Euro 2020 Preview | Slovakia vs Spain

Spain face Slovakia in their final group game after two underwhelming stalemates for Luis Enrique’s men.

La Roja’s goalless draw against Sweden was followed on the weekend by a disappointing 1-1 against Poland, meaning all is up for grabs in Group E.

The tie will also, like these two encounters, be played at Sevilla’s La Cartuja stadium.

The permutations of the group stage

If Spain win, they will definitely qualify for the last 16 stage, although if Sweden beat Poland in the other match then Spain will finish as group runners up.

A draw is simply not good enough for Lucho’s men.

Indeed, although a draw could see Spain through as one of the four best third-place finishes, this is contingent on Poland not winning the other game.

All four nations thus have something to play for and can still qualify.

And if Poland beat Sweden and Spain fail to win, La Roja will finish rock bottom.

Where can the Spanish team improve?

Having scored only one goal in their opening two matches, this has been a clear problem, yet there are signs of optimism.

Álvaro Morata’s neat finish took against his Juventus clubmate Wojciech Szczesny took a little bit of pressure off the Juventus front man, and with the failed penalty attempt and other misses, it is clear that Luis Enrique’s men are still creating enough chances to be winning games and scoring goals.

In both matches, they have had five shots on target, which is the most out of the sides who have only played two games.

Only Scotland, out of the teams who have not finished their group stage, have had more total attempts than Spain.

It is converting them that is the problem.

Spain’s new look centre-back partnership of Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres has looked increasingly solid, although Isak managed to run in them behind several times and Robert Lewandowski scored a header in the last match.

Perhaps moving Marcos Llorente into midfield would give the Atlético Madrid star more of a chance of getting into the box. He is an expert in ‘llegada’ – the art of arriving into the box at the right time.

Spain do have options to call on from the bench: Pablo Sarabia, Mikel Oyarzabal, Adama Traore, among many others.

Sergio Busquets may start.

Euro 2020 Preview | Slovakia vs Spain 6 1003240021
Head coach of Spanish national team, Luis Enrique, gives instructions to his players during the training session held at Las Rozas, Madrid, Spain, 22 June 2021. (Photo by Juan Carlos Hidalgo)

When it all clicks, such as the 6-0 victory over Germany, it is very good.

Luis Enrique needs to decide whether he will stick or twist for the crucial match against Slovakia.

On another day, Gerard Moreno and Álvaro Morata could be sitting on a couple of goals each, Spain could be on six points and none of this would be spoken about.

After all, Portugal drew all three matches at Euro 2016 and went on to win the tournament.

But Spain need a performance (and to score a few goals) in order to convince their many detractors.

One underwhelming performance is normal, two is slightly worrying, but three would leave them out of the tournament, particularly when they face a tricky tie against Slovakia.

Opponents: Slovakia

Pavel Hapal’s men beat Poland in their opening match and then lost against Sweden.

Granted, they were lucky in that Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny scored an own goal and midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak received a red card.

But they will undoubtedly be a tough match for La Roja, especially knowing that they are in a good position to qualify.

And Slovakia have some good players themselves, including experienced former Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik and current Inter Milan defender Milan Skirniar who was part of Antonio Conte’s recent Serie A winning team.

Moreover, a draw for Slovakia might be enough for them to finish in second place, and it will certainly be sufficient for them to qualify as a third-place team.

The onus is thus on Spain to score. They are going into the game with much more pressure, as well as the benefit and or burden of playing in front of a home crowd.

The last time these two sides faced each other was in the qualifying stage for Euro 2016, in which Slovakia managed to upset the odds and produce Spain’s first qualifying defeat for eight years.

This is set up for an enticing affair.

And with the way Spain have been playing, history may very well repeat itself.

James Felton

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