On Saturday night, Spain completed their World Cup warm up games after squeezing a 1-0 win out of Tunisia in host-city Krasnodar. This game followed a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in Villarreal’s home stadium Estadio de la Cerámica. Here, we look at the five things we learned from these warm up games and how Spain are set for Russia 2018.
1. Still don’t know who Spain’s best striker is
Having left Chelsea record-signing Alvaro Morata at home, Spain limited themselves to three strikers in Iago Aspas, Diego Costa and Rodrigo Moreno. After the two games played this week, Lopetegui still isn’t sure who is best option is. In the game against Switzerland, Diego Costa started up front with Aspas on the wing. Aspas was taken off at half time and Costa was replaced by Rodrigo on the hour mark. All three strikers didn’t play great on the night and were well below par in front of goal when chances presented themselves. On Saturday night, Rodrigo was played from the start but was substituted by Costa on the hour mark. Aspas came in after 75 minutes and showed the most promise over the course of the 180 minutes. The Celta Vigo man grabbed a goal after hold up play from Diego Costa on the 84th minute against Tunisia. Aspas’ strike turned out to be a record breaking goal for a new Spain manager; having scored in their first 20 games under Julen Lopetegui.
2. Iniesta is still incredible at this level
Some reports are suggesting that Andres Iniesta was correct in making his decision to leave Barcelona for Japanese side Vissel Kobe as he is in a steep decline. There was no sign of any decline in Spain’s two warm up games this week however as the midfielder was easily the best player on the pitch against both Switzerland and Tunisia. A frequent sight in both games was Iniesta receiving the ball under pressure, spinning and gliding past two players as if they weren’t even there. On top of this, the midfield maestro is more than capable of picking out a pass and his connection with David Silva is so good that the former Valencia man is likely to start for this alone. The only thing concerning for Spain was that there was a lack of incision. Against two packed defences (most of the game was played in Tunisia’s half) space was scarce. Iniesta was one of the few players for Spain who stood up and took risks – resulting in him giving away the ball more frequently.
3. Dani Carvajal will start if proven fit
Alvaro Ordiozola was one of the breakout stars of La Liga this season and performed admirably with Real Sociedad all season, culminating in a deserved call up for the World Cup. The right back even managed to score a fantastic volley against Switzerland in the first of Spain’s warm up games. He performed well going forward, was always an option out wide and provided a much needed energy into the side. However, he has the tendency to stay forward, focusing on the attacking side too much and is questionable defensively at this level. For this reason – if proven fit – Dani Carvajal will be Spain’s guaranteed starting right back during the World Cup. Lopetegui was even quoted as saying the following about Real Madrid’s right back:
“We have to hold him back. He wants to take two steps forward instead of one. I’m certain he’s going to come with us. I don’t know if he’ll be first or second choice, but he’ll certainly come.”
4. Spain played very one-paced and looked care free
During these two warm up games, the Spainish players looked very care-free during the two games for the large part. This resulted in a very much slow paced game where it looked like they had more interest in holding onto the ball over being incisive with it. Taking this mentality into the first game against Portugal this Friday (15th June) will not suffice. Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantara were the worst offenders in terms of their lack of enthusiasm on the ball. Accepted, the centre backs and Busquets normally play in a melancholic manner most of the time. Thiago however, has nearly played himself out of the starting role due to his sloppy play – particularly against Tunisia. With these sort of displays, it seems unlikely Barcelona will meet Bayern Munich’s asking price for the midfielder.
5. Lucas Vazquez is not just an option from the bench and could change Spain’s formation
Due to the one-paced nature of these two warm up games, Lucas Vazquez was one of the few players to have stood out. Adding a much needed energy to the team when called upon, the Real Madrid winger may not just be an option from the bench. His spectacular flick to Rodrigo against Switzerland was a perfect example of the skill he brings to this side also. Against Tunisia, the number 11 came on at half time and added width to the side. Once Marco Asensio, Aspas and Costa took to the field, a significant change in formation came about. Spain reverted to a 3-3-3-1 essentially with Ramos, Pique and Nacho at the back. Koke, Busquets and Iniesta formed the midfield three. Vazquez, Aspas and Asensio took up the next ‘three’ which left Costa up front. This formation shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to La Liga fans as Jorge Sampaoli was a big proponent of it during his season with Sevilla. I wouldn’t expect Lopetegui to play this in the first game against Portugal but it certainly gives food for thought as the team looked much more balanced and threatening. Playing with two strikers in the form of Costa and Aspas just behind him may be the way forward also.
Spain kick of their World Cup against Iberian neighbours Portugal on Friday 15th June at 7pm UK time in Sochi’s ‘Fisht Olympic Stadium’. Have a look HERE for our profile on Portugal.