Euro 2020: England to win as France and Netherlands stutter

France manager Didier Deschamps
Deschamps could be set for a shock defeat

Alex Keble pinpoints tactical battles from the first round of Group games at Euro 2020 and says England will be too quick for Croatia and Germany can beat France...

"Even if Gareth Southgate’s conservative instincts see England play within themselves with a back three they ought to have enough quality to beat this leggy Croatian side."

Ageing Croatia to be caught by quick transitions

England v Croatia
Sunday, 14:00
Live on BBC One

Croatia haven't really moved on since the 2018 World Cup while England welcome a batch of quick young attackers, and that is likely to flip the balance of this tie from the semi-final three years ago. Even if Gareth Southgate's conservative instincts see England play within themselves with a back three, they ought to have enough quality to beat this leggy Croatian side.

Luka Modric is still the linchpin of the team, but his creaking legs reflect the problem Croatia have: they are still a possession-based team and can control this match through midfield without really going anywhere - and leaving themselves too expansive to cope with quick counter-attacks when the ball is turned over.

England should be able to counter on the outside of the Croatia midfield, while a centre-back partnership of Dejan Lovren and 32-year-old Domagoj Vida is no match for Harry Kane and whichever of England's direct, dribbling wingers support him on either side.

Ukraine's deep shape to frustrate De Boer's stale possession

Netherlands v Ukraine
Sunday, 20:00
Live on ITV

Frank de Boer's Netherlands look a little bit too much like a De Boer team. They try to play patient possession football but do so without enough tactical coherence, defensive cover, or obvious plan to convert this into good performances. It is very much a team in transition, and despite a strong core of Matthijs De Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, and Memphis Depay they don't have the creativity needed to unlock a deep defence.

Andriy Shevchenko has made Ukraine into a difficult team to beat. They will sit deep and defend in numbers, as they did in a 1-0 victory over Spain and 2-2 draw with France over the last year, games in which Ukraine held less than 35% possession. A powerful and well-organised defence can go a long way in this tournament and Shevchenko's side can make De Boer's possession look aimless.

The most likely result is a draw, partly because Ukraine don't have enough in attack to trouble Netherlands' high-quality centre-back pair and partly because De Boer's recent switch to a 3-4-3 has only exacerbated their problems up front.

Memphis Depay Netherlands.jpg

Weakness at full-back hands Torres crucial advantage

Spain v Sweden
Monday, 20:00
Live on BBC One

Spain have improved considerably over the last couple of years and can hope to shake off that Del Bosque-inspired sluggish possession which led to an early exit at the 2018 World Cup. Luis Enrique has introduced a slightly more direct and varied approach, although Spain clearly lack star players in the final third and will be over-reliant on Gerardo Moreno for goals.

These issues are unlikely to come up in the first game, however, when they face a distinctly average Sweden side. Janne Andersson plays in a typical 4-4-2, aiming to get bodies behind the ball and hit on the counter-attack, but he is undermined (against stronger nations at least) by a vulnerability in the full-back areas.

Right-back Mikail Lustig, who plays for AIK in Sweden, is the weakest player in the team and his direct opponent for this game is Ferran Torres. The Manchester City winger scored a hat-trick in Spain's 6-0 victory over Germany earlier this year; it is a mismatch that should hand Enrique an easy first three points.

New 3-4-3 threatens upset in France opener

France v Germany
Tuesday, 20:00
Live on ITV

The general assumption is that France will win the tournament while Germany will be the biggest flop, primarily because Joachim Low has failed to bring through the next generation and his preparation for Euro 2020 has gone badly. However, bringing Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels back into the side, coupled with a recent move to 3-4-3, throws a spanner in the works.

Suddenly they look a bit more like the Germany of old, with a strong and experienced spine playing Low-esque football but with forwards like Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner, and Kai Havertz who can explode into life on the counter-attack. It is plausible that France will under-estimate this threat, losing the midfield battle and struggling to break down the back three.

What's more, Didier Deschamps played a diamond 4-4-2 in France's final friendly. If he continues with that system against Germany's 3-4-3 then the favourites will be out-numbered on the flanks, handing the Germans a crucial advantage. This could be the shock result of match day one.

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