Spain are the big dogs of the European Championship’s recent history. Having won the competition back-to-back in 2008 and 2012, they were stopped in their tracks by Antonio Conte’s Italy at the round of 16 stage back in 2016.
Five years on, and we are witnessing a new dawn in Spanish football. Since then, La Furia Roja have undergone a huge change in managerial and playing staff, with Luis Enrique now in charge of a new-look senior side.
The former Barcelona player and coach controversially decided not to select a single Real Madrid star in his squad for Euro 2020, including key centre-back and captain Sergio Ramos, who has struggled with injury for a number of months.
In fact, Enrique has opted not to make use of the extended 26-man squad option, picking only 24 players for the summer tournament – a decision that has raised some eyebrows.
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Spain have been drawn against Poland, Slovakia and Sweden in Group E, so expectations will be high to finish top of the group, despite the widely-considered dip in quality of this crop of stars.
Here’s a look at what to expect from Spain.
If this Spain side was in the midst of a transitional period during the Euro 2020 qualifying group stages, they certainly didn’t show it. La Furia Roja topped Group F with relative ease, winning eight and drawing two of their 10 matches.
Spain got the party started with a 2-1 victory over Norway in their opening game, relying on a Ramos penalty to get them over the line. An Alvaro Morata brace handed them a comfortable 2-0 win away at Malta in the next fixture, and that was followed up by another straight-forward 4-1 victory over Faroe Islands.
Vital wins over Sweden and Romania put them firmly in control of Group F, and although they would suffer back-to-back draws against Norway and Sweden later in the competition, they were rarely in danger of losing top spot.
Spain won their final two matches by an aggregate score of 12-0, setting them up nicely for the summer tournament.
While question marks can be raised over the lack of an elite striker or the absence of key faces at the back, the Spain midfield is packed with talent. And considering the nation’s love for keeping the ball and passing teams to death in the past, that can only be good news for supporters.
The likes of Thiago Alcantara, Rodri, Marcos Llorente, Koke, Dani Olmo, Fabian and Pedri will all fancy their chances at making an impact on this tournament, and that’s not to mention the experienced Sergio Busquets and Pablo Sarabia.
There is so much depth in that midfield that should injury or fatigue strike during the tournament, Enrique will be able to dive into his endless bank of riches and pull out another gem to dictate the tempo of the game. A midfield to be feared.
Although some may point to a lack of a big-name forward as Spain’s main issue, the truth is, they should have enough firepower throughout the squad to get the goals. Not to mention, in Gerard Moreno they possess one of the most in-form strikers in Europe.
The real problem stems at the back. Even with Ramos for most of qualifying, Spain were only able to keep five clean sheets in 10 matches, letting goals slip against the likes of Faroe Islands, Norway and Romania.
Now they are forced to enter Euro 2020 without their talismanic leader at the heart of their backline, and their options are truly stretched. Pau Torres will probably occupy one of the starting spots following his victorious Europa League campaign with Villarreal, and new Spanish citizen Aymeric Laporte will partner him.
The Manchester City star gave up on his dreams of playing for France and switched allegiances, instead registering to play for Spain. His inclusion in the squad is a huge bonus and will help plug the gaps, but having made his debut only a matter of days before the tournament kicks off, cohesion and time on the training ground could pose problems at the crucial moments.
Spain have desperately lacked pace in attack in previous years, and that’s where they may flourish this summer. Wide man Ferran Torres has lit up the international scene since being awarded his opportunity in the senior setup, and hopes are high for the Man City star to make a splash across Europe.
Enrique is still unsure over large parts of his starting lineup, so it’s probable that the more flexible and versatile players stand a better chance of nailing down their place in the starting XI. Marcos Llorente has been a standout performer in La Liga this year, and his ability to play anywhere across the midfield or even at right-back makes him a useful utility man for Enrique.
And all eyes should be on forward Moreno, who has earned his crack at international football, and will want to cement a spot in the forward line.
Goalkeepers: Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao), David de Gea (Manchester United), Robert Sanchez (Brighton)
Defenders: Jose Gaya (Valencia), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Eric Garcia (Manchester City), Diego Llorente (Leeds), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri (Manchester City), Pedri (Barcelona), Thiago (Liverpool), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Fabian Ruiz (Napoli), Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig), Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain)
Forwards: Gerard Moreno (Villarreal), Alvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Adama Traore (Wolves), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad)
For the full list of every confirmed Euro 2020 squad, click here.
This Spain side has never been more unpredictable heading into a major tournament. Under Enrique’s guidance and with a brand new, almost underwhelming squad, expectations are lower than ever before.
However, this is Spain, a country with a recent history of success and European dominance, so it’d be foolish to rule them out completely. The starting lineup will be littered with talented stars, and if Enrique gets it right, they could go deep in the competition.
We can see them reaching the quarter-finals in a worst case scenario, and possibly sneaking beyond. Once you’re in the semis, it’s anyone’s game.