One of the highlights of Saturday's game at Wembley was the fine performance from Saúl Ñiguez, with the player somewhat instrumental in a shift from the previous regime to the new Spain under Luis Enrique. His performance and that of the team in general marked a move away from the previous "La Roja" style so distinctly associated with "tiki-taka" and who would drive rival sides into submission with their constant possession game. We saw an extreme version of that style of football in Russia where the team passed the ball around without any final product or penetration. As we saw on Saturday, Saúl is the player to move the ball forward with purpose and attempt to finalise long passages of possession.
Out with the old...
That's not a slight on the "tiki-taka" style of playing the game, but without the likes of Xavi and now no Iniesta or Silva, it's a style difficult to implement. That manner of playing was possible given the incredible ball-playing skill of the three mentioned and in the case of Xavi in particular being able to ‘to take a risk without risking the team’, if you pardon the contradiction. Ten side ways passes and then one killer pass played with precision and capable of opening a defence with the key philosophy of never giving possession up. With the likes of Thiago and Isco, that style of play is more complicated to execute. The new centre of the park for Spain (where so much happens for the national side) is now defined by Saúl, a box-to-box player and one never afraid to try his luck in front of goal.
The Atletico player comes from a footballing family with his father Boria wearing the white and green of Elche for nine seasons. His brothers Jony and Aarón are also both professional players, currently playing with Segunda division sides. Saul cut his teeth in the top flight on loan with Rayo Vallecano where he was used as a central defender, this combined with the education he has secured under Simeone at Atleti has made him the player he is today. He is at a perfect stage of his career to be an instrumental force in the Spanish national team as Luis Enrique moves "La Roja" forward. Another player who impressed on Saturday was Rodrigo,who has become a fine attacking player under Marcelino Valencia as the city of Elche looks forward to another solid and convincing performance from Spain tomorrow against Croatia.