- Luis Enrique has kicked off his Spain tenure with two convincing wins
- La Roja beat Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia 6-0
- We look at four of the team’s key players
“This Spain team plays a longer and more vertical game than the side that played in the World Cup,” Zlatko Dalic said this week. The man who steered Croatia to second place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Dalic was speaking after his side’s 6-0 defeat to La Roja in the UEFA Nations League, the tournament that has marked the start of Luis Enrique’s tenure in the Spain dugout.
"Make no mistake: we’re going to keep playing in the same way. We can evolve,” said the Asturian-born coach on being unveiled as the new man at the Spain helm. Rather than evolution, however, the performance against the Vatreni in Elche was more of a ‘revolution’ in comparison to La Roja’s last outing at Russia 2018.
We look at the radical transformation Spain have undergone since then by focusing on the performances of four key players against the Croatians.s
Had a hand in five of his side’s six goals, a striking indication of how influential the Real Madrid wide man was on a night on which he replicated his club form and showed he is in the national team to stay. The left-footed Asensio’s long-range shooting was simply lethal, while he also did his bit to create space and set up his team-mates. Showing for the ball throughout, both on the flank and in the middle of the pitch, he offered his side an out-ball whenever Croatia pressed.
What Luis Enrique said: “Asensio scored two incredible goals. The way he hits the ball is special.”
Put his side ahead against Croatia, four days after opening his international account against England at Wembley, when he struck Spain’s equaliser in a match they went on to win 2-1. His introduction into the midfield, alongside Sergio Busquets, has given Spain more bite while also heralding the transition from tiki-taka to a more direct style of play. His shooting from outside the box is another asset of considerable value to the side.
What Luis Enrique said: “He’s a player that I like an awful lot. He’s got quality, he’s supremely fit, and he’s incredibly strong mentally too. He’s good tactically and he can score goals. I love what he has to offer.”
A versatile, pacy and enterprising forward, the Valencia front man stood out for his mobility and link-up play from out wide. His continual runs into space gave the midfield no shortage of options and punched holes in the Croatia defence on several occasions. Not afraid to shoot on goal either, he got his name on the scoresheet.
What Luis Enrique said: “He’s fantastic at dropping into space between the opposition’s lines and he can play out wide too. He can also get into the box late and make fantastic runs off the ball. He’s a good finisher as well. He’s not your typical target man but I’m delighted with him.”
Though the brief he was given on his senior international debut was a daunting one, the Real Madrid man took the challenge of marking Luka Modric in his stride. Not only did he cancel out the Croatian star, Ceballos also made a telling contribution in attack, distributing possession, finding gaps and providing an outlet from midfield.
What Luis Enrique said: “He’s not your average player. You don’t get any players like him in football anymore. He can deal with problems, keep his cool, and keep the ball. When we press higher up the pitch he can break into space and play the final pass, and he also gets through a tremendous amount of work. He did such a good job marking Modric that Modric got fed up and had to go somewhere else.”