MADRID (Reuters) – Spain coach Luis Enrique promised evolution rather than revolution when he took charge of the national side following their disastrous World Cup campaign this year when they were eliminated in the round of 16.
Three wins in his first three games, including a dominant 2-1 win over England at Wembley and a 6-0 hammering of World Cup finalists Croatia, had fans believing La Roja were returning to their imperious best.
Led by Real Madrid stalwart Sergio Ramos and an attack spearheaded by the likes of Isco and Saul Niguez, Enrique’s new-look Spain appeared to possess all the swagger that the 2010 world-conquering squad did.
However, in reality it has been a mixed bag for the former Barcelona coach with two wins and two defeats from four UEFA Nations League games.
After the initial success, which also included a 4-1 friendly win over Wales, successive 3-2 losses to England and Croatia have left Spain without a spot in the new competition’s semi-finals and more questions than answers for the 48-year-old.
“When we took over the national team we knew the score and we were building a group,” Enrique said. “I’d love to have qualified for the final four, but the objective is Euro 2020 and we are working on it.”
If Spain are to live up to their billing as one of the favourites for the European Championship in two years’ time, there is plenty to improve on.
So far, Enrique has fielded 33 players – the most any Spain coach has done in their first six matches since 1982 – showing he perhaps does not know what his best starting XI is.
He was dealt the double blow of David Silva and Gerard Pique retiring before he took charge, and the latter has been significantly difficult to replace.
Neither Real Madrid’s Nacho nor Inigo Martinez of Athletic Bilbao have proved convincing at the back at international level.
The inconsistent form of Ramos has not helped, however most fans and pundits cite goalkeeper David de Gea as the main problem.
The Manchester United stopper has been unable to replicate his club form for Spain and after conceding seven times in four Nations League matches, many believe Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga should be number one.
Aside from the thrashing of Croatia, Spain have also lacked a cutting edge going forward.
Alvaro Morata has not ever looked like he could be the man to lead the attack in the absence of the injury-plagued Diego Costa, with the Chelsea striker failing to find the net in his past four appearances.
A reliable backup needs to be sourced if Spain are to truly evolve.
(Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli; Editing by Christian Radnedge)