It’s the identical outdated Spain; but it’s not the identical outdated Spain. Each hypotheses are proper, but flawed. Spain performs a high-passing, high-possession, counter-pressing recreation; however not the way in which Xavi and Iniesta performed it, not the way in which Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff envisaged it; fairly, they play it the Luis Enrique-way; the Gavi-Pedri means. It’s not revolution, or counter-revolution, nevertheless it’s an evolution, and it is advisable dwell into the minute and specifics to completely grasp and benefit from the ultra-butterfly soccer Spain has unleashed within the World Cup.
The soul and pulse of Spanish soccer is a continuing—passing, quick (poison-smeared) velvety passing. The passing sheet of any Spain iteration within the final twenty years seems a lot the identical—like a toddler’s pocket book, a mass of arrows, arrows over arrows, arrows crossing out one another, arrows forming a bit of artwork in itself, the mass turning into a cluster close to the opponent’s field. However look nearer, the distinction emerges; the passing is extra vertical and direct, and when you occur to look at, discernibly faster and (barely) longer.
There are crosses and headers. It is a aspect that might bore you with a thousand passes; however this a aspect that chooses to kill the opponent with a thousand passes. Relatively, it is a faster and extra direct aspect. Guardiola’s Barcelona after a shot of caffeine.
It was inevitable—even the noblest, grandest of philosophies want a tweak and tinker, lest it turns into stale and irrelevant, however with out destroying the essence. Like rebuilding a monument with out shedding its unique allure. Past some extent, tiki taka, that almost all attractive artwork that gained Spain the World Cup and made Barcelona scale unparalleled heights of magnificence and success, had begun to rust and decay. Spain wanted a change (and so did Barcelona, and coincidentally it was Enrique that altered it) and Enrique rang within the change, in a refined and incremental means that didn’t destroy the soul of Spain’s recreation. That’s passing. The life and soul, the heartbeat and pulse of Spanish soccer. It’s a non-negotiable for Enrique, and a cause you would possibly name this crew a throwback.
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The broad format has been the identical—hog possession, press excessive, go, go and go. Towards Costa Rica, they accomplished 1000 passes, Spain’s most in any recreation; versus Germany, the numbers dropped to 542, however that was comprehensible given the stature of their adversaries, although the quantity was twice as many as Germany’s (271). Although Germany, too, is a possession-keeping aspect, Spain nonetheless managed 64 p.c of the ball. On a median, Spain have been in Germany’s field for 65 p.c of the match, based on 365stats.com. The final time they’d a lower than 60 per cent possession was again in 2020 in a recreation towards Germany. The build-up play, too, is affected person and elaborate, constructing out from the again and passing backwards and forwards earlier than unlocking the defence with a killer go.
However how this aspect capabilities is completely different. Enriques’s males, or fairly teenagers, prefer to maximise the width of the pitch, not like the congested central paths of classical Spain. Even the defenders are unfold out—making them susceptible to counters, and leaving area for fast forwards to use. The spacing ensures that when they’re with out the ball, they’ve the area to use when as soon as they re-seize possession.
The aim towards Germany embodied the directness and verticality of their method—Gavi to Pedri from left to proper; Pedri to Dani Olmo, Olmo to Jordi Alba on the left, Alba to Alvaro Morata, who makes a run behind the German line and flicks the ball dwelling.
They usually change their assault from left to proper, orchestrated by the Gavi-Pedri mixture that reminds of Iniesta and Xavi, although the layers are completely different. Pedri within the Iniesta function of conducting the orchestra, taking part in easy soccer (typically that’s the most troublesome soccer, as Cruyff would say), however doing the precise issues. He doesn’t bask in nutmegging or dribbling, or do a variety of step-overs or feints, swivels or turns. He finds area others don’t; he has time that others don’t have, he visualises routes to the aim that others don’t. And pulls off all these robust acts in soccer with out even breaking right into a sweat or stretching his sinew. Little marvel then that his Xavi considers him probably the most gifted younger participant on the planet.
He has been Spain’s most inventive power in each video games, the pass-circulator, the assist-giver, the soul-provider. The best reward got here from Enrique: “Anybody who is aware of something about soccer is aware of that nobody has ever seen that from anyone at 18, not even Sir Andrés Iniesta.” There was a sequence within the Germany recreation when he weaved previous Ilkay Gundagon, then spun previous Nilkas Sule, reduce from the byline and laid off Alvaro Morata. Solely that his go was unusually heavy. However the simplicity of his strikes have been bewildering, nothing expansive, nothing flashy, simply neat easy strikes.
If Pedri provides music to Spain, Gavi provides rhythm; he begins the press, he piles the stress; he stings and instigates, he’s robust in addition to elegant. Gavi’s inclusion within the Euro squad sparked doubts, as he the then 17-year-old had little publicity to worldwide soccer. However Enrique had seen sufficient of him to be satisfied. He at all times insists: “When I’m in search of gamers for the nationwide crew I decide those [who] are greatest at deciphering our techniques.” Gavi is the right addition to the robustly younger crew.
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The oldest outfield participant is Sergio Busquets, who’s 34, and a bridge between generations. In a way, he exemplifies the distinction between the 2 completely different (however identical) generations. In earlier avatars, he was extra locked-on on the base of the midfield. Now, with additional verticality, his involvement is extra energetic in ball distributions, and his quick-thinking is a cause Spain strikes the ball a lot faster. He additionally man-marks his No 6 counterpart to smell out the midfield tussle. Enriques calls him his most necessary man. “He’s not very nicely understood by many individuals, perhaps as a result of he has been round for thus lengthy and persons are bored with him, however he’s distinctive. Distinctive, and a assure,” he had as soon as stated.
Enriques is extra versatile along with his front-man too. In each World Cup video games, he began with Marco Asensio, deploying him as a false 9. He used the extra classical No 9 Alvaro Morata as an alternative, although he was the popular front-man within the qualifying video games. Morata provides additional verticality and directness to Enrique, a particular leading edge on the tip, and he makes his aspect all of the extra harmful. Towards Germany, he sped up Spain after approaching and ran the striker’s run for his aim.
That aim and the build-up to the aim embodied the brand new Spain; the Spain of Enriques; the Spain of Pedri and Gavi. However the soul of each is passing.