LONDON (Reuters) – Spain returned to winning ways with their 2-1 victory over England on Saturday after their disastrous time at the World Cup but the most striking element of their performance at Wembley was the new identity they are forming under coach Luis Enrique.
Against England, Spain had far less possession than they were used to under World Cup caretaker coach Fernando Hierro and predecessors Julen Lopetegui and Vicente del Bosque but played with more purpose and were more direct than before.
“Spain came from behind to win against England and did so by showing the same personality as their coach. This was more than a prestigious victory, it was an announcement of what is to come, of new and exciting times,” said newspaper Marca.
“It’s only one game but it is significant. We are looking at a new Spain, a more direct team, just like Luis Enrique outlined when he was chosen as coach. Things are looking good.”
The former Barcelona coach had already ruffled feathers by dropping mainstays Jordi Alba and Koke from his squad and then picked a new-look line-up containing only five players who had started the World Cup last-16 defeat to Russia on penalties.
Midfielder Saul Niguez made the biggest impact of the new additions to the team throughout the game, giving them a thrust and directness which was lacking in Russia, where they dominated possession but lacked spark and ideas, and also providing Spain’s equaliser after Marcus Rashford had put England ahead.
Saul’s lively performance had the Spanish media asking why he did not play a single minute at the World Cup despite being part of the squad, while forward Rodrigo, scorer of the winning goal, also gave the team a more direct feel.
Spain had 54.7 percent of possession against England, a marked contrast to playing more than 1,000 passes against Russia, but they compensated by shutting down their opponents with remarkable efficiency thanks to an intense pressing game, and maintained 85 percent passing accuracy when they did have the ball.
“That’s what I want, to reduce the space and press a lot and against a team with three defenders it was very difficult,” Luis Enrique said.
“Winning like this on this stage will do us a lot of good and we’ve started in the best way possible but in football the only thing that matters is the present.”
In the past Spain were vulnerable whenever they lost possession but against England they seemed more comfortable without the ball and defending with their backs against the wall, as they had to do in the latter stages of the game.
“This was a perfect night, the team picked up a huge victory and we saw a very impressive Spain side,” said Saul.
“In the second half we knew how to cope under pressure and that’s an important thing for us, that we stuck together in tough moments like in the second half.”
Captain Sergio Ramos added: “We have started a new era with a coach who has a lot of experience and there are few better ways to start than to win at Wembley.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Clare Fallon)