A team is a living structure of interconnected players to defend and attack, to interact with or without the ball. In offensive play, the accumulation of matches illuminates societies, couples or trios of footballers who verify how important the pass is as well as the uncheck. Two months before the European Championship, the matches against Greece (1-1) and Georgia (1-2), qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, have highlighted that Luis Enrique’s selection is lacking in those societies in which the passer knows that the receiver will occupy the precise space to collect the ball and this that the ball will reach him without even having to ask for it. That kind of automatism is scarce.
On Sunday, during the first half, Spain barely found either collectively or individually how to disarm Georgia’s defensive system. It was the Jordi Alba-Pedri connection, to which Dani Olmo joined after replacing Bryan Gil, which ended up finding in the second half the ways of scoring that gave La Roja a triumph as agonizing as it was vital in the race for be in Qatar. Ferran’s tying goal was born from a robbery by Dani Olmo and an opening by him to Jordi Alba. And the Leipzig player’s shoe originated with a filtered pass from the Barça side.
More than a score of attacks on the left flank were counted to the selection in the second act. Between Alba and Pedri there were 36 passes, more than double what they average in Barcelona (16). When Luis Enrique was asked about the performance of the canary at the end of the match, he could not detach her from the tandem he formed with his clubmate. “With Jordi Alba he knows very well. It is evident that there is a clear and fluid communication ”, pointed out the technician.
Between Jordi Alba and Dani Olmo there were 21 passes and between the latter and Pedri, 13. Alba was the most active partner for both. He led the comeback by legs and head. There are few full-backs in the world who interpret so well how to attack tight defenses by breaking into space at the right time. Pedri’s performance was another boost to his old footballer cast in the body of an 18-year-old boy. His good passing foot did not shake him despite the irregularity of the field and the responsibility he had to assume under the pressure of a result that substantially distanced Spain’s chances of leading the group at the end of the qualifying phase. Dani Olmo joined the society of the two Barça players, freeing up spaces for Jordi Alba both inside and out. Between the three of them they formed an academic triangle to know how to occupy the spaces and combine.
Jordi Alba, Pedri, and Dani Olmo were not only decisive to win the match. They also revealed that Luis Enrique’s Spain is in need of more partnerships to help it unravel those kinds of encounters in which rivals hide in front of the area.
It is at this point that doubts arise as to whether the absence of a stable eleven and such disparate calls can harm that type of complicity. Especially since the selection is no longer nucleated around groups of five or six players from the same club as happened in the 2008-2012 cycle, in which Spain won two Euro Cups and the World Cup. At that time, the players of Barcelona and Real Madrid completed half or more of the lists of Luis Aragonés or Vicente del Bosque. Now there is not a club or two that backbone the style of the selection and contribute a bunch of footballers who understand each other with their eyes closed. In this last call for Luis Enrique there are players from 18 teams and five different leagues. Barcelona (Alba, Busquets and Pedri) and Manchester City (Eric García, Rodrigo and Ferran Torres), with three each, are the clubs that have contributed the most players for this three-game window.
The context does not favor the risky bet of Luis Enrique not to give priority to the settlement of a backbone of eight or nine players. Neither because of the lack of a club that supports their idea of the game with several players nor because of the inconveniences that a coach faces due to the lack of time to work. Both the coach and the sports director, José Francisco Molina, are fully convinced that the formula of varying both the lists and the eleven is ideal before a calendar to which the pandemic has redoubled the requirement. The 6-0 against Germany charged them with reason before the criticism. Both argued that the failure to maintain a fixed eleven in previous matches against Ukraine and Switzerland was decisive in the storm of football and physical power that was unleashed against the Germans. Perhaps we are not a selection that identifies with a eleven kind. This may be a problem for some, but for me it is not ”, assured the coach in December in the federation’s media.
The plan breaks with the classic molds of what is a recognizable selection from a stable eleven. Two months before the European Championship, Spain is the only one of the great teams that has not formed a clear backbone. The challenge is unheard of. If La Roja were to win the title or approach the final rounds, Luis Enrique will have successfully created an innovative way of managing a national team.
The context of exporting talent that Spanish football is experiencing and the rotations of Luis Enrique throw up unexpected situations in other times not too distant. Against Greece there was no Barcelona player in the starting eleven and against Georgia there were no Real Madrid starting players. In these meetings there were four captains, Sergio Ramos, Koke, Busquets and Jordi Alba. The matches of the national team do not cease to illuminate curiosities such as that the three scorers that Spain has had in these two games are from different leagues. Morata (Juventus), who scored against Greece, plays in Italy; Ferran Torres (Manchester City), who made it 1-1 against Georgia, plays in the English Premier League; and Dani Olmo (Leipzig) plays in the Bundesliga. Of the forwards called up for this match window, Gerard Moreno (Villarreal), Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad) and Bryan Gil (Eibar) are active in LaLiga clubs.
Gerard Moreno, who arrived at the concentration with a slight elongation in the hamstrings of his right leg, was the only one who has not played a minute. This has led to the question of whether Luis Enrique should have called another striker because he did not want to risk the Spanish top scorer (18 goals) in the games against Greeks and Georgians. This Wednesday, if his recovery is complete, he could enter the eleven against Kosovo or be used throughout the match. Due to his goalscoring ability and to partner, Gerard Moreno can be a solution to the problems that Spain has encountered in the face of tight defenses.
The numbers are also surprising in the 20 games that Luis Enrique has led the national team. He has used 58 players, of which 22 have been rookies. Luis Aragonés debuted 32 players in 54 games and Vicente del Bosque at 70 in 91 games. The last player to make his debut under the direction of Luis Enrique has been right-back Pedro Porro (Sporting de Portugal) in a position that Carvajal, Navas, Sergi Roberto, Marcos Llorente, Azpilicueta and Bellerín have passed through before.