The time has finally arrived, as EURO 2020 begins on Friday.
When Italy and Turkey contend the tournament opener in Rome, Switzerland will only have a day to wait before they get their campaign underway. Wales will be the enemy in Baku, as the Schweizer Nati travel to the City of Winds to begin what is set to be a competitive Group A.
While Vladimir Petković will all but know his first lineup, there are still places up for grab. Who will partner captain Granit Xhaka in midfield? Who gets the nod as wing-backs? How will the Swiss line up in attack?
With just two days to go, there are dilemmas to be resolved.
The main question surrounds Switzerland’s formation, yet that is a given. Despite the Nati’s consistency with a back four over the last decade, Petković took the bold choice to switch to a back three in 2019 and has not looked back since.
A mixed bag of results has followed – the Nati reached this summer’s tournament playing a back three throughout the majority of qualification, but it also almost cost them relegation from League A of the Nations League.
Switzerland should play a back four, but a back three it will be.
Goalkeeper and Defenders
Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer | Centre-back: Nico Elvedi | Centre-back: Manuel Akanji | Centre-back: Fabian Schär
Sommer goes into his third major tournament as Nati number one, having stood out at EURO 2016 and the 2018 World Cup. Now 32, he is the oldest player in Petković’s squad yet by far one of his most important ones, a staple in the modern Swiss setup.
In regards to the back three, Switzerland have a strong selection of three top centre-backs. Ricardo Rodríguez had often slipped into defence when needed, but his attacking tendencies left him out of position and leaving a gaping hole at the back.
With Fabian Schär back from injury, he has to slip back into defence. There is a new addition to his long-standing partnership with Manuel Akanji in the name of Nico Elvedi, surely Switzerland’s best defender in this current generation.
Set to be a tournament starter for the first time in his international career, the 24-year-old has been outstanding for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Switzerland. This will not be his last major tournament for his country, giving him the perfect opportunity for Elvedi to prove himself to the continent.
Right wing-back: Kevin Mbabu | Central midfielder: Granit Xhaka | Central midfielder: Denis Zakaria | Left wing-back: Ricardo Rodríguez
The midfield is the toughest and most competitive area to decide, such is the talent and options available for Petković. Only one player is a guarantee here: Granit Xhaka, Switzerland’s captain and beating heart of the team. Without Xhaka, Switzerland do not have the same fight, grit or spirit, let alone the quality that he brings to the table.
Petković could keep Remo Freuler with little objection, now that the Atalanta man has established himself as one of his country’s best midfielders. However, you cannot look past Denis Zakaria, the young midfielder who is raising eyebrows across Europe.
Zakaria gives Switzerland that extra defensive stability, something which is vital in a formation which can easily be exploited. He has formed a superb partnership with Xhaka over the years, and there is no need to break that up even amid the other options of Freuler, Djibril Sow and Edimilson Fernandes.
Kevin Mbabu and Rodríguez get the nod as wing-backs, both excelling in their respective positions bombing down the flanks. Steven Zuber is an option but is not defensively robust enough, while Silvan Widmer and Jordan Lotomba do offer strong alternatives to Mbabu on the right.
Attacking midfielder: Xherdan Shaqiri | Striker: Haris Seferović | Striker: Mario Gavranovic
Switzerland have several attacking combinations to choose from, but if they want to get the best out of Xherdan Shaqiri, an attacking 10 behind two strikers works perfectly.
Shaqiri has been a funny player for the Nati in recent years. Lacking in consistency, fitness and reliability, but when he wears that red shirt, it is clear to see the impact he has. Now he has hit his stride again for the national team – three goal contributions in his last two competitive games – Shaqiri could be set for a scintillating tournament.
If Petković wants a star striker to rely on, Haris Seferović will always be his man. Despite his frustrations as the Nati’s leading frontman, he is someone you want in the team. That being said, the Benfica man thrives with a strike partner who can support him, and Mario Gavranovic is in strong contention to fill that position.
It is harsh to force Breel Embolo onto the bench, but you cannot look past Gavranovic’s form for Switzerland – when he plays, he scores. A hat-trick against Liechtenstein in the final friendly game showed his cutting edge in front of goal, something which has cost the Swiss dearly since Alexander Frei retired.
There are options galore for Petković, and decisions to be made across the pitch over who should start and who only warrants a spot among the substitutes. It is almost showtime for Switzerland, and time for the Nati to live up to their potential.
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