With the conclusion of the domestic season in Europe and yet another Real Madrid Champions League success, Spain can finally start plotting their path to glory this summer in Russia. Their campaign kicks off with a huge Iberian derby against European champions Portugal when we should finally get a clear idea of how Julen Lopetegui views his squad and what eleven he thinks is best capable of clinching a second world title.
In truth, most of this side picks itself and there are only one or two issues that need to be ironed out. The goalkeeper and back four looks set in stone but there is perhaps one position up for grabs in midfield and one in the front three so the final friendly matches may provide some answers.
We may also see some rotation during the group phase with the likes of Andres Iniesta unlikely to get through the entire tournament without a rest but the Barcelona man remains a key figure.
This is how Spain may potentially line up when their World Cup commences against Portugal:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea
David de Gea is Spain’s undisputed number one now and he’s certain to start against the Portuguese. Playing in England, he found it tough initially to dislodge Iker Casillas from the eleven but even in Spain there is now a genuine appreciation for what is arguably the world’s best goalkeeper.
The Manchester United man provides an air of calm and has quickly won the trust of his defenders meanwhile his shot-stopping abilities are second to none. He’s unlikely to be that busy a man, certainly in two of the three group games, but as the tournament progresses, he could prove a real key figure in this team.
Left Back: Jordi Alba
Barcelona’s Jordi Alba has had another strong campaign at club level and will be one of the standout left-backs in Russia. He will offer Spain genuine width and when it comes to the Iran and Morocco games, we could see him used in more of a wing-back capacity as Spain seek to break down what is likely to be two defensively minded opponents.
Alba is now an experienced international campaigner with 60 caps and an impressive return of 8 goals for his country. He’s sure to be La Roja’s first-choice left-back for the duration of the tournament.
Centre Back: Gerard Pique
Alongside Alba is his Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique. He should pass 100 caps at this summer’s tournament but he remains a divisive figure in Spain. Pique has announced his intention to retire from international football following this tournament and his appearances for Spain in recent years have regularly seen him booed and jeered by his own supporters, due to his perceived stance in favour of Catalan independence.
His qualities as a footballer can’t be doubted though and he is one of the survivors of the golden era of Spanish dominance. Certainly his experience will be key as he once again teams up with Sergio Ramos at the heart of the Spanish defence.
Centre Back: Sergio Ramos
Fresh from another Champions League win, Sergio Ramos will be one of the most decorated footballers at this summer’s World Cup with a host of honours already to his name for club and country. He has already chalked up 150 caps for a Spain side which he now captains but the Real Madrid man is another who could draw the curtain on his international career in Russia.
While he is perhaps more mistake-prone than Pique, Ramos does have a knack for making big contributions at key moments. Whether it’s a late headed winner or a reckless sending off, you can be sure that Sergio Ramos will leave his mark on this World Cup and if it is to be his final international tournament, he’s unlikely to go quietly.
Right Back: Dani Carvajal
Having missed the Euros through injury, Dani Carvajal’s heart must have sank when he picked up an injury in the Champions League Final leaving him doubtful for the 2018 World Cup too. The overall assessment seems to be that it’s not as serious as first feared and Dani Carvajal should be able to line up at right-back when Spain take to the field against Portugal.
With the likes of Hector Bellerin and Sergi Roberto not even making the squad, it’s testament to how highly Julen Lopetegui rates the Real Madrid right-back. While he has only won 15 caps and has never played in a major international tournament, Carvajal has proven himself on the big stage at club level and he completes a very solid Spanish back four.
Holding Midfielder: Sergio Busquets
Spain are likely to go with three central midfielders in Russia and Sergio Busquets is guaranteed to be one of those. Barcelona’s early exit in Europe has ensured he’s not been too busy over the final few weeks of the season and he should be fresh to operate as La Roja’s deep-lying midfielder in Russia.
Busquets has never quite got the adulation that his former Barcelona teammates Xaxi and Iniesta have earned but as those two have aged, Busquets has only grown in importance for both club and country. He will drop deep to collect the ball and will provide the launch-pad for Spanish attacks over the next month or so.
Central Midfielder: Andres Iniesta
The next midfield role in this Spanish eleven will go to a Vissel Kobe player. Of course it will be after this tournament by the time Andres Iniesta’s Japanese adventure actually begins but it will certainly take some time to get used to the idea that he is no longer a Barcelona player and this is also likely to be his international football swansong.
While he isn’t quite the force he was, Iniesta has still proven over the past twelve months that he is capable of stepping up and making big contributions when it matters most. His Copa del Rey Final performance was one of his best in recent years and while he may struggle to get through ninety minutes and is unlikely to start every single game in Russia, Iniesta is still a key figure for Spain.
Central Midfielder: Thiago
There are perhaps a few doubts over whether it will be Thiago or Koke who takes up the third central midfield role but it seems the former is more likely to get the nod. Having come through the ranks at Barcelona, he looks right at home next to Busquets and Iniesta and the Bayern Munich man is another fine passer of the ball.
He can also run with it and offer more of a goal threat than his former Barca colleagues so he is a useful asset and is another player who has really benefited from the change in management with Lopetegui clearly a big admirer of his.
Read more: Who will start up front for Spain?
Left Winger: Marco Asensio
The make-up of Spain’s front three is the biggest issue that Lopetegui has to decide upon and we may well see it chop and change during the tournament. Marco Asensio is one player to have really emerged since the last Euros and he now looks like he could have done enough to earn a starting role in Russia.
The 22 year old Real Madrid man has caught the eye with some cracking goals and eye-catching performances over the past twelve months. He is slightly more direct than most of his international teammates and is someone who is certainly capable of speeding things up with a sharp mind and quick feet.
False Nine: David Silva
The number nine role is the biggest issue that Spain need to sort out. Diego Costa is the strongest option in terms of a natural striker but La Roja have often looked better when they’ve gone with essentially three attacking midfielders occupying the front three positions and that may be the case again in Russia.
Certainly there will be a role in the team for David Silva and it’s mostly a question of whether he starts out wide ahead of Asensio or whether he moves into a more central position. Clearly Silva is not a striker but he does have an excellent return of 35 international goals with his strike-rate far more favourable in the red of Spain than in club colours where he is predominantly seen as a creative force.
Right Winger: Isco
Isco is another player who has really hit new heights over the past couple of years. He’s become a key man for both club and country and much like Silva, he offers a huge amount of creativity whilst also being a genuine goal threat. A virtuoso display to dismantle Italy at the Bernabeu in World Cup qualifying cemented his status as a regular in this side and he’s capable of being one of the stars of the tournament in Russia.
If this is the front three that Spain ultimately go with, it’s worth noting that they are all capable of moving around the front three positions so we could well see Isco drift inside and occupy more of a central position for example. If Spain opt to go with Diego Costa, we may even see Isco used in more of a number 10 role, playing off the big Atleti striker.
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