Spain seeking answers in attack and creativity in the centre to save Euro 2020 campaign

Only victory over Slovakia guarantees Spain passage to the last 16

Karl Matchett
Wednesday 23 June 2021 08:00
Comments
Euro 2020: Daily briefing

Two games played, one goal scored, no wins attained. It hasn’t been the start to Euro 2020 that Luis Enrique and the entire nation of Spain would have expected, given big wins over Ukraine and Germany in the past 12 months, but in truth those games were always the outliers.

In the 13 games played between Europe’s first early 2020 lockdown and the start of this summer’s finals, Spain drew six times. A further three games were settled by a one-goal margin of either victory or defeat.

Luis Enrique has shuffled his pack, renewed the squad, built around ideals to take the nation forward and taken cornerstones of their previous identity away, but he simply hasn’t yet found the consistent winning formula they crave, in part because of an attack which is all too easily thwarted.

A third and final group stage match sees La Roja take on Slovakia, needing a win to progress despite - in the grand scheme of what they’re each expected to achieve this summer - featuring in an average group at best.

Alvaro Morata took criticism after the first match, but Spain’s issues so far have been far from isolated to needing a clinical No9. They have needed that, but only because of flaws in other areas; the style Spain try to play in now, free-flowing, lots of movement, quick recovery of possession, shouldn’t mean the burden of goalscoring is solely on their centre-forward, but Luis Enrique has so far failed to gel a starting triumvirate who can all contribute in kind.

Simply put, when Morata’s work rate and movement off the ball helps to win back possession and create space for others, there have not been the runners from deep and diagonal to make the most of his selflessness. Similarly, he has fluffed his lines more than once in front of goal, despite netting Spain’s only strike of the tournament so far.

The use of Ferran Torres, then Gerardo Moreno, from the right of Spain’s front three has been well-intentioned, but poorly executed so far - the idea being that they, primarily, make those runs into the No9 spot. Both have played centre-forward, both are capable of scoring, but crowded defences and slow build-up play have rendered them marginalised.

It isn’t only in attack though where Spain must improve and the potential problems were evident pre-tournament: the list of leaders from yesteryear’s teams either retired, excluded or isolated through Covid protocols; a brand new centre-back partnership with one having to be shifted from their natural left-of-centre role; lots of ball-playing quality in the centre of the park, but very little in terms of end product inside the box to call upon.

Enrique’s starting midfield three against Sweden in the opener had one international goal between them, from close to 80 caps.

In goal, at right-back, both centre-backs and one in midfield had fewer than ten caps apiece - a notable omission of international experience, but also a nod to the fact that Luis Enrique has taken his time to decide on which players are the best fits for his squad and his 11.

There is no immediate solution to that issue other than to play the individuals and let them gain the experience as they go, but possibilities exist within the squad to solve the additional dilemmas.

Thiago Alcantara must be in the frame for consideration, having just had a single, short run-out as sub so far. Fabian Ruiz has come off the bench twice but not impressed, and if the domination of possession is expected against Slovakia once more - and it should be - then the 30-year-old presents a compelling case of being a difference-maker in the final third with his end-of-season form with Liverpool.

Sergio Busquets is a potential starter too, free to feature after self-isolating, and one who would bring the aura, the knowledge and the expectation of winning to the team - whatever it takes, however the method. And Mikel Oyarzabal surely warrants a chance in attack after proving his capacity to regularly score and create; if Morata is to start centrally over Moreno once more, it is the flanks which must be altered and none of Spain’s wide forwards attack the box as well as the Real Sociedad star.

Luis Enrique’s dilemmas are compounded by the fact Slovakia have their own ambitions to fight for. A draw guarantees them progression to the last 16 and, as other nations have already shown in the group phase, that honour is a remarkable motivator to see players go above and beyond their usual performance levels, when it’s a one-off occasion for their entire nation.

There’s no more margin for error, no more scope for falling short in the final third.

Questions are already being raised of the coach for his in-game switches, so it’s the answers he provides in his final group stage team sheet which might define whether Spain kick-start their tournament hopes, or suffer a shock early exit once more.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in