Anyone who’s been to a gym knows the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Well, I can promise you that Luis Enrique’s mind is out of the question, nor does he need much time in a gym as he is probably even leaner and tougher than he was as a title-winning footballer for Real Madrid and Barcelona. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that he recognizes the futility of Spain continuing exactly and simply hopes that “this time will be different or better or more successful” when they face Slovakia on Wednesday. Stream LIVE at 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN + (US only) – in their last group game for Euro 2020.
You can forget the idea of suddenly giving up his fondness for pushing opponents high or trying to dominate a game. The sucker punch, the rope-a-dope, the percentages, a pragmatic style: none of it appeals to him, never has or ever will. The malaise that Spain suffers from – in boxing they are stylistically attractive, they are in good shape and have a certain seal of approval, but they do not have a knockout blow and are gradually threatened by smaller fighters who throw a haymaker every now and then – is not a new phenomenon. Occasionally La Roja will encounter a tired or naive team and beat them up.
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Things looked clear under Julen Lopetegui, and the days with the red letters beat Italy 3-0 in 2017 and Argentina 6-1 the following spring. It’s a shame that on the eve of the 2018 World Cup, he was seduced by Florentino Perez’s siren song and then chewed and spat out by the merciless Real Madrid machine. Something special was brewing back then.
There were parallels under Luis Enrique. The 6-0 win against World Cup finalists Croatia in September 2018 was due to a lot of absenteeism and sheer exhaustion, but it was still a remarkable move on the Elche pitch that felt like Spain could score at will and possibly another goal score four or five in their tanks.
The other newer rush of joy was the completely astonishing 6-0 demolition of Germany last November. Out of respect and personal philosophy, Joachim Löw wanted to play at eye level with a Spanish squad that had returned from a dreary, nervous, almost catastrophic draw in Switzerland. A team Master class didn’t look impossible. At the end of 90 minutes, Germany was confused, dizzy, and called for its mothers. Everything Luis Enrique tried worked out and in all honesty he told us that a real win was coming based on what he saw in training. Hats off.
But the crucial fact is that these are the exceptions that prove the rule. For months, most of the teams look at Spain’s potential and say: “I don’t want to dance, but I like to stand on tiptoe.” Teams that are persistent, relieve pressure, that play on the counterattack, and especially teams that can take a 1-0 lead, have a very good chance that a tepid, pale and toothless Spanish team will be noticeably annoyed and at the same time self-confidence loses time.
Luis Enrique spoke on Tuesday about his players being “unlocked” and the deluge of form and opportunity that could result from it. And I believe him. But right now the draws against Sweden and Poland are almost identical to the ones his team went through against Switzerland, Greece and Georgia in the past few months. I don’t believe in the (admittedly) cute Spanish sentence that “La pelota no queria entrarI think it’s a little difficult when you build personality, free will and self-determination in football. The ball actually didn’t want to go to Spain very often in recent years, apart from the above exceptions.
This week it was interesting to hear how ex-Real Madrid and Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart used the shoe as vigorously as he did with his high-pitched criticism of Spain. Just like him and his teammates in the 2010 World Cup final when they were literally trying to slide the shoe in, in my opinion it missed its target and came in second best.
First of all, Koke, a loyal one La Roja Soldat, a superior comeback because he “has seen a lot of Van der Vaart, because he is the Dutch player captured in the picture of Andres Iniesta scoring the winning World Cup final goal.” If Luis Enrique’s striker could put the ball away with the same happy, nasty way that Koke Van der Vaart did, then La Roja would be potential euro winners.
But the Dutchman was wrong in other ways. The main reason some of the Spanish games are both tense and a bit repetitive is because there is a tranche of teams that don’t care how attractive a game is. they defend, jostle, muscled and grab what they can from the scorched earth. Spain may not have a knockout punch, but they beat Bob and Jab and Weave and Body Punch with the best of them – they try to win on points when they can’t lay their opponent flat on the deck. They’re not negative, and they’re not boring … they’re just a little gentle in advance.
That brings us back to the definition of insanity – one that could be expanded to avoid getting Iago Aspas and Jesus Navas to this tournament, though this may be conversation for another day.
Luis Enrique has the power to expect different results by changing his pattern – not a full restart, but a refresher. Marcos Llorente, who has scored a total of 25 goals (divided between those he scored and those he assisted) this season, should not play as a right-back under any circumstances. That needs to change. Either he’s an attacking right midfielder or, at worst, a right full-back. And the wing-back concept opens the door to a setup change from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2.
It’s debatable whether Luis Enrique will accept widespread fan and media pressure for significant change: that stubbornness is a fundamental part of his makeup. In his career so far, it has been a huge plus.
That reduces the chances of him going back on three. But it’s a system where Pedri, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets have flourished this season. It’s a system that helped bring Koke and Llorente the Spanish title and it’s a system that, once introduced at Chelsea by Thomas Tuchel, helped make Cesar Azpilicueta a permanent fixture on the team and one again To make Champions League winners.
Azpilicueta as right center-back in a 3-5-2 would also help put Aymeric Laporte in a position where he is much more comfortable on his stronger (left) foot. Supplying full-backs like Llorente and Alba or Jose Gaya would provide Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno at the top with meat and drinks.
Busquets will be back in the place of Rodri, who celebrated his birthday on Tuesday by being slapped on the back of the head and neck by his teammates who set up an honor guard and then handed out stitches.collejas“to congratulate the poor boy. Traditions, eh? The Catalan may not be at his hot peak as he hasn’t played much football lately, but his brains are brilliant and he loves the push prompt price Approach to attacking midfield and I think he’ll love picking up Slovakia.
In all fairness, if Spain can’t beat a Slovak team that has been struggling a little lately against some very moderate rivals then they don’t deserve to get in the top 16. But they can and will.
The key to avoiding allegations of insanity is simply a few clever, overdue retouches.