Spain leave opponents on their back but find themselves searching for a spine
Getty Images/Miguel Riopa

Spain leave opponents on their back but find themselves searching for a spine

Recent wins against Romania and the Faroe Islands leave La Roja with more questions than answers about their future and who will shape it

cohanlon
Connor O'Hanlon

Spain continued their European Championship qualifying campaign with seemingly routine wins against Romania (1-2) and the Faroe Islands (4-0), but they exit this international break with more questions than answers about how they will approach next summer's tournament. The question of style, for now, has been more or less answered, with Roberto Moreno picking up from where Luis Enrique left off, and employing a possession hungry style of football that is more direct than that of the Del bosque era, but remains aligned with the press and retain philosophy so dominant in Iberia since 2008.

Unlike squad headaches previously suffered by managers of la selecciónthe current questions over the starting XI are not focused on the heart of midfield and cannot be resolved by playing five central midfielders at a time. Nor are they a result of the country producing a golden generation of players so good that find themselves benched or left out of the squad. Issues at the moment are caused by a conflict of playing style versus effectiveness and vice versa, most obvious in three key areas. 

Goalkeeper

There was a time when David De Gea was assumed heir apparent to Iker Casillas, with the former Real Madrid captain declaring that De Gea's first game for Spain would be his last. It appeared unthinkable that the Manchester United number one would be usurped once he became the national side's number one, but that is what has happened as Kepa Arrizabalaga has made the jersey his own for the qualifying campaign.

Few dispute the fact that De Gea is the superior shot-stopper, but goalkeepers in his mould, considered reactive instead of proactive, are simply not in vogue at present as teams look to their goalkeeper to become an 11th outfield player and build from the back. Put simply, Kepa is a better footballer than De Gea.

Critics in Spain have noted how he has spent so long in England that he is now built in the traditional mould of an English keeper, suffering from el problema inglésand is simply unable to provide what the Spanish now demand from their goalkeeperHowever, when Moreno finds himself at Euro 2020 under the pressure of tournament football, faced with possible penalty shoot outs, he may find himself revisiting the first position on the team sheet and the reliability of De Gea. 

El Pivote

The position of el pivotethe pivot, has often been considered in Spain the most important on the pitch, to the extent that in 2010 en route to claiming the country's first and only World Cup win, Del Bosque started each game with two in the shape of Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso. 

It can most easily be described as the deep-lying midfielder who wins the ball back and dictates the tempo of play. Since Alonso's retirement, this position has largely been Busquets', although he is now challenged for this role by Rodri and Saul, whilst Moreno has also experimented with Dani Parejo. Rodri and Saul have developed significantly in recent seasons, particularly the former who is charged with this responsibility at Manchester City. 

Busquets is the most accomplished in this role but at the age of 31, is slowing and as Moreno seeks to play with a high line, his lack of pace exposes him. Neither a somewhat diminishing Busquets nor the current competitors for the role are of sufficient quality to justify a repetition of Del Bosque's tactic, meaning that Moreno may have to sacrifice the experience and talent of Busquets for the less accomplished but more energetic alternatives.

Leading the line

At the height of the Del Bosque era, Spain did not rely on strikers. Euro 2008 was won by a Fernando Torres strike, but the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 was notable for the lack of a consistent striker chosen as goals came from wide and midfield players. The continual use of a false nine, often in the shape of Cesc Fabregas, meant that defenders were dragged out of position, creating space for others to exploit.

La selección does not have quite the embarrassment of midfield riches it once did and now takes a more conventional method of playing an actual striker. Despite the inconsistent form, Alvaro Morata appears the most obvious choice whilst Diego Costa has always threatened to offer something different but rarely has. Morata's position is far from assured, leaving two main alternatives: Paco Alcacer and Rodrigo.

Alcacer is a curious case, contributing very little to his team's general play, being that Dortmund or Spain, but seems to score each time he does, netting two against the Faroe Islands and one against Romania. If he were to become a regular starter, it would likely force Moreno into at least tweaking his approach as his build-up play would flow through 10 players instead of 11.

Like Kepa at the other end of the pitch, Rodrigo offers more in general play but has less of a goal-hanging presence. At present, it would appear that he will be number two to Morata and in prime position to lead Spain next summer should the Atletico de Madrid forward fail to find consistent form for club and country soon.
 

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