For the fifth time in its last six tournaments, Spain failed to win its opening game. Despite dominating both possession (85%) and passing stats (830 accurate passes vs Sweden’s 89), Luis Enrique’s side failed to produce many clear-cut opportunities. Set up in a 4-3-3 formation, Spain pressed aggressively in the opening 20 minutes, a characteristic that marks a departure of the tiki-taka popularised by the 2010 world champions. However, as the first half wore on Spain pressed less and passed more, and increasingly looked like a team caught in transition, unsure of its style and without killer instinct.
Here’s how Spain lined up:
Sweden defended for much of the contest, but went close when a combination of woodwork and Marcos Llorente denied Alexander Isak, before Marcus Berg spurned a glorious chance from yards out. A point is by no means a catastrophe for La Roja, but it does raise concerns about the side’s inability to penetrate low defensive blocks. Here’s what we learned from a disappointing evening.
Gerard has to start
The major talking ahead of the game was about who Luis Enrique would opt to be his number nine, and as we predicted, he chose Alvaro Morata. The Juventus forward has become a bit of an scape goat in recent times, but his performance against a sturdy but by no means world class Swedish defence did little to fight his case. While his movement early on was intelligent and his link up play crisp, when the chances came it was the same old story. With half time approaching Morata inexplicably put a one-on-one chance wide, before the groans around La Cartuja turning to whistles when he missed another decent chance after the interval.
Gerard Moreno replaced him on 74 minutes, and immediately Spain looked more dangerous and incisive. The Villarreal man looked his usual lively self, drawing a superb save out of Robin Olsen when he headed Pablo Sarabia’s cross goal wards. In injury time he spurned two more half chances, but compared to Morata he looked confident. Given the impact he made with a brief cameo, he surely would’ve found the net had he played the full 90. Gerard’s goal tally this season (23 in 33 LaLiga starts) speaks for itself, but so much about striking is about confidence. Gerard has bags of it, Morata does not. Spain sides of the past have had world class talent in attacking areas, whether that be Fernando Torres, David Villa, David Silva or Andres Iniesta. Gerard is not at that level, but he’s the closest Lucho has to a killer in the box. For us, Gerard must start against Poland on Saturday.
Give Pedri the keys
What can be said about the boy-wonder that hasn’t already? One year and a day after playing a match in Segunda with Las Palmas, Pedri made his major tournament debut at the age of 18 – and bossed it. Forming a midfield three alongside Rodri and Koke, the Barcelona man was the driving force behind many of Spain’s brighter moments in the game. He looked composed in possession, often driving forward and breaking the lines with intricate passes.
Having seen Pedri’s remarkable breakthrough this season, it comes as no surprise that he completed 97 of 104 attempted passes, including eight of nine long range passes. He linked up well with club teammate Jordi Alba on the left-hand side, yet stayed disciplined and alert when Koke repeatedly ventured forward in the first half. The kid is quite clearly the future of the Spanish midfield, yet his talent is so obvious now that we say give him the keys. A little bit more creative freedom against Poland could go a long way to addressing Spain’s goalscoring issues.
Non-vintage Spain doesn’t mean bad Spain
You’d have to be living under a rock to not realise that this Spain team isn’t on the same level as the European Championship winning sides of 2008 and 2012. But they can be very good in their own right. As previously mentioned, Spain began the game aggressively, with Morata, Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo in particular pressing to great effect. The problem came when this subsided after about 20 minutes, and the monotonous rhythm of passing around midfield set in.
Of course, no team can press relentlessly for 90 minutes, but it seemed strange that the press wasn’t adopted again in the second half. Sweden defended narrowly, making it difficult for Spain to thread incisive passes through the middle and forcing play out wide. The late introductions of Gerard and Mikel Oyarzabal did bring some more urgency to the attack, but we think a pressing approach could be the way that takes Spain deep into the tournament.
Gerard made an obvious impact after coming on, and really should have scored at least once. Pau Torres played the full 90 minutes at centre-back alongside Aymeric Laporte, and bar one instance when Alexander Isak bamboozled him, Pedri and Llorente inside the box, he looked assured.
Player of the match
For us it has to be Pedri; he played as if this was his fourth international tournament, not his first. Special mentions also go out to Alba and Koke, who were both excellent.