From the moment that Spain’s 24-man Euro’s squad was announced earlier this month, manager Luis Enrique has rightly been under a lot of scrutiny for his selection decisions: captain Sergio Ramos was excluded along with every other Real Madrid player, only one natural right back was taken, and Iago Aspas, as well as Sergio Canales, will have been baffled at their exclusions. All this is even more bizarre when you factor in that Lucho could have taken 26 players instead of 24, which every other team at the tournament has done. Nacho Fernandez of Real Madrid can feel particularly hard done by, given his strong form for Real Madrid, and the fact that Eric Garcia, who was called up instead of him, has played 3 matches all season.
Spain were disappointing in their opening game against Sweden which ended 0-0, a match they dominated but could not find the breakthrough in front of goal. The match against Poland followed a similar story; missing a lot of chances ultimately came back to bite Spain as Lewandowski’s header denied them all three points. Alvaro Morata, who has been the subject of intense criticism from both fans and the media, opened the scoring for Spain with a well taken finish following an excellent pass from Gerard Moreno, and whilst this may have gone some way to silencing some of his critics, his performance throughout the rest of the game undid a lot of that good work. Gerard hit the post later on with a penalty that he won, but as the rebound fell to Morata, with the goal open for him to tap in, he blazed it over the bar. Chances came for both forwards, but both were taken off towards the end of the game in a surprising move.
Gerard Moreno started on the right wing, a position he has played a lot at Villarreal, but with Marcos Llorente tucking inside and pushing forward a lot from right back, it meant Gerard was forced wide to the touchline a lot, rather than being able to cut inside on his dangerous left foot. Despite this, Moreno had a good game, providing the quality assist for Morata, creating chances, and winning the penalty, which he then sadly missed. However, it is more a testament to the quality of Gerard’s ability to play well in a less familiar role, than the quality of Luis Enrique’s tactics. In addition to his surprising squad selection, the choice and timing of his substitutions have been poor in both games. Pablo Sarabia was a disaster off the bench against Poland, whilst Mikel Oyarzabal has hardly seen the pitch despite impressing in limited minutes against Sweden.
Spain’s problems stem from poor finishing, as well as a lack of penetration into the box, and slow, passive build-up play. Spain have scored just 1 goal from 5.83xG in their two games so far, which will naturally draw criticism to the profligate forward Morata. Enrique has remained defiant in his selection of Morata, but he has a choice: either drop Morata and play Gerard Moreno through the middle or play both. Gerard’s performance last night shows that he absolutely has to start, but the right-hand side of the pitch is imbalanced. One solution to this would be to play Marcos Llorente in central midfield, Azpilicueta at right back and Gerard on the right wing, which could allow Llorente to add more attacking threat, and Gerard to cut inside. Alternatively, Gerard could play as a central striker, with Llorente on the right, allowing him to push forward more and provide more threat from wide. The left-hand side also needs addressing. Dani Olmo, whilst a very talented player, has not left a lasting impression in the first two matches, and Mikel Oyarzabal or Ferran Torres could take his place.
Whilst the midfield three of Rodri, Pedri and Koke have been impressive at retaining the ball, there is not enough goal threat or dynamism, resulting in often slow and turgid possession without progressing the ball into the box. Thiago Alcantara or Fabian Ruiz might offer more in this regard, despite Koke playing well in both games, but the least disruptive option would be playing Marcos Llorente in his more natural position. Llorente notched up 12 goals and 11 assists in La Liga this season and is wasted at right back when he would offer a lot of goal threat further up the pitch.
The final group game against Slovakia is a must win game, not just for qualification, but to show the doubters that Spain can challenge the top teams at this tournament, despite going through something of a transitional period.