played every game during the Nations League and only missed the World Cup qualifiers due to a muscle injury. However, Ramos is currently out with tendon irritation until the end of May and has missed no less than 30 games for Madrid this season due to a mixture of injuries and coronavirus. Should he not recover for the Euro’s, or if his fitness is a concern, then Spain do have Athletic Bilbao’s Martinez (FT: £6m / EO: £5m) as backup, or the lesser experienced Garcia (FT: £6m / EO: £4.5m) who has played the last three games for Spain, despite playing no more than 10 games for Man City in all competitions this season.

Right back is more of a concern for Spain. Real Madrid’s Carvajal (FT: TBC / EO: £6m) has only played 13 games in La Liga this season due to injury. He missed the latest squad call up due to a hamstring injury and is currently nursing a muscle problem. The likeliest person to get the nod would be Sevilla’s Navas (FT: TBC / EO: £5.5m) who has played 34 games in La Liga this season and missed the latest squad call due to injury, with competition being provided by Sporting Lisbon’s on-loan Porro (FT: TBC / EO: £4m) who made his international debut in the World Cup qualifiers.

Left back is a straight up coin toss between Barcelona’s Alba (FT: £6.5m / EO: £6m) and Valencia’s captain Gaya (FT: £6.5m / £5m), with the former slightly ahead in the pecking order having played the last two World Cup qualifiers.

Midfield

Over the course of the qualifiers, the central defensive midfield positions was shared between Man City’s Rodri (FT: £7m / EO: £5m) and Barcelona’s Busquets (FT: £6m / EO: £5.5m) with the latter playing one more game since. It remains to be seen who will get the nod this summer, with the former being tipped to be the preferred option. However, it could be a case of the latter being picked to offer a level head in front of an inexperienced central defence with fitness concerns looming over Ramos.

Things are just as up in the air with the other two central midfield spots. If current line-ups are anything to go by, then we could see Atletico Madrid’s captain Koke (FT: £7.5m / EO: £7m) start alongside Barcelona’s new kid on the block, Pedri (FT: £6m / EO: £6m) – although you could also factor the likes of Napoli’s Ruiz (FT: £6.5m / EO: £6m) or Real Betis’ Canales (FT: TBC / EO: £5m) into the equation.

Even Liverpool’s Thiago (FT: £7m / EO: £6m) would be a good option, although he hasn’t started a game for Spain since the beginning of September having missed the last four Nations League games due to coronavirus and then a knee injury; however, he has made two recent substitute appearances.

Man City’s Ferran Torres (FT: £9m / EO: £8m) seems to have made the wide right spot his own, whilst in recent games RB Leipzig’s Olmo (FT: £8m / EO: £7m) has been preferred to Real Sociedad’s captain Oyarazabal (FT: £8.5m / EO: £7.5m) out wide on the left. However, the latter has operated in the lone striker spot and is listed as a forward in the Official Game.

Forward 

There are limited options for the centre forward spot, with Juventus’ Morata (FT: £10m / EO: £9m) more than likely the man to lead the line. The only other feasible option could be Villarreal’s Moreno (FT: TBC / EO: £6.5m) who has scored 23 goals in 32 La Liga appearances this season.

It should be worth noting that Barcelona’s Fati (FT: TBC / EO: £7m) has seemingly been ruled out of the competition due to injury.

Sweden

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Form

Euro 1992 semi-finalists, Sweden, have qualified for their 3rd consecutive major tournament but they have not progressed beyond the Euro group stages since 2004

They finished 2nd behind Spain in qualifying and were inconsistent throughout, following up wins with draws and losses on four occasions before winning their last two games. 

Their Nations League campaign saw them win just one game (2-1 v. Croatia) whilst losing the others meaning they got relegated to League B.

However, they will hope to carry some form of momentum into Euro 2020 after winning their opening World Cup qualifying matches.

Manager

Janne Andersson took charge after Euro 2016, and saw Sweden top their 2018 World Cup group (that included Germany, South Korea and Mexico) before losing to England in the quarterfinals after beating Switzerland in the last 16. He likes to play a classic compact 4-4-2, which sees his team neutralise their opposition with a clear defence-first / counter-attacking style. 

Defence

Everton’s Olsen (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) has pretty much been Sweden’s no. 1 since Andreas Isaksson hung up his gloves. However, lack of game time at domestic level could see Genclerbirligi Ankara’s Nordfeldt (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) take over as he did in the latest World Cup qualifiers.

At right back, AIK’s Lustig (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) has started 15/18 games for Sweden since the start of qualifying whilst Werder Bremen’s Augustinsson (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) should have the nod over Vejle Boldklub’s on loan Bengtsson (FT: £4.5m / EO £4.5m) in the left back position.

Fitness concerns over both Helsingborgs’ Granqvist (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) and Brentford’s Jansson (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) puts into doubt who will partner Man Utd’s Lindelof (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) in central defence. In the latest set of competitive games for World Cup qualification, it was Rangers’ Helander (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) who got the go ahead – but prior to that it was Dalian Professional’s Danielson (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) who started the last two Nations League games.

Midfield

It will be up to the partnership of Sampdoria’s Ekdal (FT: £4m / EO: £5.5m) and Krasnodar’s Olsson (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) to anchor the midfield to allow the full backs to bomb forward on the counter and support the likes of Krasnodar’s Claesson (FT: £5m / EO: £7m) and RB Leipzig’s Forsberg (FT: £5.5m / EO: £7.5m) on the wings.

Competition for the central midfield role will be provided by AIK’s veteran Larsson (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m), who is also the national teams captain, whilst Juventus’ Kulusevski (FT: £6m / EO: £7m) will be vying for both a position out wide and up front (which is why he is listed as a forward on Fan Team).

Forward 

A knee injury has put to bed legendary striker Ibrahimovic’s involvement at the Euro’s, after he came back out of retirement to feature in the latest World Cup qualifying games. This could mean that Krasnador’s Berg (FT: £5m / EO: £8.5m) could return up front to partner Real Sociedads Isak (FT: £5.5m / EO: £8m) who has been in sensational form in La Liga this season after scoring 16 goals in 33 games.

Further competition for one of the two forward roles in provided by the likes of Mainz’s Quaison (FT: £4.5m / EO: £7.5m) or even Spartak Moscow’s Larsson (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m) – the son of former Sweden striker Henrik, who has had 20 goal involvements in 29 appearances in the Russian Premier League (15 goals, 5 assists).

Group E Summary:

Using a budget of £80m on the Official game and a restriction of three player’s maximum per team, here is my best XI for Group E:

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