England take on Spain at Wembley this Evening, in their inaugural UEFA Nations League match. England arrive in unusually buoyant mood following a relatively successful major tournament.
A Successful summer
Gareth Southgate’s mission is now to ensure England’s great run in Russia was the start of a successful run at major tournaments and not a one-off. Southgate has advantages over his predecessors of 1990 & 1996. Firstly he arrives at Wembley as the architect of England’s successful run in Russia not the new manager trying to keep his predecessors momentum going whilst instilling his own ideas unlike Graham Taylor or Glenn Hoddle. He also has a young team with at least 3 major tournaments left in them. Finally he has England’s hugely successful youth team players to bring through into his side over the next few years.
With the bedrock of his side in place: Pickford, Trippier, Stones, Walker, Lingard, Kane the aim for Southgate is to find more creativity in his side and greater depth to his squad. England. Southgate’s first moves of this new cycle have seen recalls for Luke Shaw, Joe Gomez Alex McCarthy and latterly Marcus Bettinelli. It seems likely that Shaw and Gomez will start if not against Spain on Saturday against Switzerland next week.
The first man called up to add creativity was Adam Lallana, a player Southgate would like to have taken to Russia but rightly didn’t due to his lack of fitness. But Lallana’s return was short lived and he’s returned to Liverpool with a groin strain. With Raheem Sterling also pulling out it leaves Southgate with just 18 outfield players, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one more forward added from the Under 21s (probably Dom Solanke) for next weeks game.
Spain starting over
it was a poor World Cup for Spain, after that thrilling 3-3 draw with Portugal followed three limp performances and a penalty shootout exit in the last 16. The new man in the hot seat is former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique. Enrique is likely to switch to a more direct, muscular style after more than a decade of tiki-take.
The switch in style is as much practical as it is philosophical, with Andreas Iniesta, Gerard Pique and David Silva retiring there are few survivors from Spain’s glory era. Sergio Busquets is still around as is Liverpool favourite Sergio Ramos.
Enrique suffered a further blow with the injury withdrawal of Diego Costa but there is a strong Chelsea presence in the squad with Marcos Alonso & Alvaro Morata recalled alongside César Azpilicueta.
But Spain don’t lack for quality and look for Enrique to centre his team on Real Madrid playmaker Isco and a prominent role for Marco Asensio who lit up the Euro Under 21 finals last year.
Nations League opener
The Nations League has received a mixed reception from the media. Much of the coverage has focused on the complex backdoor entry the Nations League offers to Euro 2020. This is a minor point of the competition and only concerns England if they were to make a mess of Euro Qualifying next year. England’s qualification record suggests they won’t make a mess of qualifying so the point is irrelevant, what is relevant is this provides England with an opportunity to win a trophy and play top class opposition in a (semi) competitive environment. England need to embrace this competition and use it as a stepping stone to a strong showing at Euro 2020.
It may be a good time to play Spain but they have still have quality throughout their side and I can see a tight game at Wembley. Marcus Rashford could be one to watch as he attempts to bounce back from his red card at the weekend whilst Morata is another with a point to prove.
England 1-0 Spain and Rashford to score.