Spain began their UEFA Nations League campaign with an impressive 2-1 win against Gareth Southgate’s England at Wembley, indicating they may have just turned a corner since their turbulent World Cup campaign. The appointment of Luis Enrique as Julen Lopetegui’s permanent replacement was seen by many as a positive move towards getting the Spaniards back to their best after a disappointing campaign in Russia this summer. Lopetegui was sacked just days before Spain’s first game in the tournament and while stand-in Fernando Hierro deserves credit for leading the nation to the tournament in such difficult circumstances he did not seem to be the right man for the job, hence Enrique’s appointment.
The Spain side strutting their stuff in London on Saturday evening may have struggled to overturn the Three Lions in ways past Spanish sides may have done, but let us not forget England have been more solid under Gareth Southgate, though perhaps no more clinical if this display was anything to go by. Spain also showed character in coming back from behind, Marcus Rashford‘s opener being pegged back almost immediately by Saul Niguez, with Rodrigo adding Spain’s second less than 20 minutes later. England simply couldn’t find a way past Spain’s defence after that, with another Rashford effort proving too tame to trouble keeper David De Gea. Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck had a goal ruled out in injury time, though the referee’s call of a foul against De Gea was controversial.
Sergio Busquets, Thiago and Saul Niguez proved to be a vital anchor point in midfield for Spain, their play dictating attacking runs and defensive decisions alike. The attacking threat of Marcos Alonso – who was absent from their World Cup squad – and Dani Carvajal added an additional dimension to their forward play, with England’s defenders struggling to maintain good decision making owing to essentially being outnumbered. England’s midfield struggled to offer much support, aiding the Spanish cause. Essentially, Spain were the better side on the night, and while it did condemn England to a first home defeat in 11 years, there were lessons for both camps to take away from the game. Despite England’s attack failing to threaten a great deal (De Gea did pull off one good save from a Rashford header), there did seem to be openings to take had Southgate’s men been on their game.
For England, they need to be more clinical moving forward. Defensively they looked a little shaky but, as mentioned before, this could be attributed as much to Spain’s attacking threat as it could an underperformance. Spain’s Nations League campaign is off to the perfect start under former Barcelona manager Enrique, who seems to have helped the national side turn a corner. It is back to the drawing board for England, however, who have a clash with their World Cup conquerors Croatia coming up next month following the visit of Switzerland.
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