Promise, but the wrong results is the feeling in Spain after Luis Enrique’s opening matches as coach, with the country at a crossroads
“This team is looking pretty good”, stated Luis Enrique after a close win in their friendly against Bosnia last Sunday. It was his sixth game as Spain’s boss. And while the team showed a few details here and there that anticipate a positive future ahead, the hard facts knock the coach onto his butt. Two consecutive defeats against England (2-3 one month ago) and Croatia (3-2 last Thursday) have thrown shade on the manager’s first string of games.
Yes, anybody might argue that both teams were World Cup semifinalists and that it was going to be tough anyway, but the way both defeats were inflicted was especially painful. It’s not that often that Spanish aficionados have had to endure such conflicting feelings towards their team. Back in the day, they were used to disappointment and ‘La Furia’ monikers to disguise the lack of quality. Since 2008 onwards, five or six years of absolute world dominance ensued.
Right now, we could say the team is striking a puzzling balance: capable of reaching excellence at any given moment, but too inconsistent to keep it for more than a few minutes.
A quick look at these first six games has plenty of positive aspects to point out. The young blood is here to stay: many exciting players have made their debut under the new management. Celta’s Brais Méndez, for example, was the scorer in his first official cap for Spain against Bosnia. Keeper Pau López and defender Mario Hermoso also enjoyed the feeling of playing for their country for the first time. Jonny Otto, Jose Luis Gayà and Dani Ceballos have been the other three newcomers: in six games, Luis Enrique played six new players for the first time.
The manager believes there’s a lot of untapped potential there, and he’s absolutely right. Players such as Pablo Fornals or Atleti’s Rodri, who might have had trouble to become important under former managers, have made the most of their shot at becoming starters. There’s a desperate need of replacements for legends such as Andres Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, David Silva and eventually even Sergio Busquets, and these kids have proved they’re up to the task.
In fact, the team’s huge potential can be easily noticed when playing an offensive style: attack-wise, this side scores with incredible ease. Rodrigo, Alvaro Morata, Iago Aspas, Paco Alcácer, Marco Asensio…17 goals scored in six games mean an average of nearly three goals per match. Under any other circumstances, that should be more than enough to pull off straight wins against most national teams.
A dark side to Spain’s good work
However, there’s also a dark side to all the positive praise regarding Spain. Both the defence and the goalkeeper position is becoming the biggest headache for the manager. Spain currently can’t defend a toy castle in a sandbox. Sergio Ramos is not the same man as he used to be with Piqué at his side, and David de Gea is still reeling from his disastrous World Cup, seemingly unable to recover the confidence lost in the process.
Again, Luis Enrique keeps trusting Manchester United’s goalie, but is slowly adding Kepa Arrizabala into the mix (he started against Bosnia). Eventually Lucho will have to pick, and someone’s pride will inevitably get hurt.
All in all, the huge crash against England and Croatia needs to be seen as a warning for Luis Enrique and his assistants. They do have incredible raw materials to work with, a deep selection of players with versatile styles and quality in spades, but this is top level and anybody can thrash you in a heartbeat.
Lucho has brought in a new style which will surely work further down the road, but it will be for nothing if they are unable to find the consistency and cunning not to get carried away in crazy games against strong opposition.