The end result was disappointing against Sweden: the Spaniards did not get through the double yellow wall. Yet Spain was dominant – old-fashioned dominant, even. More than 85 percent (!) possession of the ball, 17 from 4 attempts. But above all: many, many subtle passes, assumptions and combinations.
Almost all names have been changed in Spain. In the current selection, only left back Jordi Alba and controller Sergio Busquets (currently still in corona isolation) have experienced the glory days, now captain Sergio Ramos is missing.
The playing style has remained the same: this tournament also stands or falls with the Spanish success tiki-taka. Like the Spanish success teams of yesteryear, Luis Enrique’s team tries to play the opponents spur of the moment with seemingly endless possession.
Mega renovation in the rear
Common thread in the success of La Furia Roja was the golden triangle in the rear. The feline captain Iker Casillas on target, the smoothly playing football mastodons Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos as guards of the defense.
In forging the new success team, the rear is the line where national coach Luis Enrique has made the hardest choices. David de Gea, the Manchester United goalkeeper who for many years was the natural heir to the throne of Casillas, has lost his place.
His successor is a surprising one: Unai Simón has only been the first choice at mid-engine Athletic de Bilbao for two seasons. Yet the 24-year-old Bask has convinced enough with his agile reflexes to surpass an ailing De Gea.
After a year full of injuries, captain Ramos finally made it to the European Championship selection. Ramos, who will leave Real Madrid this summer after 16 seasons, is replaced by a defender who has only been able to call himself a Spaniard for a month. Aymeric Laporte, who, like goalkeeper Simón, comes from the youth of Bilbao, had seen it after so many years of waiting for a call from French national coach Didier Deschamps. The French Basque Laporte (27), a fixed value at top club Manchester City for years, was naturalized as a Spaniard a month before the European Championship.
Next to Laporte is the drawling Pau Torres (1 meter 91). The 24-year-old forward won the Europa League with Villarreal last month, and is the top contender to replace Ramos at Real Madrid. The most striking name plays on the right wing of the defense. Because Marcos Llorente (26) was the most important attacking force at champions Atlético Madrid last season after Luis Suárez. But where Llorente is a running mid-mid in the capital, he plays right back in the national team. Of course he fills this role extremely offensively.
Busquets clone and child prodigy
In midfield, Atlético veteran Koke is joined by ex-clubmate Rodrigo Hernández (24), football name Rodri. The tall controller (1.92) moved to Manchester City for no less than 63 million in 2019. A look at his game quickly shows why manager Pep Guardiola was willing to pay so much for him. In everything Rodri is reminiscent of Busquets, the player he is currently replacing in the Spanish midfield: everything at a walking pace, because every choice is precisely tuned to the millimeter.
Rodri and Koke are the solid backbone of fine possession football, but in all honesty, Spain’s midfield is all about one man: Pedri, the child prodigy of the Canary Islands. The Tenerife-born and Las Palmas-trained midfielder had his big break this season with Barcelona, where he is the technical trendsetter alongside Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong, despite being only 18 years old.
Pedri dominated the first game against Sweden, and already seems ready for a leading role in Spain. With that, playmaker Xavi and Iniesta would have finally found their heir, both at club and country.
In the front line it is still a bit of a search for national coach Luis Enrique. Youngsters Ferran Torres (21) and Dani Olmo (23) are preferred on the flanks.
Torres is the third player in Manchester City’s roster, where he impressed this year as the understudy of wing stars Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. The right leg, trained at Valencia, brings something to the technical Spanish vanguard that it sometimes lacks: decisiveness in front of the goal. Torres has already scored 19 goals for club and country this season, in a limited amount of playing time.
Olmo, who plays a hanging role on the left, has the quirkiest backstory in the roster. At the age of 16 he exchanged the acclaimed youth academy of Barcelona for the best youth football institution in the Balkans, Dinamo Zagreb. Only a few youth players were breaking through in the star ensemble of Barcelona, so Olmo opted for a detour via Croatia. A choice that paid off: a top transfer to RB Leipzig followed in 2020, where he has been one of the better playmakers in the German competition from day one.
Who will play in the vanguard between Torres and Olmo during this European Championship, is still the question. Álvaro Morata (28, Juventus) did not shake off the stamp of ‘eternal promise’ against Sweden either. Substitute Gerard Moreno (Villarreal) looked a little sharper as a substitute, which has now sparked a major striker discussion in Spain.
Look like an expert
What should you pay attention to this EK? In Look like an expert football journalist Sam Planting turns every viewer into an expert. Discover the 11 players who define their nation’s tactics – and how modern football is played.