Spain’s dominance of international football feels a long time ago.
With back-to-back European Championship victories either side of their 2010 triumph in 2010, tika-taka reigned supreme and revolutionised football as La Roja cleaned house. But in 2022, those successes are now a distant memory.
2014’s humiliating exit at the group stage in Brazil was only marginally improved upon four years later in , where Spain were sent packing at the round of 16 stage.
But in Luis Enrique, they have one of the game’s elite operators who has set about building something special and is determined to deliver success. Can they once again establish themselves as among the best in the world?
After cutting his teeth at Barcelona B, Roma and Celta Vigo, Luis Enrique returned to the Camp Nou to follow in Pep Guardiola’s footsteps in 2014, winning the treble in his first season in charge followed by a double in the next campaign.
Taking the reins after their dismal 2018 World Cup, Enrique led a much-improved Spain to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 where they suffered a penalty shoot-out defeat to eventual winners Italy.
A proven winner as both a manager and a player – having famously crossed the Real Madrid-Barcelona divide in 1996 – Enrique has demanded aggression from his players in addition to the ability on the ball we have become accustomed to seeing.
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Over the last 12 months, the 52-year-old has been strongly linked with jobs in the Premier League with Chelsea and Manchester United among his admirers. But the coach has remained focused on the task at hand, vowing to see out the job he has started heading into Qatar.
Selecting a star player from a Spain side that is perhaps bereft of them compared to previous years is a difficult task. But that will suit Enrique down to the ground as he seeks to pull together a collective unit.
Pedri began offering glimpses of his immense potential in Spanish red at last year’s Euros. ‘Pedri is a unique player. I have never seen anything like it, not even (Andres) Iniesta at the same age,’ Enrique gushed last summer.
Despite his tender years, still just 19 years old, he has already racked up almost 100 appearances for Barcelona with his positional intelligence and sublime technical ability absolutely key to any success Spain enjoy.
Young player to watch
Pedri could have comfortably qualified for his category but his fellow La Masia graduate Gavi could have an equally important role to play.
The 18-year-old is hoping to cement his place in the side in Qatar fresh from winning the Kopa Trophy ahead of the likes of Jude Bellingham, Jamal Musiala and Eduardo Camavinga.
Gavi made his Barcelona first-team debut at 17 and has seldom been out of the team since with Xavi placing his faith in the young star.
Having also become both Spain’s youngest player and youngest goal scorer, the former coming just two months after his 17th birthday, it has been a rapid rise with the midfielder already carving out an important role for himself on the international stage.
Style of play
As is always the case with Spain, possession is key with retaining and controlling the ball still a fundamental part of the blueprint. Under Enrique, there is an added intensity to win the ball back immediately after losing it and work the ball high up the pitch for the forwards.
It is in that area that will be of most concern for Spain fans, however. With no striker in the ilk of Fernando Torres or David Villa on standby, their biggest obstacle has been making their dominance count in front of goal with Alvaro Morata, Enrique’s first-choice no9, inconsistent on the biggest stage.
How they will line up
Enrique is set to stick with La Roja’s tried and tested 4-3-3 with Unai Simon getting the nod in goal with David de Gea not even making the squad for Qatar.
Aymeric Laporte and Inigo Martinez will offer a sturdy presence at the base of defence although Villarreal’s Pau Torres will be hopeful of forcing his way in as the competition progresses with stalwarts Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal either side. Serial winner Sergio Ramos has not made the trip.
An all-Barcelona midfield of Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Pedri can provide the control Enrique seeks from his side but all eyes will be on the Spanish attack. Athletic Bilbao starlet Nico Williams will hope to be part of the starting XI, with his brother Inaki opting to represent Ghana in Qatar.
Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo will also compete for an attacking berth but Morata will once again have the faith of the manager in leading the line.
In a group alongside Germany, Japan and Costa Rica, Spain cannot afford a slow start to the competition but their steady, if unspectacular, improvement in tournaments under Enrique suggests they pose a major threat in Qatar.
Among the contenders, Spain have the biggest questions marks over their potency in front of goal which could ultimately cost them. Semi-final exit
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