With just hours to go until Spain finally get their Euro 2020 campaign underway, there is still widespread confusion as to how many of Luis Enrique’s 24 man squad he will actually be able to pick. An unfortunately timed bout of Covid has caused major disruptions to Spain’s preparations for the tournament, with the entire first-team even having to self-isolate while the U21s played out their warm-up fixture with Lithuania last weekend instead.
Confirmed news from the Spanish camp is that Sergio Busquets will definitely miss the opening match against Sweden, but a false positive for Diego Llorente, along with numerous “bubbles” and last minute call-ups for the likes of Kepa Arrizabalaga, Raúl Albiol and Brais Méndez – who had to quickly fly back from holiday in Mykonos – have caused nothing but confusion and chaos in the wake of what feels like an era-defining tournament for the 2008 and 2012 winners.
One thing is for certain, though. While the Spanish aren’t quite the world-beaters of the late 2000s, they possess plenty of talent in their squad, even with the shock omissions of the likes of Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio. With a midfield who are capable of dictating any game, alongside multiple players in the form of their lives, it would be wrong to write off this side just yet. Here are three names we think could make all the difference if Spain proves their doubters wrong.
First and foremost, and off the back of one of the finest individual seasons by a Spanish forward in living memory, Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno comes into this tournament as one of the most in-form players in world football.
For months this season, the Catalan forward has quite literally been running his side’s attack all by himself, at one point scoring or assisting every single goal that Unai Emery’s men scored for well over two months. Having announced himself on the European stage with the opening goal in that famous Europa League final win over Manchester United, he’ll be hoping to see his name up in lights once again with his national side.
While his attacking output understandably draws the attention – with 30 goals and 11 assists in 46 games last season – Gerard’s link-up play and ability to hold onto the ball remains a largely underappreciated side of his game. Drifting inside from the right, he just always seems to do the right thing, very rarely losing the ball, and always seeming to squeeze the pass through to his strike partner whenever the opportunity arises. With the pace and power of Ferran Torres on the left, along with goal-poacher Álvaro Morata through the middle, Gerard will be essential in knitting together Spanish attacks, connecting midfield to attack with his fantastic progressive skills from deep.
Even when he’s not at his best, the Villarreal forward is always a threat, as Manchester United found out to their cost three weeks ago in Gdansk, despite keeping him relatively quiet throughout. A striker who can’t seem to do anything wrong at the moment, he has to be the first name on Luis Enrique’s team-sheet.
Another player whose incredible form helped to fire his club side to silverware this season, Atlético Madrid’s Marcos Llorente is a player who has gone from strength to strength ever since he burst onto the scene at Anfield just over a year ago. Quick, strong, and incredibly versatile, his relentless running and determination has seen him emerge as one of the most complete midfielders in world football.
From second striker to right-back, Llorente’s freakish athleticism and power means he can dominate games from anywhere on the pitch. On the ball, he’s a difficult man to stop, moving forward with such force that most defenders can’t get near him. He has a great eye for a pass, and is so dangerous in and around the area due to his extremely clinical finishing ability, scoring 12 LaLiga goals from just 22 shots on target last campaign. With 11 assists too, he finished the season with the 6th most goal contributions, more than the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Alexander Isak, despite the incredible range of positions that he’s been tasked with playing.
Llorente’s impact for the national side, then, depends on how Luis Enrique decides to use him. Despite playing the right-back role well, his attacking qualities and boundless energy is missed in the midfield when he’s drafted into the back four, so he would be much more effective deployed in a midfield/second striker role. Posting some of the best numbers amongst midfielders in key metrics such as assists, non-penalty goals, pressures, carries into the penalty area, crosses, tackles and dribbles, his distinctive skill-set is best suited to a more advanced role. Alongside Moreno, he could be absolutely deadly for La Roja if Luis Enrique allows him to express himself further up the pitch.
With Sergio Ramos’ omission and Gerard Pique’s retirement in 2018, Spain head into Euro 2020 without either of the most successful centre-backs in their history for the first time in 17 years. Yet, with Aymeric Laporte’s dramatic switch of allegiances, alongside the rise of Villarreal’s very own Pau Torres, there’s hope that their absences won’t be felt too strongly after all.
Rising through the ranks of his local club, the centre-back is gaining attention throughout Europe, linked to big-money moves to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United. Tall, quick and strong, he has all the physical attributes required to be one of the world’s best defenders, but it’s his world class passing ability and composure on the ball that sets him apart.
Predominantly left-footed, just like his partner Laporte, it will be interesting to see who is asked to play on the left. Pau has shown all throughout the season his ability to step into the midfield and punch a pass through the lines, making 3.74 progressive passes per game and maintaining an 89.5% passing accuracy throughout the entire season. He is also very capable of finding his team-mates with long balls over the top, as demonstrated by a magnificent assist for Gerard Moreno against Real Valladolid, confidently striding towards goal before picking out a perfect 50-yard pass for his Spanish teammate.
Technique, poise and elegance, Pau Torres’ partnership with Laporte will be absolutely key to any potential Spanish success at this tournament. Having won the Europa League with his hometown club, the big clubs in Europe are circling, and Euro 2020 could be his big audition on the European stage.