With the European club season almost at an end, it seems a good time to cast our minds forward by a few weeks to Euro 2016 to see if there’s any early value to be had. So, in order of their price, let’s take a quick look at the leading contenders.
The tournament hosts come into the competition as favourites. And with a squad including Hugo Lloris, Raphaël Varane, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann, it’s easy to understand why. But I’m not a backer of Les Bleus at that very short price. Mainly due to a lack of depth in Didier Deschamps’ squad. Key goalscorer Karim Benzema misses the tournament and any team featuring Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Yohan Cabaye, Dimitri Payet, Oliver Giroud and Anthony Martial is good but not unbeatable.
They should quite easily progress from a Group featuring Romania, Albania and Switzerland. But as the tournament gets more difficult, France are far from certain to be there at the end.
Having lost to Italy in Euro 2012, Joachim Löw’s team will be keen to emulate Spain by holding the World Cup and European Cup at the same time. They certainly hold the class to do it with players like Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng, Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze. But do they possess the same level of quality they did in Brazil two years ago?
I’m not so sure. Rising star İlkay Gündoğan misses the tournament whilst influential captain Philipp Lahm retired from international football after their World Cup win. But more concerning than those absentees is Germany’s apparent dependence on Beşiktaş’ Mario Gómez to provide goals.
Germany stuttered through their qualifying campaign; a campaign with saw them continually hold the majority of possession without any clinical edge. And in a tough Group also featuring Poland, Ukraine and Northern Ireland, Germany could be vulnerable if not near their best.
With three of the four European Cup finalists being Spanish, it’s difficult to argue that the European club game is currently dominated by Spain. So the defending champions must be favourites to make it three Euros in a row … right? Wrong. In my opinion, their Group stage exit in Brazil is more reflective of their prospects than past glories.
As well as Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Javi Martinez, Vicente Del Bosque has chosen to omit both Diego Costa and Fernando Torres from his provisional squad. A surprising selection given his forward options of Pedro, Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz, Nolito and Lucas Vazquez appear limited – even if supported by Iniesta and Silva.
So with Spain looking like they might dominate possession but lack goal threat, I think they’re best avoided. Especially when sharing a group with Turkey, Czech Republic and Croatia.
For years I’ve opposed England going into major tournaments. Over-hyped and littered with over-indulged Premier League “stars” slotted into a rigid 4-4-2 system, England never played like a coherent team capable of becoming more than the sum of their parts. But whisper it quietly – I think this “new” England squad could be different.
Looking at the following as a possible starting XI, England supporters can feel positive:
Joe Hart (goalkeeper); Kyle Walker (right back); Gary Cahill (centre back); Chris Smalling (centre back); Danny Rose (left back); Eric Dier (defensive midfield); Danny Drinkwater (defensive midfield); Daniel Sturridge (attacking left); Dele Alli (attacking centre); Jamie Vardy (attacking right) and Harry Kane (striker).
And that leaves the likes of John Stones, Nathaniel Clyne, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Wayne Rooney on the bench. Some may wonder at my exclusion of Rooney but I really hope Hodgson doesn’t feel obliged to play him in the position best suited to Dele Alli. Alli has been my player of the season in England and could be a potential Player of the Tournament if allowed to occupy the No.10 position.
You can understand why Belgium are many pundits’ tip to win the competition when their provisional squad includes Premier League stars like Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard, Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele, Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Liverpool duo Christian Benteke and Divock Origi. It’s a so-called ‘Golden Generation’ for Belgian football.
But much like England’s ‘Golden Generation’, I believe Belgium’s array of star names fail to perform collectively when facing better sides. And the absence of captain Vincent Kompany is important in two ways –firstly, by his loss as a player and leader and secondly, by the promotion of Eden Hazard to captain. When the pressure is on (and it will be more than once), Hazard isn’t the one I’d want my money on to pull the team back on track.
When you think of Italian success in tournament football, you think of a rock solid defence behind at least one world class attacking player like Roberto Baggio, Andrea Pirlo, Paolo Rossi or Christian Vierri. PSG’s Marco Verratti promised to provide the Italian flair this summer but his injury, and that of Juve’s Claudio Marchisio, have dealt huge blows to Antonio Conte’s hopes of securing silverware. Something laid bare by the selection of forwards like Sunderland’s Fabio Borini and Southampton’s Graziano Pellè in Italy’s provisional squad.
With The Azzurri drawn against Belgium, Sweden and Ireland in Group E, I’m more than happy to oppose them.
Of the other teams at Euro 2016, I rate Portugal (22/1), Croatia (33/1) and Poland (50/1) as potential dark horses at their prices. In fact, I like Portugal’s price alot given their very favourable grouping alongside Iceland, Austria and Hungary.
Portugal will reach the knock-out stages without much difficulty and have some strong first-team options to challenge from there (albeit the squad is light) – options like Real Madrid duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe, Bayern Munich’s new addition Renato Sanches, Southampton’s Jose Fonte and Monaco’s Joao Moutinho.