As Europe’s domestic leagues enter their final stages of the season, the focus of football fans united is soon to be on ‘France 2016’.
In a season full of twists and turns; a 5000/1 longshot looks set to lift the English Premier League, and Jamie Vardy, a product of non-league football, decided to go on a record breaking run and book himself the most unlikeliest of seats on a certain flight to France this summer.
With shocks galore dominating this year’s premier league, we are putting our necks on the line, by making 5 predictions we can’t see past for the Euro’s.
France deserved favourites
As the home nation France’s name was always going to be thrown around as potential winners, but with such a magnificent depth in squad and the emergence of new key players, they now surely have to be seen as the ones to beat this summer.
Such is the vast quality of world class players available at the dispense of manager Didier Deschamps, the likes of; N’Golo Kante, Kingsley Coman and Dmitri Payet are unbelievably all unlikely to land a starting berth at this year’s Euro’s.
The trio would walk into almost any other team in world football with ease given their impressive seasons, but the competition for starts in the French XI has arguably never been tougher.
Captain Hugo Lloris has long been considered one of the best goal keepers in world football, and in Paul Pogba, France also have arguably the best and most complete midfielder in the world of football at the moment.
One player who will not be lighting up the Euro’s for France this summer however, is Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid man has already been told he will not play, for his part in a sex-tape scandal earlier on in 2015. Antoine Griezmann is the most likely man to benefit from Benzema’s omission after yet another impressive season for Real’s rivals Atletico Madrid.
Jamie Vardy to continue his party
The rise of Jamie Vardy is this year’s story that just keeps giving. The former Fleetwood town striker has stolen all the country’s headlines and hearts this season, as his performances continue to be the driving force behind Leicester’s unlikely surge for the title.
The former non-league footballer has broken Ruud Van-Nistelrooy’s record by scoring in 11 consecutive games, earned his first England caps, scored his first England goals, and is now fighting with Sergio Aguero and fellow countryman Harry Kane to win the golden boot.
Having scored on his previous two England outings against both Germany and Holland, we think that he could be a safe bet to score most games regardless of whether he starts games or not. With Harry Kane more likely to lead the line from the off, he too could be in with a shout of being the tournament’s top goal scorer as England look to end a run of 50 years without a major trophy and win the euros for the first time.
Spain to stutter (again)
Since the collapse of the world champions at the 2014 world cup, Spain’s international form has been very much hit and miss. It is not just the team as a whole but rather more the performance of certain individuals this season that will worry manager Vincent Del-Bosque. Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have both been unable to re-find the form that saw them set the premier league a light last season, with an array of indifferent performances this time around, and having watched Iniesta on numerous occasions this season he is clearly not the player he once was.
Despite still being one of the best midfielders in the world on paper, Iniesta’s statistics this year speak for themselves. The play maker has registered only 1 goal and 2 assists this season, in a poor campaign Barcelona will consider poor, by their exceptional standards.
The impressive performances of Juventus’ Álvaro Morata this season will be a massive plus point for Spain as they look to defend their title. He and Fernando Torres both offer a certain degree on inconsistency in front of goal however but if we were to pick a key man it would be Morata.
Our advice is to stay away from backing the Spaniards to retain their crown, however with De Gea, Alba, Ramos and Pique in their defensive rankings we think there could be some value in backing Spanish Clean sheets.
Germany’s Next Generation
The Germans have become famed for their successful and youthful approach to selection in recent competitions, and after taking a first glance at perspective starting teams, many will need to start googling when setting their eyes upon the Germans starting line-up for the first time.
The recent 3-2 loss to England in a pre-season friendly will see many back in favour of the English but we think the result could be a red herring.
Following the loss of experienced players such as Mertesacker, Klose and Lahm through retirement the next generation of German talent are set to get their chance to shine from the off this summer. And despite being exposed by England in the fullback positions Matthias Ginter of Borussia Dortmund and Cologne’s Jonas Hector will be looking to put their wrongs right.
Bundesliga commentators have made no mistake in letting their criticism of Mats Hummels be known this season, and even as one of the more experienced in the side, he could to be set for an unlikely spot on the bench in favour of youth.
However if he and Boateng are given the chance to rediscover the form that saw them win the world cup in Brazil, and with the world’s best goalkeeper in the form of Manuel Neuer behind them it would take something special to beat the German rear guard. Thomas Muller looks likely to lead the line for the Germans, and is our pick for this year’s golden boot.
Could Belgium finally fulfil their potential?
The emergence of Belgium as a force in world football has been a rather underwhelming prospect to date. Despite topping the Fifa world rankings in 2015 and having an array of world class talent such as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Vincent Kompany they have been unable to fully fulfil their promising potential.
The form of Eden Hazard will worry manager Marc Wilmots but his talent is so undeniable that it is impossible to leave him out. Romelu Lukaku has had a successful campaign despite Everton’s poor showing all season, but again remains a thoroughly inconsistent performer for the national team and on occasion looks more like a rugby player than footballer in front of goal.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld have both had impressive seasons for Spurs as they continue to push Leicester for the title but the fact they are deployed in the full back positions doesn’t allow for them to fully fulfil their potential on the world stage either.
De Bruyne is the one to watch, at times he has single handily won games for Manchester city this season, and has the ability to transform the players around him and win games from nowhere at times.
Belgium won’t go into the tournament with the same pressure as they did two years ago, and should their individuals turn up on the day they could make a push for the semi-finals, but winning the competition might be a step too far for the inexperienced Belgian side.