How has Spain's style changed under Luis Enrique since the World Cup?
Spain host England live on Sky Sports Main Event on Monday
By Oliver Young-Myles
Last Updated: 15/10/18 7:46pm
Spain endured a turbulent World Cup in the summer but they appear to be on the right track once more under Luis Enrique - so what has the former Barcelona manager changed?
Julen Lopetegui's sacking on the eve of Spain's World Cup opener against Portugal set the tone for what would prove to be an underwhelming campaign for one of the pre-tournament favourites.
A last-16 exit to host nation Russia suggested that Spain's hugely successful possession-based philosophy had gone stale, as they crashed out on penalties despite having 79 per cent possession over 120 minutes of play.
It is early days, but Luis Enrique's strong start as manager suggests that Spain are eager to avoid a repeat performance any time soon. From his three games in charge, Spain have beaten two of the World Cup semi-finalists, England and Croatia as well as a resurgent Welsh side.
That Spain's squad has an undeniably fresher feel to it under Luis Enrique isn't all the new manager's making.
Following that World Cup elimination at the hands of Russia, mainstays of Spain's golden era Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Gerard Pique all announced their international retirements as did back-up goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Between them, that quartet had amassed 394 international appearances with Iniesta, Silva and Pique all part of Spain's exclusive 100-cap club.
If Luis Enrique could do little to reverse the retirements of Spain's more senior players, his decision not to call up Jordi Alba into either of his two squads, despite the Barcelona left-back's fine start to the season, has been entirely of his own making.
Alba, capped 66 times by his country, said after his snub for the September internationals: "I'd like to go to the national team but it's the coach's decision and I have to respect it."
With five experienced players either no longer in contention or out-of-favour, the average age of Spain's squad - which was the 11th oldest at the World Cup - has shrunk from 28.5 years to 26.1. Whereas Spain had seven players over the age of 30 in Russia, there are currently just four 30-somethings in Luis Enrique's latest squad.
Replacing the elder statesmen are players such as Marc Bartra (27), Jose Gaya (23), Saul Niguez (23), Rodrigo and Dani Ceballos (both 22), while Marco Asensio (22) has taken a more influential role in the side.
When at their free-flowing best, no nation could match Spain as they swaggered their way to three successive major titles between 2008-2012. Eventually, rival nations found ways of stifling Spain and making their much-revered possession-based style of play ineffective. None more so than Russia at the World Cup.
Spain's performance inside Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium was the nadir of Tiki-Taka. Statistically, Spain passed their hosts to death. They completed 1,114 passes to Russia's 290, had a pass success rate of 90 per cent compared to 59 per cent and enjoyed 79 per cent possession in total. Sergio Ramos' 174 successful passes was over five times that of Russia's top-passer, wing-back Mario Fernandes.
But they lost and deservingly so too. For all of Spain's passing, there was little penetration in attack. They made it all too easy for Russia to defend against but in the early stages of Luis Enrique's reign, it appears as though Spain have rediscovered their cutting edge, scoring 12 times in three games, including six unanswered goals against the World Cup runners-up.
Luis Enrique has been quick to downplay Spain's move away from the philosophy that defined their three successive tournament victories, but has insisted they are in a stage of evolution: "We are trying to evolve and improve it because when you manage to win world titles, you are all copied and studied so opposition teams are able to find many solutions and that poses many problems."
Where are Spain's Barca players?
Spain's success over the last decade was built around a Barcelona core but just one of their players is in the current squad. What's changed?
As part of that evolution, Spain are passing the ball with greater purpose and urgency, seeking to play the ball forward more quickly than has perhaps been the case in the past and going more direct when the opportunity presents itself.
Luis Enrique has been here before. At Barcelona, he inherited a hugely talented squad but one that had failed to win a trophy the season before. He tweaked the system to make Barcelona more efficient in attack and thanks to the efforts of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona won the treble in his debut campaign.
"We were too horizontal with possession and there was some speed missing," admitted Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke this week after his recall to the squad.
Part of the reason they are able to play more vertically now is down to a greater movement in attack with Luis Enrique utilising the pace and movement of Rodrigo Moreno and Asensio in his front three.
Valencia striker Rodrigo was under-used by Fernando Hierro at the World Cup but he grabbed a goal and assist in the 2-1 win over England at Wembley and scored again in the game against Croatia, while Asensio helped himself to a hat-trick of assists and a goal during that 6-0 demolition.
Spain's remarkable strength in depth was evidence during the 4-1 drubbing of Wales on Friday night. Paco Alcacer, who failed to make the grade under Luis Enrique at Barcelona, scored twice, while AC Milan's Suso and Atletico Madrid's Rodrigo impressed in their second and third caps.
Attacking movement hasn't come solely from Spain's forward players either. One benefit of losing Iniesta and Silva, is that Spain's midfield has been re-energised with youthful replacements such as Koke's club colleague Saul. The result is that they are able to press opponents with greater energy and also have more dynamic runners off the ball in the attacking third of the pitch.
As Luis Enrique was keen to stress, Spain will not completely abandon the philosophy and style of play that has defined their success. Instead, his remit to make sure that a new-look side can develop on that style to become more effective in the modern game.
Judging by the talent at his disposal, he has every chance of doing just that.
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