Two years, 11 months and 13 days after Spain limped out of the 2018 World Cup at the round of 16 stage, La Roja is back playing major tournament football. Preparation for Euro 2020 has been far from ideal; Sergio Busquet’s positive Covid-19 case forced the U21s to play the final warm-up game against Lithuania while the senior squad isolated, and after that Diego Llorente left the group as a precaution. But despite that, there’s plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the opener against Sweden on June 14, as well as Spain’s chances of lifting the trophy on July 11.
Touch wood, there have been no more positive Covid-19 results. A parallel training bubble (that includes Raul Albiol and Yeremy Pino) has been set up should replacements need to be called up, and the first team players were vaccinated on Friday. It remains to be seen what part potential vaccine side effects will play in Luis Enrique’s starting XI decisions.
Luis Enrique has switched between 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations in recent games, but we think he’ll go with a 4-3-3 against Sweden. The main bone of contention is who will start as the number 9. Alvaro Morata looked rusty and lacking in confidence in the recent goalless draw against Portugal, but the Lithuania situation may have saved him. Gerard Moreno scored or assisted 30 goals in 33 LaLiga appearances for Villarreal this season, but he lost his chance to make the spot his when the U21s fulfilled the fixture. Unfortunately for Gerard, we think Luis Enrique will stick with Morata for this one. Villarreal’s other representative, Pau Torres, looks certain to start in central defence alongside Aymeric Laporte, after a pretty solid display against Portugal.
Here’s what we think the XI will be:
Sweden has also had its match preparations severely disrupted by Covid-19. Last week, midfielders Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg tested positive, forcing the whole squad into quarantine. Like Spain the Nordic side set up a parallel training bubble, something veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic ruled himself out of.
A 4-4-2 formation keeps Janne Andersson’s side defensively solid, but more than capable in attack. Spain supporters will know all about the danger posed by young striker Alexander Isak. He could explode in Ibrahimovic’s absence, but the Real Sociedad striker isn’t Sweden’s only weapon. Marcus Berg and Robin Quaison will provide their own threat upfront if given the chance, while excellent service can be expected from Emil Forsberg and Sebastian Larsson.
The chaos of the last week could go either way; either the squad is galvanised and pulls together, or the lack of preparation and fatigue takes its toll. Things won’t get any easier after the Sweden game with Poland and Slovakia also in Group E, so three points on the board early on could be crucial. We’re going 2-1 Spain.