A mixed weekend for Luis Enrique, who saw his Spain team cruise to a win in Cardiff against a youthful Wales team but came unstuck at home after a first-half blitz from England.
Wales 1-4 Spain 11/10/2018 Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Spain cruised to a win on Friday night as a Wales team without the injured Gareth Bale were swept aside. Two first half goals from Paco Alcacer on his return to the national team after more than two years crowned a good overall team performance.
Alcacer opened the scoring after only seven minutes when Wayne Hennessey’s wayward punch fell to José Gayà. The Valencian full back scuffed his attempt but the ball fell to Alcacer who made no mistake from just inside the box. With the early goal Spain dominated possession with Wales seemingly content to sit back while Rodri, Saúl and Ceballos looked to play in the forwards. Spain doubled their lead after only 19 minutes when captain Sergio Ramos headed in after Suso delivered a left-footed free kick. Ramos won’t have many easier goals in his career after the Welsh defence left him completely unmarked.
The game was effectively over after half an hour when the Welsh defence gifted Alcacer his second of the match. Suso cut in from the right and delivered a cross which wasn’t cleared after three attempts, allowing Alcacer to latch onto the loose ball and volley home. Suso impressed with his ability to go past his man both on the inside and the outside and allowed Spain to stretch the play going forward. The AC Milan forward had a chance to open his account for the national team in the second half but saw his curling long-range shot glance the crossbar. Wales’ only opportunity came from a corner where young centreback Ethan Ampadu’s header hit the outside of the post but David De Gea had it covered had the chance been on target.
Substitutions at half time for De Gea, Ramos and Saúl would have given Gareth Southgate some insights as to who might take the field against England on Monday, while giving Kepa, Koke and a returning Marc Bartra a chance to impress Luis Enrique. With a 0-3 lead Spain took their foot off the gas in the second half but still had chances to improve upon their lead. Alcacer spurned an opportunity to complete his hattrick and strike-partner Morata headed wide.
On-loan Wolves defender Jonny made his debut at right back as a substitute for César Azpilicueta and Alcacer made way for Iago Aspas as the match looked to be dwindling to a close. Marc Bartra scored his maiden international goal to make it 0-4 by brilliantly heading in a Suso corner after 74 minutes. Luis Enrique seems to have put a lot of work on the training pitch regarding set-pieces, especially after seeing how many goals resulted from them in the World Cup. Spain possess a number of gifted free kick and corner takers, both right and left footed, and now look to be attacking the ball rather than hoping that a chance presents itself.
Wales snatched a late consolation goal but the loss of a clean sheet didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for Spain keeping their 100% record under Luis Enrique. With Busquets, Thiago and Asensio rested, Enrique would have been pleased to record a comfortable victory but this inexperienced Welsh team won’t provide the toughest of tests for the post-Lopetegui era of Spanish football.
Spain 2-3 England 15/10/2018 Estadio Benito Villamarín, Seville
50,000 fans in Seville welcomed England in Spain’s third UEFA Nation’s League fixture, with La Roja aiming to repeat last month’s victory at Wembley. Jonny and Iago Aspas made surprise starts for Spain, while there was no place for man-of-the-moment Paco Alcacer in the line-up.
Spain started the better team in weather more befitting of England than Andalusia and they were unlucky not to take the lead after only 5 minutes. Marcos Alonso flew in at the far post following a flick on from a corner and was shocked to see England keeper Jordan Pickford keep the ball out of the net. Despite the electric start Spain conceded after 16 minutes following some sumptuous play from England. Pickford swept the ball up-field to Harry Kane on the halfway line where the Spurs striker controlled and spun, releasing Marcus Rashford down the left wing and the Spanish defence were turned on their heels. Rashford played in Raheem Sterling and the Manchester City player made no mistake with only Marcos Alonso making any attempt to close him down. The move was brilliant in its simplicity from the English players but Luis Enrique will be questioning how his defence can be completely taken out of the picture with such ease.
Things only got worse for Spain just before the half hour when Kane again did brilliantly to hold up a long ball before releasing Rashford to fire home. England made it 0-3 before half time when man-of-the-match Kane ran on to a chipped pass from Ross Barkley before squaring it to Sterling who couldn’t miss from five yards. Spain had never conceded three goals in a competitive fixture at home before, let alone in a single half and despite having chances, England’s clinical display had left them looking defensively shaky and this lack of confidence did nothing to help the attackers find any rhythm.
The second half was all Spain but the team struggled to create any clear cut opportunities. Saúl saw a chance fly over the crossbar and Marcos Alonso’s shot hit the side netting before the breakthrough came from Borussia Dortmund super-sub Paco Alcacer. The Bundesliga top scorer has yet to start a league game for his new club and the Valencian forward continued his brilliant goalscoring streak on 58 minutes. Alcacer attacked the near post as Barta had done against Wales and met Asensio’s corner with a flicked header that nestled in the far corner. Spain could have cut the deficit to only one goal just minutes later after Rodrigo caught Pickford dwindling on the ball. The Everton goalkeeper tried to cut back but the ball rolled loose to Rodrigo and it took a miracle challenge from the keeper to prevent a certain goal.
Alcacer and Ceballos coming on for Aspas and Saúl enlivened the Spain team as Luis Enrique looked for more energy and precision both on and off the ball and it was a much improved team performance in the second half. The second goal seemed to be coming every time Spain swept forward and Thiago was pulling the strings in midfield but a solid defensive display from England’s back four meant that it wasn’t until the 97th minute that Sergio Ramos converted. A diving header from a Ceballos cross gave Spain the goal they deserved but the breakthrough came far too late for them to be able to get a result from the match.
A thrilling game but a less than thrilling result for Spain whose awful defensive performance in the first half meant that, despite a good second half, they see their lead at the top of their Nations League group cut to two points. Luis Enrique cryptically told journalists to keep an eye on his next squad and the speculation is that the former Barcelona man might be making some big changes in defence.
All in all some impressive attacking displays from Paco Alcacer, Suso and Marcos Alonso from left back will have pleased their manager but the defensive catastrophe against England will give Luis Enrique pause for thought.