Luis Enrique has a difficult job on his hands. At a time where Spain’s talent pool is so vast, there are few excuses for not getting successful results. Leaving out big names such as Jordi Alba cranks up the pressure further, but having the luxury to make such a call highlights the level of competition with this current generation. The cogs are there, it is a case of piecing together the right machine to house them.
After a purposeful start under their new boss, signalling a change in style to the Julen Lopetegui era, a 3-2 defeat to England brought Spain back down to earth. Despite their disappointment in Russia, the last couple of months have been filled with Spanish optimism. New faces have been integrated into the national team, while their coach’s desire for direct football has been a welcome change after the ponderous, nervous approach play during the summer.
While the majority of La Roja’s squad is set in stone, recent weeks have been a big opportunity for peripheral players to prove their worth. Wolves loanee Jonny Otto picked up his first two caps for his country, while Marcos Alonso and Jose Gaya continue to profit at left back in Jordi Alba’s absence.
Atletico Madrid’s young midfield star Rodri performed well against Wales, highlighting that there is hope when Sergio Busquets chooses to retire from the game, and Marc Bartra and Raul Albiol got some minutes at centre back after a long leave of absence.
Spain still want to dominate the ball and control the game, but are equally happy to run the risk of moving possession at pace. Against England, defensive woes saw Spain collapse in the first half and concede three times, but a spirited fightback in the second could quite easily have seen the home side restore parity in Seville. For all of the negative comments that could be made towards Luis Enrique’s back four, there were certainly other positives to be drawn.
The introduction of Borussia Dortmund loanee Paco Alcacer resulted in a lovely headed goal, as the Spanish forward continues to average a goal around every 25 minutes this season. His parent club Barcelona are ironically still searching for a number nine to help rotate their forward line, but Dortmund are reported to hold a 23-million-euro option to buy for the ex-Valencia star.
Alcacer already has 10 goals to his name this season, a total which has surpassed his efforts across all competitions for Barça in 2017/18. Confidence is flowing through his veins, as his intuition for sniffing out chances reinforces the fact that he has long been thought of as a very dangerous poacher. At Camp Nou, the 25-year-old was always second fiddle and often deployed out of position – for Spain he could become vital at a time where Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata are struggling to find consistent form. Last active for La Roja in 2015, Alcacer is a welcome blast from the past.
Dani Ceballos came off the bench well at Estadio Benito Villamarin too, revisiting his footballing home where he enjoyed his formative years as a professional at Real Betis. The swashbuckling Real Madrid midfielder has been given further responsibility under Lopetegui at his club this season, after being frozen out by Zinedine Zidane prior.
Awarded the Best Player of the tournament award at the Under-21 European Championships in 2017, Ceballos has the individual quality to prove himself key on some of the biggest stages in football. At the age of 22, he has fire in his belly and the confidence to constantly ask for possession, never hiding from the opportunity to have an influence on proceedings. With their new, riskier style, Luis Enrique needs players that don’t cower from the spotlight.
Few players managed to get out of the England debacle unscathed, but Paco Alcacer and Dani Ceballos did their reputations no harm. Spain’s loss may have momentarily derailed the confidence that was building, but La Roja are well aware that they have fresh faces that can step up to the plate and be key in both the long and short term. Their new boss has seen excellent football and abject defending, but Luis Enrique has the depth of personnel to help them learn from their mistakes.