With many touting Spain or Germany to be victorious, this article will look at why both these sides will not win it.
As the domestic football season comes to an end on a very entertaining year of football, eyes are directed to Eastern Europe for the start of the European Championships. The squads have been announced and although much talk has been on managerial moves and transfers, attention is beginning to be focused on Poland and Ukraine.
With some experimental friendlies taking place last week it was important to take from those games not the results but the methods and decisions taken by managers. Some teams had players missing, others tried out potential, yet most took it as a chance to give their players a run out in preparation for the oncoming tournament.
With many touting Spain or Germany to be victorious, this article will look at why both these sides will not win it. Meaning that this tournament is potentially open to several nations, predicting the winners may be tough, yet believe me when I say it will not be Spain and Germany.
Not this time amigos
In 2008 these two sides played in the final; it was a story of one nation preparing to peak while another was in a state of transition from the old generation to a new era. The victors were Spain and the victory catapulted Spain into the minds and hearts of fans all over the world.
That summer Barcelona would announce Pep Guardiola as the new coach and he would take the success and that knowledge of how to win into his treble winning season and a period of dominance in world football for four great years. Spain now possessed some of the best players in the world. Success again in 2010 in South Africa confirmed their position as the world’s best and it seemed that the Spanish model was the blueprint to follow.
Yet France did the same in 1998 and 2000 and after that suffered bouts of inconsistency. As great as Spain have been in the past four years, I am of the opinion that this current successful generation have peaked. There is no denying that the Spanish have got it right in terms of their development of quality players and the next decade will see more and more of these players coming through yet there are significant players who will be missing which will be key in Spain not winning.
The three amigos, in absentia
The success of Spanish sides in Europe has shown that there is a depth to the quality the country possesses. Yet, the problem with this current group is that it is not as good as it was in 2010. In 2010 Barcelona peaked, their style, their balance of attack and possession was near perfect, the defeats of Madrid 5-0 and United in the final 3-1 were pure brilliance, yet this season has seen significant injuries and a reduction in playing time of Puyol, Villa and Xavi for Barca. Puyol and Villa are definitely out and Xavi may be restricted in his playing time this summer; this is a major loss to the Spanish side, these three have been simply brilliant for years and have been the platform for defensive security, for controlling the game and scoring goals. Taking out one of these would be a problem, yet losing all three seems fatal. Even though there is an abundance of talent in the side, these players epitomise the winning mentality and Spanish style to perfection.
David Villa will be more of a loss than people maybe anticipate. This is the player with the most goals for Spain, he is a major loss for Spain and importantly their style. Whereas Torres and LLorente prefer to play centrally and enjoy getting the ball early, Villa matches how Spain and Barca intend to play; he drifts mainly left and looks to pick the ball deep up deep or get in behind from killer passes usually from a slower build up play where he has perfected the timing of passes from Xavi and Iniesta. Torres and Llorente favour longer balls coming from defence or deep midfield, Martinez has been excellent for supplying balls to Llorente this season and Torres was at his best when Alonso provided from deep for Liverpool. Will Del Bosque abandon the Spanish tiki taka in order to suit the players he has, I believe not and this could be a problem for Spain.
Would it be better to play David Silva as the false 9, with Pedro on the right and Iniesta on the left? Perhaps this may be the logic Del Bosque has, Soldado is a big miss as he would have given Spain more of what Villa offered. There is no doubt this side has the quality to produce and score goals, yet I wonder how much ideology will precede logic in Spain's quest for their third triumph in a row.
Fatigue or history?
Many have postulated also the amount of games that many of these players have played this season; players for both Barcelona and Bilbao were instructed to play a high tempo pressing game, which is always fatiguing. Bilbao clearly have been affected by their large amount of games, yet witnessing Barca in the Copa Del Rey which indicate that this side has a lot of energy left; Iniesta and Pedro in particular looked great. One note on that game would the omission of Cesc Fabregas and how much more balanced the side appeared, for me Iniesta should play the number 8 role and not 11, he is much better than Cesc and Pep struggled to fit him in the side this season, affecting Iniesta's effectiveness. If Spain wish to succeed, they need to get the best from Iniesta and this may mean sacrificing Fabregas.
The biggest obstacle for Spain may be history. As seen with the Champions League, it is not easy to win the trophy back to back and the Euro’s has never been won back to back. History would show that Spain being victorious is unlikely. I have no doubt that Spain will be challenging for this years crown and will be for decades to come, they have found a style which suits them, they have a culture which allows this style to work and importantly have a coaching structure which means the skills required for this way of playing can be developed early on. However, on this occasion, with the squad’s absentees and the difficulty of winning three major tournaments in a row, Spain will not be victors this summer.
What about Germany then? I myself have believed and said before that Germany are good enough to win the tournament, that in my opinion they have the best squad and the best manager in the competition. Yet there is something which seems to be telling me this is not their time.
In 2008 this side was in its infancy, was developing their new model and style and it was clear that when the U21’s won the Championships in 2009 that the future for Germany was very bright. In 2010 the world saw the best attacking side in the competition; Germany scored 16 goals, second was Argentina with 10 and Spain managed only 8. England scored only 3. The work that had been done in Germany for the past decade had come to fruition and had proved to be a huge success.
They finished third in the end and the experience for players like Muller, Ozil and Neuer would have been vital, these three came into their own and leaders like Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Podolski took the mantel from Ballack and showed a new era had begun in Germany. Since then even more players have emerged; Gotze, Hummels, Badstuber, Schurrle, Reus and Kroos have all impressed in the past couple of seasons and with the strike power of Gomez, this side is unquestionably the strongest in the tournament.
The key though is, are they capable of winning it? It is not as simple to translate the domestic game to the international one, yet the finale to the domestic season may have affected Germany’s chances of winning the Euro’s; Bayern ended the season as second best in all three competitions, the loss to Chelsea in Munich was the worst of all their defeats and the impact of this loss and the manner of it will surely leave a painful memory in the minds of players like Neuer, Boateng, Lahm, Gomez and Schweinsteiger who will have all been shocked and amazed by the loss. How will these players affect the atmosphere in the German camp? Will they instil a desire to go and win, or will they be affected by the doubt of coming second all season?
Germany rely on Bayern's players to lead the side, they will need them if they wish to go further than 2008. With Schweinsteiger carrying an injury for much of the season too, his influence will be sorely missed as he dictates the tempo and brings a calm and experienced head to a very much youthful team. Gomez is something of an enigma also, he is very similar for me to players like Zlatan & Berbatov, in respects that he posts impressive scoring records, yet appears incapable of performing on the very top stage, where the real quality shines through. His performance in the Champions League semi finals and the final indicated that he cannot deal with the pressure of the big games. His miss in 2008 will always haunt him and he will need to get off to a great positive start in order to have a good tournament, I have my doubts though.
Defensively German fans must wish that Per Mertesacker does not play a part in the tournament, he showed against the Swiss how much of a liability he is and for Arsenal this year he has been nothing short of catastrophic. In Hummels, Badstuber and Boateng Germany have young and excellent players who can give solidity to the German defensive line.
Germany are favourites
In all honesty, Germany are the most prepared and strongest side all round in the tournament and they have a manager who must be considered the best in the competition? His willingness to experiment in games like against the Ukraine, shows that he is preparing this side for eventualities, whereas Spain appear like Barca to take their style further, Germany appear more flexible in their ability to switch formations to suit different situations. It will Germany's to lose, yet I wonder if this new generation has the old German mentality of which they have been always renowned.
So who will be crowned?
So if it’s not Spain or Germany then who will win this tournament? I believe that this competition can be won by a number of sides, not by a “minnow” as such like Greece did in 2004, but by one of the old giants of Italy or France. Both are characteristically in a state of dwindling expectations for various reasons; Italy is in the midst of another match fixing scandal and with some players becoming unavailable due to this, they may not be their strongest. Yet this is the same occurrence which powered them to the triumph of the World Cup in 2006. It may be that their underdog status, their ability to be defensively solid and their unpredictable strikeforce may provide some surprises. I do not believe it will be a high scoring tournament and this will favour the Italians.
France on the other hand are on a 19 game unbeaten streak, yet the last time they had this kind of run they were knocked out in the group stages in 1992. Cynics believe this is a team which lacks the collective spirit and understanding to win the tournament, and without a real world class player of the ilk of Vieria, Zidane or Henry then this side may lack the leadership which it will require to go further in the tournament. It is clearly a young team which has many years to go to further itself, the defence appears for raw and inexperienced, Patrice Evra is living solely on reputation as he has been quite shocking for two years at least, yet with the abilities of Nasri and Ribery and the goal scoring prowess of Benzema, do not be surprised to see the unlikely France get to the final if they overcome England in the first game.
Another name which may find itself reaching the semi finals at least is Russia. In group A they have perhaps the best chance of topping the group and with the quality of Alan Dzagoyev and Alexander Kerzhakov in the side then do not be surprised to see Russia perform similar to in 2008, this time perhaps furthering their performance with a run to the final.
As for the other potentials; Holland have an excellent attacking line up, yet I feel they will come unstuck against a strong organised defence and will be susceptible to conceding goals with their average defence. Van Merwijk also appears in a dilemma of fitting in his attacking qualities to make a successful team, it seems inconceivable to exclude Huntelaar from the XI yet Van Persie has perfected the false 9 role and Sneijder will not be dropped. Putting Van Persie out wide right seems possible yet it has been shown in the recent friendlies to not be so effective. I expect them to qualify from the group yet will struggle to get past the quarter finals.
Portgual, in the same group as Germany and Holland rely too heavily on the individual brilliance of Ronaldo, perhaps they could have got out of another group, yet this one I feel they will not win a game in. England are a side which could surprise everyone and go to the quarter finals, I say this because they have shown in two games under Hodgson that they are capable of not conceding goals, with a strong defence and excellent goalkeeper they may be able to knick some 1-0 wins, yet I worry that they lack the quality in midfield to keep possession well enough and will be too easily overran by good sides. In attack too there is a failure to score goals and England's lack of a real playmaker means they may fail to provide clinical counter attacks where they can use their speed. When they come up against a good team they will be beaten convincingly like in the World Cup 2010.
The Euro’s is a fascinating tournament, with only 16 sides the quality is higher than a World Cup and in the group stages every game really matters, for the fans there is really no dull game. I do not expect many goals however, many sides realise they are weak defensively and I do not anticipate an all out attack mentality but a more defensive counter attack approach to take many games. 1-0 scorelines will be a common result I believe. Tacticaly it should be fascinating, and it is in these types of games where you see the brilliance or failings of a manger. This is a reason why Harry Redknapp did not get the role, because in these types of tournaments, if you in without any gameplan, expect to go out early.