England will be wary of facing a Spain side that is thriving with fresh faces and a new coach in Luis Enrique who has wiped out the World Cup hangover
Wales was never going to be a tough challenge for Spain in this week’s friendly. Especially as the opponent’s flagship player, Gareth Bale, wasn’t going to play a single minute. Still, the Spanish national team had to again prove that they’re a much different outfit under Luis Enrique.
That’s exactly what they did. A third game under the new coach, a third win and an impressive record of 12 goals scored and only two conceded.
There are a number of reasons to explain Spain’s sudden rebirth under the Asturian manager. First and foremost, his appetite for fresh new talent is key. Luis Enrique came in ‘clean’ and without past debts or bills to pay.
Once he was put in charge, his analysis had several positions and delicate matters to solve. And he did it in a brisk, quick, efficient way. No Piqué? No problem. No confidence in Jordi Alba? Easy: just leave him home, even if pundits believe he is the most in-form left-back in the country.
Luis Enrique tackled these and other issues with the same no-nonsense attitude he showed as Barcelona boss. In this kind of scenery, it’s the youngest players who are thriving. To date, Enrique’s two call-up lists have brought in a number of new, exciting players who want to prove themselves.
A few years ago, as captain and one of Valencia’s symbols, Alcácer was living the dream. The striker’s departure to Barcelona changed that, spending most of the next two seasons on the bench. His growth had been halted. The forward needed a change of pace and to switch teams, landing in Dortmund with much to prove and nothing to lose.
Up to this point, his loan to Borussia is being hailed as a master move. He’s played a handful of minutes, usually coming off the bench, but already scored seven goals. His top level of performance persuaded Luis Enrique to start him against Wales. That confidence was repaid with a brace.
Alcácer might be the most talked about player, but more youngsters suggested a generational shift with Spain. Suso is a great example. After playing for Liverpool, Almería, Genoa and AC Milan, it seems like a national team manager has finally noticed his consistency in Serie A. Although Suso is not a scorer, the Andalusian midfielder wowed many on Thursday, especially those who aren’t used to watching the Italian league. And he’s ‘only’ 24.
His return to La Liga last season as Betis centre-back was impressive enough to think that he could fulfill the promise he showed when appearing in Barça’s first team. Bartra didn’t have a chance at proving Luis Enrique wrong when he was at Barcelona’s helm, but his strong performances and maturity for Real Betis have done the job now. Against Wales he scored and once again made a point about defenders improving as they gather experience in their careers.
Sergio Busquets didn’t play against Wales, but nobody really missed him. And that’s because of a 21-year-old newcomer who has progressed astoundingly quickly in the last two years. From earning a starting spot in Villarreal to being repurchased by Atletico Madrid. To becoming a trusted player for Simeone, to being a Spain player under Luis Enrique.
Rodri’s masterclass on Thursday was impressive, and now his coach can rest easy. He has a reliable player who can replace Busquets on the Spanish national side, something that even Ernesto Valverde doesn’t have at Barça.