Luis Enrique celebrates one of the goals against Costa Rica. REUTERS
A tale of cautious optimism

A tale of cautious optimism


Spain got their World Cup off to a fantastic start, but it's best to not let the youngsters get ahead of themselves

Friday, 25 November 2022, 13:08


My normal message with the Spain national team is "don't underestimate them". Now I'm heeding the warning "don't overestimate them".

Understandably, there's bundles of excitement after the hammering of Costa Rica. Smashing any team for seven goals is going to raise expectations and excite.

It's the best ever World Cup win for the country; fans who weren't predicting great things are now having a rethink. It's a young, bullish side without egos and led by the most single-minded coach at the World Cup.

Unlike many of his opposite numbers, Luis Enrique doesn't give a Spanish fig about what the media thinks or what the popular feeling is. That's why he chose a side last year that didn't contain a single Real Madrid player for the first time ever. That's why his starting eleven had five Barcelona players.

Senior stars like De Gea, Ramos, Thiago and Aspas are watching from their sofas as the young guard are flying the flag.

Gavi is rightly getting plenty of plaudits after becoming the youngest World Cup scorer since Pelé. He's brought his club form to the national team.

The skill of Luis Enrique is to take club players to a higher plain when playing for Spain. Marco Asensio is a bit-part player for Real Madrid but a key component for the coach. Ferran Torres often looks lost in Barcelona, but is a matador for his country.

Very few experts would have selected Dani Olmo to start. As he's played all of his domestic football abroad - in Croatia and Germany - he's out-of-sight and out-of-mind. It's always a surprise to see him on the team sheet. That's until he weighs in with a goal – as he did.

One of the keys to coach Enrique's success is his flexibility and unpredictability. Most would stick with the team that hit a magnificent seven goals. But those who study his selection patterns will expect him to change half of his successful starting eleven for each game. He went to great pains to say that it was a 16-man effort against Costa Rica.

He has a formula and formation that works. He refreshes and replenishes with each game as he has choices in each position in the team. His formation is the familiar 4-3-3 employed by both Real Madrid and Barcelona. There are tweaks and slightly different interpretations, with each player encouraged to stamp his own personality on the game, yet there is a familiarity that works with the players.

I've written here before that it is a squad without individual stars and the coach wants to keep it that way. When Spain were conquering the Euros and winning the World Cup, players developed to reach the highest status but were always spoken about in partnerships or trios: "Piqué and Ramos" or "Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets". Unlike other countries, no one player is bigger than the team.

It's a great start for Spain, but please just keep expectations at a realistic level for a young and exciting group of developing young footballers.

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