The climax of the UEFA Nations League is here – Stream LIVE on ESPN + (US only) – with some of the continent’s biggest teams competing for a place in the final in October 2021, as well as preferential sowing prior to the 2022 World Cup draw.
This year the preparations for COVID-19 were interrupted. With both the virus and players grappling with intense game build-up, some of Europe’s best talent is unavailable. After all, in this most turbulent year, unease about one of Europe’s most successful nations is growing while others feel this is the right time to attract some exciting young talent.
Here’s everything you need to know before the final two rounds of the Nations League group game.
– What is the UEFA Nations League?
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The structure of the Nations League was a tangle of logistics, biosecurity bubbles, COVID-19 tests and load management. But the waters also differ from country to country, with the new restrictions proving to be particularly stressful for Denmark. The UK government has banned all travel by non-UK citizens from Denmark and has not offered an exception for top athletes. With Iceland playing Denmark on Sunday, the Icelandic team are currently not allowed to travel to the UK to play England at Wembley on Wednesday. The two countries must therefore strive for a neutral basis for their game.
This also affects the Danish squad, as neither Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg nor Brentford’s Henrik Dalsgaard and Mathias Jensen have been released for international use.
COVID-19 has also put a direct bump on the Danish squad with Hoffenheim’s Robert Skov and a positive physio test, while Belgian captain Eden Hazard has done the same and will miss this week. Germany will have to do without Niklas Sule, Kai Havertz and Emre Can, while striker Eden Dzeko will be absent for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Then there is Italy. Manager Roberto Mancini, who tested positive, named a bloated 41-man squad for his three games – one in the friendly against Estonia and in the Nations League against Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina – amid the upheavals at home due to the Six Clubs’ pandemic Serie A recently reported positive results.
With some of the best players in Europe out of action due to injuries, the club managers keep their fingers crossed that their stars will return home unharmed in seven days after three bruise games. England are already sweating on Marcus Rashford’s fitness after injuring his shoulder against Everton, Trent Alexander-Arnold will be out on Sunday after his calf injury against Manchester City and Joe Gomez will have to face an extended break in Wednesday training after a knee injury.
Elsewhere, Spain are without Barcelona’s Ansu Fati after a knee injury expected to rule them out for four months. German star Joshua Kimmich is only available in January due to a knee injury against Borussia Dortmund.
The Netherlands sent Steven Bergwijn back to Spurs after fitness tests and Virgil van Dijk is long-term absent. Nathan Ake could be sidelined for weeks after a muscle injury in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Spain. And Belgium will do without Timothy Castagne, Leandro Trossard and Yannick Carrasco.
Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo at their disposal despite the striker’s ankle blow over the weekend – he scored once in Wednesday’s 7-0 game against Andorra after coming on as a half-time sub – but the list of those who Standing on the sidelines rises to the anger of their clubs.
Managers are absolutely mad at the relentless fixture list. Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described the Premier League schedule as “an absolute mess” and said authorities had hired his team to “fail” ahead of Saturday’s win at Everton. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp previously criticized the international break and lack of rest time for the players, while Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho says when his players go into national service: “I never expect good things, I only expect negative things. Never good things. “
In the meantime, national team bosses have named bigger teams not only to deal with COVID-19 complications, but also to take advantage of their opportunities. “It’s important that we have enough players to count on,” said Bosnia and Herzegovina boss Dusan Bajevic after selecting 32 players, but France coach Didier Deschamps is concerned about the players hitting a wall bump, downplayed.
“I wouldn’t say there is a risk of burnout, but fitness needs to be taken into account,” said Deschamps. “In the past few weeks the players have played nine games: one every three days, including European competitions. I can’t say that I’m not relieved to see one of my internationals for his club start on the bench! “
Crunch matches for European giants
We are at the end of the business end of the Nations League group stage, so pool games are effectively “play-offs” for places in the semi-finals and for promotion / relegation. Portugal-France in Group 3 in Lisbon on Saturday (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN +) is a perfect example. Portugal want to defend their crown in the Nations League and have named a squad of 25 players, with 37-year-old Pepe absent due to injury.
“We can take the opportunity to see players from our expanded squad,” said Portugal boss Fernando Santos, looking ahead. “”[Potential debutants] Paulinho and Pedro Neto are part of that list of 40 or 50 players who I think are all very good. There aren’t any of them that I don’t trust or that have no quality. “
On the other side of the ledger, France’s form is very difficult to gauge, especially after a 2-0 loss to Finland on Wednesday. Deschamps has tried different formations – 4-3-3, three on the back, one 4-4-2 diamond – so you can feel that he is still testing the water for its best mix ahead of the euro next summer. There are questions about Kylian Mbappe’s fitness from a hamstring injury while Benjamin Pavard and Presnel Kimpembe also have doubts.
Deschamps also spoke about Paul Pogba’s situation at Manchester United, saying: “He cannot be happy with his playing time or his positioning.”
This also happens against the background of the fear of the draw for the 2022 World Cup qualification. The top ten European teams in the FIFA World Ranking will be selected for the draw next month. Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain and Croatia are all guaranteed Pot 1 seeds, but a bad week for Italy, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands and a good week for Switzerland or Poland could cause one of the more traditional European superpowers to face a difficult road to Qatar 2022, where only the group winners are guaranteed to qualify.
Italy (Group 1) have been unbeaten in 20 games and Mancini were in bullish form ahead of games that started with a 4-0 win over Estonia on Wednesday. “Poland are ahead of us in the overall standings? We will win against Poland and lead our group,” he said.
Denmark’s preparations are in the air due to COVID-19, and the Netherlands have made an average start in life under Frank de Boer. The Orange There is a real risk that you will miss a place in the semifinals and draw 1-1 last time with Italy. De Boer has also overseen a 0-0 draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina and a 0-1 loss to Mexico. Their construction was disrupted by Bergwijn’s unavailability, and Mohamed Ihattaren withdrew with an illness.
If the Netherlands lose to Bosnia and Poland defeat Italy, the Dutch and Polish meeting next week will be practically a shootout for a World Cup qualifier draw.
And not everything is okay with Germany (group 4). There are dark clouds in the national team and General Manager Oliver Bierhoff slammed the media earlier this week asking them to support the national team instead of being overly critical. He admits there is a growing gap in relations between the country and the national team, but while Bierhoff believes this is mainly due to the 2018 World Cup disaster, there is also a feeling that the national side has financial tables and Appreciates forecasting above everything else.
There is also a growing demand for Germany to call previously discarded veterans such as Thomas Müller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. They were in excellent shape and Boateng and Hummels were able to solve the German defense problems. Nevertheless, managers Joachim Low and Bierhoff have ruled out a comeback. If they slip against Ukraine on Saturday, their place among the World Cup seeds could be in real doubts.
Jan Aage Fjortoft casts shadows on Joachim Low and the German national team after Thomas Muller’s big day for Bayern.
The German game against Spain on Tuesday (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN +) is a shootout for a place in the semifinals, and there are plenty of questions surrounding Luis Enrique’s side too. Spain suffered a bad defeat against Ukraine last time around and there have been a lot of changes in the squad.
Who is Spain’s No. 1 goalkeeper? Who is best placed to help Sergio Ramos in defense? And who will score in front? It is likely that David De Gea will stay between posts in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga and Unai Simon. Pau Torres will play alongside Ramos while they have called up a rejuvenated Alvaro Morata to help address their problems in advance. “Since [Alvaro] Morata returned to Juventus, he is a different player both attacking and defending, “said Luis Enrique. Let’s hope he can stay on the side.
And in Group 2, Belgian favorites will welcome England to Leuven on Sunday (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN +) – after the game was rescheduled from Brussels due to the city’s 10 p.m. Curfew. England must win the game to fight for a place in the finals for the second straight edition. But in the back of the players’ minds lies the physical toll of this series of games.
“It’s all too much, not just for me,” said winger Thorgan Hazard. “Champions League, Bundesliga, Nations League … I don’t want to complain too much because we have to do our job, but it’s a lot.
“Well, here at the Red Devils everyone will be given time to play. The coach picked a lot of players. It would be difficult to play them in all three games for 90 minutes. The players won’t burn themselves. Our coaches ask us too so be careful not to risk too much. “
With all the absences and upheavals, the international window gives managers the opportunity to introduce some youngsters. The 23-year-old Marcus Thuram from Borussia Mönchengladbach wants to follow in the footsteps of his father Lilian for France. He was outstanding for Gladbach this season with three goals and five assists in eleven games and is one of two players in Deschamps’ squad – the 27-year-old Monaco defender Ruben Aguilar is the other.
Elsewhere, England could debut 17-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham, who was called up after James Ward-Prowse withdrew from Southampton. Bellingham moved to Borussia Dortmund in the summer and has played eleven games so far, including 30 minutes from the bench against Bayern Munich at the weekend. When he makes his debut, the incredibly talented teenager will become the third youngest English player in history after Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney.
There are also potential debuts for exciting right-back Bote Baku for Germany, with the unmatched defensive duo Philipp Max and Felix Uduokhai also featured. In the meantime, Belgium has added Hertha Berlin striker Dodi Lukebakio to their squad.
Spain have Atletico Madrid midfielder / striker Marcos Llorente in the party while there is a recall for Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin – hoping to make his first appearance since 2016. Italy has a number of potential debutants with Alessandro Bastoni (Inter Milan), Davide Calabria (AC Milan), Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo), Luca Pellegrini (Genoa), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Mattia Zaccagni (Hellas Verona) and Pietro Pellegri ( Monaco) in the squad.
Note: Additional reporting from Stephan Uersfeld, Julien Laurens, Dale Johnson, Alex Kirkland, Sam Marsden and Andrew Cesare Richardson