Enrique already bringing visible changes to Spain
MADRID (AP) — Luis Enrique’s impact on Spain’s national team is already visible, from new names in the starting lineup to a more aggressive approach to playing without the ball.
The coach’s tactics all seemed to work in his first match in charge of “La Roja” — a 2-1 win against England at Wembley Stadium on Saturday — and they will be put to the test again Tuesday in Enrique’s home debut against World Cup runner-up Croatia.
The two challenging opponents are giving Enrique the perfect opportunity to see whether he is on the right track as he implements a new style for a national team that was criticized for being too set in its ways following recent setbacks at major tournaments.
Here’s a look at what changes Enrique has brought to Spain so far:
The match against England showed a Spanish team which pressed high and worked hard to disrupt the opponent’s game and play a more direct attacking style.
Over the last decade, Spain has rarely focused on pressing up front to try to regain possession and quickly create chances, instead relying on patience and short passes — lots of them — to get near the opposing goal.
Spain recovered more than 30 balls against England, many of them in the attacking half of the field, which led to some good scoring opportunities.
Enrique’s Spain exchanged a lot fewer passes —626 — compared to the more than 1,100 it completed in its round-of-16 loss to Russia at the World Cup.
NOD TO NIGUEZ
Saul Niguez didn’t play a single minute of the team’s World Cup campaign in Russia, but his versatility may become crucial to Enrique’s new scheme.
The 23-year-old Atletico Madrid midfielder scored the team’s first goal in Wembley and played well in both attack and defense.
Enrique praised Niguez’s great physical and mental strength after the match against England, and on Monday again talked about his admiration for the player.
“He has unique abilities,” Enrique said. “He has a little bit of everything.”
Spain had been playing with a single striker up front, usually Diego Costa, but Enrique used Iago Aspas and Rodrigo in attack against England.
Aspas was a last-minute addition to the squad as Costa was released due to the imminent birth of his child, but he was handed a start after impressing in training sessions ahead of the game.
“I don’t have a problem recognizing my mistakes and trying to fix them,” Enrique said. “I’m open to keep being surprised by everybody.”
NACHO IN DEFENSE
Nacho Fernandez seems set to be the central defender taking over from veteran Gerard Pique, who retired from the national team after the World Cup.
Sergio Ramos is expected to remain the team’s leader in defense, but there had been doubts about who Enrique would pick to play alongside him.
BACKING DE GEA
Calls for goalkeeper David De Gea to be benched increased after his disappointing World Cup performance, with many wanting new Chelsea starter Kepa Arrizabalaga to be in goal.
But Enrique made it clear that De Gea’s place in the team was never in doubt and he is keeping the Manchester United player as his starter.
“He is very mature,” Enrique said. “He is prepared.”