Is Spain That Good?
When Spain take the field at Wembley on Saturday against England it will be a very different feel. Gone are the greats with all their glory. The dawn of a new era of the Spanish National team is upon us. But questions remain about the quality of this new era and whether or not it can even hope to achieve what the golden generation did.
The question ‘Is Spain that good?’ is something that hasn’t been asked in over ten years. A decade ago this summer the Spanish national team won Euro 2008 sparking the golden age of Spanish football. Ten years on they were knocked out of the World Cup by Russia. With only Sergio Ramos & Sergio Busquets remaining from their World Cup 2010 winning side it’s time to start asking again; Is Spain ‘that’ good?
The World Cup was a massive disappointment for the Spanish National Team. Not only was the coach fired for taking the Real Madrid job the day before the tournament, but they lost to Russia.
The team needs rejuvenation, it needs new ideas and some new players. Some might even compare it to the stagnation of Barcelona in 2013. So what did they do, bring in Mr Prickly himself Luis Enrique.
Anyone familiar with Lucho knows he’s quite the ornery fellow. And he brings with him a more rough, tough and direct style. At Barca, it was seen as a twist on possession that had grown stale, and it worked fantastically. Spain are hoping they can do the same thing, but there are obvious differences.
The Luis Enrique Era at Barcelona, while a twist on the traditional style, will be remembered for something different. Chief among them would be the MSN partnership; Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
Those were the three best players under Lucho, and none of them are Spanish. In fact, there is no one even remotely on the level of those three who is Spanish. Spain’s likely front three against England on Saturday will be Alvaro Morata, Isco and Marco Asensio, or MIA.
In all seriousness, there is a real depth of class between this Spain side and Lucho’s Barca. But what is most concerning is the lack of star power up front for this Spanish side. Lucho requires a lot of individual brilliance from his attacking players. Part of his game plan at both Roma and Celta gave his attacking players the chance to create in open space. It remains to be seen whether or not this Spain squad has the player to do this.
Asensio and Isco are likely to be Enrique’s starting wings for the game against England. Isco had been outstanding for Julian Lopetegui and the Spain squad leading up to the World Cup. In Lucho’s system, he should flourish playing on the left wing. And Asensio seems to be taking the leap that we have expected from him now that Ronaldo has left Madrid.
But Alvaro Morata has not played well with Chelsea and Diego Costa has played even worse with Spain. Rodrigo Moreno is a nice player, but not on the level of top-flight international football. The position is there for Morata or Costa to take and it will be crucial for Isco, Asensio and the whole squad that one of them takes it. Because there are many more problems that will need to be addressed.
The Midfield & Defence
The Spanish World Cup winning side will always be remembered for their midfield; Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva, Alonso, Busquets the names go on and on. Now in 2018, only Busquets remains from that last, and his glory days are no longer ahead. Lucho’s first squad has Busi, Thiago Alcantara, Saul, Rodri, Sergi Roberto and Dani Ceballos.
The first thing that jumps out is no Koke, the Atletico Madrid midfielder had been a fixture under Lopetegui. Instead in come Rodri, Sergi Roberto & Ceballos. Ceballos and Rodri have plenty of potential but neither has shown out consistently at senior level. Sergi Roberto is a good player but hardly at the level of the men he replaced.
Then there is the defence. Gerard Pique retired after the World Cup, and Lucho’s dislike for Jordi Alba has led to his omission from the squad. So theoretically the back four will be Marcos Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Inigo Martinez and Dani Carvajal. Alonso is a solid wing back, though there are questions about whether or not he is a top-quality fullback.
And then there’s Inigo Martinez, the Basque player made a controversial move from Real Sociedad to their bitter rivals Athletic Bilbao last January. Since the move, Martinez has been an alright player; nothing too great or too bad. Certainly, nothing that would make anyone confident he is the right man to replace Pique. However the other centerbacks, Raul Albiol & Nacho are not exactly better options.
So there are clearly plenty of question marks in defence, however, between the sticks Spain are secure. David De Gea is widely considered one of if not the best Goalkeeper in the world.
He was also probably Spain’s worst player over the last 18 months. He made some critical errors during the World Cup causing the Spanish media to question if he should be dropped.
His style just hasn’t fit with the players in the Spanish national team. For all those years Casillas would come flying out of his net like a Manuel Neuer style sweeper keeper. De Gea, however, virtually always stayed rooted to his spot and does not move until he must.
That is part of the reason why some in Spain have called for Kepa Arrizabalaga to start in goal. While things haven’t come to that point yet, don’t be surprised if Lucho has a short leash on De Gea.
How their defence adjusts to the new pieces and new system will obviously be crucial to who keep their spots. How their midfield players age and grow will be even more crucial. Replacing all-time greats is hard. Retooling a squad with a different set of players and adapting is not. The time for Spain to rule atop the international stage is over.
So then if they’re not going to rule atop what are they going to do? Well, the answer is probably somewhere in their past. For years Spain was a nation that had a collection of good players, but never enough of them to win a major tournament. Now it seems like after the golden generation they will have to redefine an identity.
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