In the world of sport, perfection does not exist.
Even the greatest sides to ever grace a football pitch had their shortcomings, small weaknesses that could be exposed by opponents. From the mesmerising Brazil of the 1980s to the devastating Liverpool team that’s currently running away with the Premier League, every squad has its Achilles heel.
Now, there are varying degrees of this. Some deficiencies are only minor and – for the most part – have a little impact on the side’s performances, while others are lay bare for all to see.
Here, 90min ranks the weaknesses of Europe’s top nations at present.
Achilles Heel: Vulnerability at the Back
After winning two trophies in the space of three years, it’s difficult to say there are any glaring issues in the Portuguese team. They’ve won their last five matches, scoring 16 goals in the process, yet Fernando Santos’ recruits are lacking a bit of organisation in the backline.
Centre-half Pepe has never been the most reliable of defenders, his partner Ruben Dias remains inexperienced at international level and the first-choice full-backs – Nelson Semedo and Raphael Guerreiro – are known more for their attacking abilities.
Age is another factor here, with Pepe and Jose Fonte both deep into their 30s as Santos searches for a long-term solution to the centre-back problem. Nevertheless, his men are looking strong ahead of Euro 2020.
Achilles Heel: Leadership
Too often in recent months, the French have laboured to results against lesser opposition, occasionally even falling to a shock defeat, like their 2-0 loss in Turkey over the summer.
It’s nothing to do with the quality of individual players at Didier Deschamps’ disposal – there’s arguably no better collection of footballers on the planet. Rather, there’s a lack of leadership in the squad.
Captain Hugo Lloris’ wayward form in the last couple of seasons would have left the side with no authority figure to look to, no one to help guide them through awkward contests. He’s injured now, which should allow a new man to step up and demand more from his teammates.
Achilles Heel: Counterattacks
Vulnerability to counterattacks is a symptom of how Belgium like to play. The wing-backs are encouraged to bomb forward and Roberto Martinez often fields only one defensively-minded midfielder, leaving spaces for opponents to exploit.
Still, the Red Devils’ firepower up top is usually enough to make up for their shortcomings, making this an Achilles heel that’s probably actually worth having.
Achilles Heel: Confidence
The humiliation of a first World Cup group-stage exit since 1938 was a sizeable blow to Germany’s self-belief, and they look to be still recovering from it.
Joachim Low opted to change things up following that collapse in Russia, blooding youngsters inand banishing many of the old guard. Fortunately for him, the new-look outfit are progressing well, though they still struggle to play with freedom and flare when the going gets tough.
Achilles Heel: Midfield Mobility
Having Jorginho and Marco Verratti in the midfield is never going to make for an energetic, all-action combination. Both individuals are guilty of taking their time, rarely getting out of first gear as they stroll across the turf.
That’s something which can certainly be taken advantage of by sides that utilise a dynamic pressing game, though as of yet, none of Italy’s rivals in Group J have been able to trouble the four-time world champions.
Achilles Heel: Central Defence
Perhaps Gareth Southgate’s decision to alter England’s formation from a back five to a back four has unsettled the centre-backs, who have come in for heavy criticism in recent fixtures.
Errors have become too commonplace for Michael Keane, whilst Harry Maguire has been unable to reach his performance levels of 2018.
Add in the problem of finding balance in the midfield and you start to see why there are some growing concerns around Southgate and his team.
Achilles Heel: An Underpowered Frontline
Midfield powerhouse Giorginio Wijnaldum was required to bail out the Netherlands on Sunday night after the forwards failed to find a way through the Belarus defence.
When you peak at the options the Dutch have up top, it becomes clear why their frontline is such an issue. Steven Bergwijn and Donyell Malen have only 10 caps between them, whilst none of Luuk de Jong, Ryan Babel or Quincy Promes are at the level required to lead the attack of a top European nation.
Memphis Depay has blossomed since leaving Manchester United, but he is only one man. Those around him are either unproven in international football, or have already proven they aren’t good enough.
Achilles Heel: Lack of Quality Upfront
The Dutch’s problems are mirrored by the Spanish. After the loss of several elite strikers in the last few years – plus the rapid decline of both Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata – La Roja have been left bare up top.
Mikel Oyarzabal was handed a start in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Norway, yet the youngster’s strike-rate of one goal every four games in La Liga is rather disappointing. Moreover, Paco Alcacer has been inconsistent for Borussia Dortmund this term and Isco lacks the pace to fill in on the wing.
The bad news doesn’t end there. Star striker Rodrigo has netted just one goal in 10 appearances for Valencia and Dani Ceballos seems lost whenever he’s asked to play amongst the forwards. There are numerous conundrums for Roberto Moreno to solve.
Achilles Heel: Ageing Stars
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have been immaculate for Croatia over the last decade, but neither man has much time left as a professional.
On top of that, fellow stalwart Mario Mandzukic hung up his international books in 2018 and Ivan Perisic is now into his 30s, making it the end of an era for the Balkans.
They are in transition as the side attempt to mitigate the damage of losing such wonderful footballers, but it’s not going too smoothly, as demonstrated by a draw with Azerbaijan in September, a home loss to Tunisia in June and a general lack of unity in matches.
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