Spain take on Bale-less Wales in Luis Enrique's first friendly
The newly rolled out UEFA Nations League fills a number of international dates previously given over to friendlies, but not all of them. Today's game against Wales is a friendly, and feels like a kind of hors d'oeuvre for Spain's clash with England in Seville on Monday. A sort of pared down version of the test to come; after all, Wales has a population of three million, and England's is 20 times that. From time to time, the Welsh have produced top players, but only very infrequently. The most recent is Real Madrid's Gareth Bale, who is over there basically getting some R&R with the aim of being back at full fitness for Tuesday's match against Ireland. He took over the mantle from Ryan Giggs, who is now national coach. Before him, there was Mark Hughes and Ian Rush; before that, John Charles...
Luis Enrique's made a good start; here's hoping that continues
Chance would have it that Wales have a certain presence in the history of Spanish football, because it was against the Dragons that Emilio Butragueño made his international debut in Seville and, a few months later, that Luis Arconada bade farewell after a 3-0 defeat in Wrexham that was a night to forget for La Selección. That was on the road to Mexico '86, which we did finally make it to. Many years earlier, Spain had also knocked Wales out in qualifying for Chile '62. Tonight's is the countries' sixth meeting (there was also a friendly at Mestalla along the way, before the World Cup that Spain hosted in 1982), one that gives Luis Enrique a chance to get further into his stride in his new job as coach of La Roja. He's made a good start, and will hopefully go from strength to strength.
I'd like to see Luis Enrique give Kepa a go in goal
It's hard to say what kind of team he'll pick. He might take the chance to consolidate his ideas among his first-choice group of players, or he might opt to use his opening friendly in charge to keep those making up the numbers happy by giving them a run-out. Personally, I'd rather he did the former. I think it's more productive to focus on moulding a stable group - of not just 11 players, but 16 or so - and dip into the rest if any gaps need plugged. That said, I would like to see him experiment in one area: by giving Kepa Arrizabalaga a go in goal, possibly because I still haven't got over David de Gea's performance at the World Cup. One man who definitely won't be out there, though, is Bale. Half the Wales team plays in the Championship, the second tier of English football. It's what they've got.