Ronaldo vs Mbappé? What to look out for in Friday’s Euro 2024 quarter-final ties

After an enthralling, dramatic, and teary-eyed (not just from those eliminated) round of 16, the final eight participants of Euro 2024 have been decided, and with them four intriguing match-ups are now set. 

So, with that being said, here are some of the key players, tactics, and story-lines from each nation that you should look out for in every quarter-final tie, beginning with Friday’s fixtures. 

Spain vs Germany: Spain’s direct approach and Germany’s retiring midfield controller

Spain:

With Spain and Germany having been two of the best performers in the tournament so far, the opening quarter-final fixture between the two is expected to be one of the most exciting of the entire Euro 2024 campaign.

Spain’s new direct style of play will undoubtedly be a major contributing factor to this excitement. Whilst their typically known for their tiki-taka approach, Las Rojas have somewhat abandoned that this Euro’s. In fact, with their 4-1 win over an inferior Georgia side not included, Spain’s average possession is their lowest in any major international tournament since their victorious Euro 2008 run, whilst their 3-0 victory against Croatia broke an 136-game streak of accumulating more possession than their opponents, as per Opta statistics.

As such, no longer needing to patiently circulate play and wait for an opening, Spain’s more attacking players have thrived under Luis de la Fuente. Midfielders like Fabián Ruiz and Dani Olmo have been freed to pick out runners in behind and create in-and-around the box, whilst explosive wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal have been able to exploit their remarkable dribbling ability by relentlessly driving at their opposing full-backs in order to whip in a cross or cut inside to shoot – traits which could pose substantial problems for the German’s attack-minded full-backs.

Germany:

As for Germany, their forwards will pose a similar threat but in more central areas, with the likes of Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala drifting inside to receive (and manipulate) the ball in between the lines, whilst Kai Havertz also drops in to create overloads as İlkay Gündoğan attacks the space the Arsenal man vacated. 

Nonetheless, it’ll still be Toni Kroos that Spain will most need to keep an eye on, with the fear that the 34-year-old could end up running the game if not nullified. 

That’s pretty much all Kroos has done in his nation’s home tournament so far, accumulating more passes and progressive passes than any other player, at a rate of 107 and almost 16 respectively – both roughly 30% higher than the rate of the next best, according to Fbref.

So, it’s fair to say that, regardless of whether this match is his last, the six-time Champions League winner will certainly be retiring at the top of his game come the end of the summer.

Portugal vs France: Ronaldo’s involvement in play and France’s blunt attack

Portugal:

Following his unprecedented emotional display against Slovenia in the round of 16, it’s likely that all eyes will be focused on Cristiano Ronaldo going into the quarter final in Hamburg on Friday night.

While the striker may not have as decisive a moment as he did with his missed penalty last game, he will still likely hold a substantial influence over Portugal’s chances of continuing their Euro 2024 run.

That’s because, if the rest of the tournament is anything to go by, the quality of The Seleção’s performance as a collective will depend on how often – or how little – they turn to their record goal scorer for help throughout the game.  

Roberto Martinez’s side have looked significantly better when Ronaldo has focused on staying on the last-line and waiting for chances to come to him, rather than dropping deep and getting involved in all-round play, with the hopes of creating something special out of nothing.

Portugal’s comfortable 3-0 win over Türkiye shows this. Compared to his two other 90+ minute matches against Slovenia and Czechia, the 39-year-old received less passes, made fewer touches, and took less shots against Türkiye, but made more touches in the attacking penalty area, and notched an unselfish assist to Bruno Fernandes – Ronaldo’s only goal involvement of the tournament so far.

Consequently, much like the 2016 Euro Final, Portugal may actually end up beating France if the all-time Euro leading scorer is not heavily involved. 

France:

Considering the abundance of attacking talent they have available, saying France’s attack has been lackluster would be an understatement. Although they have conceded just one goal thus far, Didier Deschamps team have only bagged three at the other end, with two being own-goals from Austria and Belgium and the other a Kylian Mbappé penalty against Poland. 

This only in part outlines the full problem though, in that, they are not only struggling to score their chances, but they are struggling to create them too.

Their non-penalty expected goals (npxG) – i.e. the quality of each chance – highlight this. Compared to all quarter-finalists, only Switzerland and England have created less npxG than Les Blues, whilst no side has under-performed in front of goal more than the 2018 World Cup winners, who have scored two fewer than they were expected to across their four games. 

Even more concerning though, of those four, their lowest xG created, and therefore worst attacking display, came in their most recent fixture against Belgium.

That coincided with the dropping of Ousmane Dembélé at right-wing, and subsequently their lack of attacking width and threat, with Antoine Griezmann on the right meaning there was nobody able to hug the touchline and drive at full-backs like Dembélé, whilst also restricting the Atlético Madrid man’s ability to create in central areas from deep in midfield and in between the lines.

As such, although Eduardo Camavinga is expected to be the replacement, the suspension of Adrien Rabiot for the upcoming tie provides the perfect opportunity for Deschamps to bring Dembélé back into his starting 11 and move Griezmann back into midfield – something that would not only give France more attacking dynamism, but also free up more space and offer better link-up options for star-man Mbappé to thrive. 

Travis Levison | Get Football

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