Here’s our Euro 2020 fantasy tips article where Rob Reid previews Austria and Belgium including the best player picks
Euro 2020 Fantasy Tips – Rob Reid Previews Austria And Belgium
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Overall – 75/1
Group Odds – 5/1
Fixtures to Target – North Macedonia MD1
Austria appear in their 3rd European Championships and will once again be hoping to progress beyond the group stages for the first time. They flattered to deceive at Euro 2016, entering the tournament with promise, but crashing out having taken only a single point from their 3 games – the same record that they disappointingly finished with when they co-hosted in 2008. Austrian football has been starved of success since Hans Krankl and Das Wunder von Cordoba in the 1978 World Cup and fans will certainly be hoping Das Team can produce it this year.
There is cause for optimism too. Red Bull Salzburg are regulars in the Champions League group stages and the Austrian squad boasts a number of players who are performing well in the German Bundesliga. That being said, there are serious concerns about the fitness of Captain Julian Baumgartlinger who suffered a serious knee injury at the start of this year and the World Cup qualifiers didn’t start well (more on that later.) They do have a fairly kind draw though and progress from Group C is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Qualification, form and playing style
Austria qualified in second place from Group A, which also contained group rivals North Macedonia. They were defeated at home by an in-form Poland and also suffered a surprise defeat away at bottom side Latvia, but produced a resolute display to draw away in Warsaw and beat North Macedonia and Slovenia home and away. Their recent form has been somewhat mixed. They fared well in their most recent Nations League fixtures, beating Northern Ireland twice and Romania, but their World Cup qualifying start was a bit more bumpy. They led twice at Hampden before Scotland pinned them back to a 2-2 draw and they went behind to the Faroe Isles at home before recovering to win 3-1. The worry though was the ease with which they were thumped 4-0 at home by Denmark. Eyes will be firmly on their warm-up games next week, away to England and home to Slovakia to see if this dip will be carried into the tournament.
I watched Austria against Scotland at Hampden and saw extended highlights of their defeat to Denmark and in both games they set up in a 4-2-3-1. They play a high-pressing style and like to dominate possession, though this can leave them exposed at the back. This certainly was the case in the Scotland and Denmark games – against Scotland they had 60% possession and looked fluid in attack with Marcel Sabitzer, Christoph Baumgartner and Sasa Kalajdzic all causing real problems. But a usually lightweight Scotland attack exposed their defensive frailties on a number of occasions, finding big gaps behind the full-backs and at set-pieces. Denmark also ruthlessly exploited Austria’s defensive weaknesses in the second-half of the game in Vienna with Austria failing to register a shot on target for the whole game.
In terms of their prospects, I expect Austria to have a good shot at making the last 16 albeit possibly as a best 3rd placed team. I expect them to beat North Macedonia, but struggle against the Netherlands where their opponents are at home. This would then lead to a Matchday 3 shoot-out in Bucharest against Ukraine which could go either way.
Many people will be drawn to David Alaba (5.5m) – the Bayern Munich man is unquestionably their star player. For me though, I’m not completely sold on his fantasy prospects because he is listed as a midfielder rather than a defender. This is crucial – if he was listed in defence, I would consider him a good out of position asset. His price is fairly kind though and the sub £6m price bracket is fairly slim in terms of midfield assets overall so I wouldn’t completely write him off. The other familiar name to FPL managers will be Marko Arnautovic (£7.0m) – he’s got a decent goal record for his country, but his move to China has seen him fall out of favour at international level.
As for who to pick, the 3 players I mentioned earlier I think are worth consideration. I was really impressed by Christoph Baumgartner (7.0m) in the Bundesliga last season and against Scotland in March. His performance was only bettered by Stuttgart forward Sasa Kalajdzic (7.5m). The tallest player in the Bundesliga scored twice in that game, has had a great season with Stuttgart (16 goals in 32 games for a mid-table team) and will be a menace to anyone. Marcel Sabitzer (8.0m) is Austria’s most expensive asset – he’s listed as a midfielder but does sometimes feature up front and the Leipzig man is also likely to be Austria’s penalty and free-kick taker. Finally, I also think Louis Schaub (7.0m) is worth consideration – the Luzern midfielder has 6 goals in 19 internationals, but keep an eye on the warm-up games as he’s not guaranteed to start.
Overall – 13/2
Group Odds – 5/6
Fixtures to target – Russia MD1; Finland MD3
There’s a school of thought that this could be the last chance saloon for what is considered to be Belgium’s golden generation. The current number 1 ranked team in the world came up just short in the 2018 World Cup, edged out by France in the semi-finals and there was a feeling at the time that it was a huge missed opportunity for The Red Devils.
What’s certainly not in doubt is the abundance of talent still in their squad. Their defence may be ageing a little, but their attacking players are all in the prime of their late 20s not to mention that they are blessed with a large number of them! The draw has also been kind to them too and it’s likely to be the quarter-finals before they come up against a really stern test. Could this finally be their year?
Qualification, form and playing style
Belgium were one of 2 teams to boast a perfect qualifying record as they breezed through Group I without being significantly challenged scoring 40 goals in the process. Nearest rivals Russia were dispatched home and away with an aggregate score of 7-2 with Cyprus the only other team to score against them in a 6-1 thrashing. They’ve not been perfect since qualification though. England turned them over 2-1 at Wembley in October, though Belgium did win the reverse game 2-0. They also fell behind in a 3-1 win at home to Wales in their opening World Cup qualifier before having to dig in to grind out a 1-1 draw away to the Czech Republic. They’ve got 2 home warm-up games to come against Greece and Croatia, so this should give us a good measure of where they are going into the tournament.
I’d expect Belgium to operate with 3 at the back in either a true 3-4-3 or a 3-4-2-1 formation. They’ve a fairly settled back 3 of Vertoghen, Denayer and Alderweireld, though there are question marks as to who will start as the 2 wide players of the 4 – T.Hazard and Meunier are probably the favourites, though I could see Castagne being utilised as well. The other question mark is whether De Bruyne will be used alongside Tielemens in the midfield 4 or as part of the front 3. I’d expect the latter, alongside either E.Hazard (if he’s fit) or Dries Mertens with all-time leading goal-scorer Lukaku the figurehead.
It’s not too surprising that Belgium are one of the tournament favourites in my opinion. I’d expect them to breeze through the group phase and they should get a reasonable draw on the last 16 against a 3rd placed team – perhaps it will be a 2016 rematch with Wales? After that, things get tough and their resolve will be truly tested. Have they got the nerve to go all the way to the final? I’m not too sure!
There’s lots of players to target here and they will be popular picks amongst all managers as they offer good chances of returns at both ends of the pitch. I’ll start up front ad despite a hefty price tag Romelu Lukaku (11.0m) looks a great pick. He’s been in fine form with Internazionale this season and his international record of 59 goals in 91 games speaks for itself. He’ll be a good Captain pick for the group stages and last 16, though I’d be tempted to move him on if they come against tougher opposition later on as he does have a reputation as a flat track bully. Next up we have the midfield premium options of Kevin De Bruyne (10.5m) and Eden Hazard (10.0m). Like Lukaku, they both boast great international records, but bear in mind they’ve both had their share of injury problems this season especially Hazard. They might therefore have their minutes managed a little in the group stages if things are progressing as planned.
The cheaper midfield and attack options offer less potential of returns, but there are some good budget options at the back. Jason Denayer (4.5m) should be in everyone’s teams at that price – he doesn’t offer much attacking potential, but 4.5m is a great price to get access to the Belgian defence. The one I really like though is Thomas Meunier (5.5m). He’s listed as a defender, but effectively plays as a right winger and has a record of 7 goals and 14 assists in 46 internationals. The only question mark is his game time as he faces competition from the identically priced Thomas Castagne (5.5m). One final differential thought (and it may sound like a crazy one) is to keep an eye on Michy Batshuayi (6.5m). He’s got an incredible international goal record of 22 goals in 33 games – if Belgium rotate their squad in MD3 he could very well get the nod and bag himself some goals against group underdogs Finland.
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