Luis Enrique celebrated his first match in charge with a victory – a prestigious one at that, which puts Spain in a good position at the start of the UEFA Nations League. Looking at it a little closer, the game left us with a good idea about how the attack is taking shape, the general concept of how the team will play and the players who will be putting it all into practice; the emphasis has shifted more onto how attacking moves are constructed and how and when to take shots on goal, particularly from outside the area – more than we’ve seen in recent years. Saúl was a positive influence on the team - he was everywhere – even inside the box (where he grabbed Spain’s opening goal) and he was also willing to test the keeper from distance. That was the good side of last night’s performance. The bad side was that the team didn’t defend well. The players were sluggish in tracking back, there were gaping holes left on both wings and generally, looked weak. On the plus side however, De Gea was back at his best.
New ideas, more direct
Luis Enrique’s Spain started with a 4-3-3 set-up and apart from Marcos Alonso, everyone in the starting Xi had been at the recent World Cup. But as a team, Spain looked very different to the side which disappointed in Russia. The extravagant tiki-taka passing game of old was put to one side – but the team handled the ball well but the focus is now on creating chances. Hosts England seemed less like the solid unit we saw at the World Cup, and looked like they’ve lost their optimism. Maybe they missed Southgate’s talismanic waistcoat (he left it at home yesterday), but it was strange to see an England side devoid of the conviction, boldness and nerve they had just a couple of months ago. The home fans didn’t really get behind them – apart from right at the end when the match was nearing an end and only then to cheer a few late chances.
Among the many positive things we witnessed last night was Rodrigo who was excellent in attack, the role Saúl played and the reemergence of De Gea, who obviously feels right at home in England. He pulled out one extraordinary save which surely will do wonders for his self-confidence. You got the impression that the team as a whole – and the coach were looking out for him. Now we look forward to see how the team gets on against Croatia on Tuesday in Elche; another competitive match to continue defining the new ideology. With a little more work the misgivings at the back can be sorted out. But for now, what Spain has are three points and everybody’s smiling. You can’t ask for much more than that.