Euro 2020: Spain disrupted by Covid in pursuit of tactical revolution under Luis Enrique

·4-min read
Luis Enrique’s plan to revolutionise Spain’s football has been disrupted by a Covid outbreak (AFP)
Luis Enrique’s plan to revolutionise Spain’s football has been disrupted by a Covid outbreak (AFP)

When the result was confirmed, Luis Enrique let out another sigh of relief.

These weren’t the March matches that got Spain back on track after yet another stutter, but the squad’s last Covid tests before they were finally vaccinated.

A third successive day of negative results after Sergio Busquets’s positive staved off the real possibility that the country’s Euro 2020 could be thrown into chaos.

At one point, fears of a spread even led to discussion that it could see Spain having to withdraw from the tournament.

That has mercifully been avoided, but it was probably wishful thinking to believe all Euro 2020 squads could completely avoid Covid-related problems.

Given the numbers of countries involved, it was bound to affect at least one of them.

Read more:

- Spain Euro 2020 squad guide and fixtures

- Euro 2020 kits: Every home and away shirt ranked and rated

- Euro 2020 schedule: All dates, fixtures and everything you need to know

You could say Spain have been unfortunate it was them, but they have maybe been lucky it was not worse.

It has still had a concrete effect on how they have prepared, beyond Busquets’s absence, that could affect performances. Spain were forced into some individual sessions, rather than team drills, that Luis Enrique found deeply frustrating.

He didn’t just see these as the last sessions to go through the motions, or to keep the team ticking over and go through final tweaks.

They were supposed to represent an important time for the squad with Luis Enrique trying to bring through a wider revolution.

He is trying to change the way Spain play, and charge their football with a greater force. More than anything, he wants to add “verticality”.

Luis Enrique’s plan to revolutionise Spain’s football has been disrupted by a Covid outbreak (AFP)
Luis Enrique’s plan to revolutionise Spain’s football has been disrupted by a Covid outbreak (AFP)

It was also why there was a symbolism to discarding Sergio Ramos beyond the football significance. The Real Madrid captain was the last player involved in Spain’s Euro 2008 squad, the victory that initiated their unique era of glory as probably the greatest international side of all time. Busquets is actually the last remaining link to the World Cup win of 2010 and, along with Jordi Alba, the last player also involved in 2012.

It is not just that generation that Luis Enrique wants to move on from. It is also their philosophy.

The possession-pressing game that arose from the Barcelona ideology was one of the most influential in football history and changed - as well as dominated - the game across that spell.

Read more:

Spain Euro 2020 squad guide: Full fixtures, group, ones to watch, odds and more

Euro 2020 kits: Every home and away shirt ranked and rated

Euro 2020 schedule: All dates, fixtures and everything you need to know

Euro 2020 predictions: Winner, top scorer, one to watch and how far will England go?

As with any approach, though, it eventually became overtaken by advances and responses elsewhere. It got to the point - most visibly in Russia 2018 - that it became passive.

An issue for Spanish football as a whole is that it hasn’t really moved on from it.

One coach from the country who works for a major European club recently confided to The Independent that he felt the football from his home nation was the slowest among the major leagues, and in bad danger of getting left behind. It is hugely surprising that no Spanish club has attempted any kind of German-influenced overhaul, as they could take La Liga by storm.

This is what Luis Enrique is trying to address.

Sergio Busquets and Pedri during training (AFP)
Sergio Busquets and Pedri during training (AFP)

It is all the more pointed, since he was criticised for attempting exactly this with Barcelona, provoking a multitude of debates. He now looks ahead of the game, and maybe above most of the international game.

Luis Enrique is one of the only coaches in the tournament with big-club experience, let alone a coach to win a major league in the last half-decade. It is thereby maybe much less surprising that he and Roberto Mancini are among the few managers at Euro 2020 looking to fashion something more out of their team through pure tactical innovation and coaching.

Luis Enrique does have a lot to work with and mould. Spain haven’t stopped producing an abundance of talent.

This group, and especially players like Pedri, are testament to that. A key point, however, is that it feels this might be a tournament or two too soon.

Spain have a lot of burgeoning quality but not enough in their prime to really look like champions. The only true top-level player is perhaps Thiago Alcantara.

The frustration is that they can look sublime in any individual game, as with that 6-0 victory over Germany, only to look suspect in the very next game, as with the March draw against Greece.

They also maybe lack a goalscorer, or at least sufficient cohesiveness to create chances in another way. Spain still have that propensity to be too prosaic in possession against teams that sit back.

Some things don’t change, which is precisely why Luis Enrique is trying to change the approach. This is also why the loss of some training sessions was so frustrating.

They represented valuable extra time to add greater vigour to the team, to make players understand that bit more deeply how he wants them to cut through teams at pace.

It all means that this relatively forgiving group could well be as facile as it is fraught - sometimes in the same game.

It won't just be about results in that regard. Luis Enrique wants to win this tournament, and thinks Spain can, but knows it may be most about setting a performance level for the future.

Read More

Spain boss Luis Enrique: We’re in a group of favourites at Euro 2020

Diego Llorente becomes Spain’s second player to test positive for Covid ahead of Euro 2020 opener

Shaw over Trippier? James or Walker? Predicting England’s starting lineup against Scotland

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting