Team Watch

Euro 2020 challengers: Spain in transition but have the players for success

Luis Enrique has a healthy crop of youngsters coming through with La Roja, but still relies on experienced heads like Sergio Ramos

2:30pm on Sunday 15th November 2020
Daryl Gouilard

Spain are currently going through the transition phase where experienced players are reaching the final years of their careers, while an exciting young crop of players are coming through, too.

With a very promising young core of talents that are rising through the ranks, Spain do not have to be worried too much about finding Sergio Ramos’ or Sergio Busquets’ replacements as several of their youngsters have shown that they are capable of stepping up when needed.


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The upcoming Euro 2020 will be a massive test to the young squad that Spain currently have, while it might also be the last international tournament for several veterans. As part of the prep for the 2022 World Cup, too, Luis Enrique will have to identify the players that fit his tactics while capable of playing at a high and consistent level for their respective clubs.

Squad information and preferred formation

Under Enrique, Spain play with a 4-3-3 formation with one defensive midfielder staying central to link the defence with the players up front during the build-up phase. The wingers are capable of either drifting wide or cutting inside to receive the ball inside the half-space. They will also look to support an advanced forward up front, who will look to run in between the defenders and pick up through passes.

With the intention of having skilful wingers out wide who can beat the opposition using pace, the likes of Adama Traore, Ferran Torres or Mikel Oyarzabal are extremely helpful for Enrique’s side. But unfortunately, due to a recent injury suffered playing for Barca, Ansu Fati will be forced to withdraw from the squad and it is a huge blow for the side as well.

Jesus Navas is another unfortunate case as he also has to withdraw from the side due to an injury. But having called up Premier League duo Hector Bellerín and Sergio Reguiloon, alongside Valencia’s left-back Jose Gaya, Spain can be confident that their full-back positions are in safe hands.


With a manager who knows the core principles of how Spain’s Golden Generation used to play in Enrique, it does not come as a surprise to see him applying a similar tactic to his current side. His Spain side prefers to have the ball and control possession, while making passes and finding possible attacking paths in between the opposition’s defensive lines. Indeed, as in all of their matches this year, they have been the superior side in terms of ball possession, with their lowest possession percentage coming in the 1-1 draw against Germany (59%).

SPA - Football tactics and formations

Therefore, it presents a challenge for the opponent as they are forced to choose between pressing Spain aggressively in order to limit the time that they have the ball, or sitting back and attempting to frustrate them. Spain have shown that they can struggle when playing against both tactics, and the matches against Germany and Ukraine are clear examples.

Against Germany, Spain were only able to control 59% of the ball possession while Germany had 41% due to the opposition’s high pressing tactic. Joachim Low’s side also attempted to make more tackles than the opposition with 24, while Spain only attempted 17. As a result, while not being able to be the better side in terms of controlling possession, Germany had successfully reduced the time that Spain controlled the ball and allowed them to make a relatively equal number of shots that their opponent made (Germany’s 10 compared to Spain’s 12) while being the leading side for the majority of the second half.

In the away match against Ukraine, a different scenario happened where, statistically speaking, Spain were the dominated side and were supposed to win the match. They controlled 72% of the ball possession compared to Ukraine’s 28%, while making almost four times the number of passes that Ukraine made. Due to Ukraine opting to sit back in a 4-2-3-1 formation, it allowed Spain to push their formation forward and created more chances.

But with 52% of those shots coming from the middle area, and not to mention 29% of those chances were long shots, it proved to be a tough day for Spain as they attempted to beat Ukraine’s goalkeeper Heorhiy Bushchan. And with one quick counterattacking situation, it saw Viktor Tsygankov claim all three points for Ukraine.

Defensively, they look to press the opposition high up the pitch in order to force them to lose the ball or make long balls forward. They are not afraid of pressing even near the opposition’s box as they look to close down available passing lanes around the ball carrier and force him to execute the mentioned intentions. With both centre backs comfortable with winning aerial duels, it allows them to push their defensive line forward to win second balls and regain possession for the side.

Noticeable young star: Pau Torres (Villarreal)

23 yrs - D (C) - Villarreal
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One of the talents that is currently playing a key role in Spain’s squad is Villarreal’s centre-back Pau Torres.

Most of Spain’s centre backs are either entering their peak years or are currently going through their final years of their career. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piquee or even Inigo Martiinez won’t be playing for long and they need a new leader to step up, which they have found in Torres. The 23-year-old is very comfortable with the ball, having registered an average of 59.5 passes per game with the completion rate of 85.4% for Villarreal last season. He is also competent of making long balls to try to find the striker up front, having registered 6.3 long balls per match last season.

He also boasts a height of 1m91 (6’3), which allows him to dominate the opposition in aerial battles. As his role is a stopper at Villarreal, he has a great defensive awareness to identify where the ball will drop and intercept the pass before the opposition player can reach it. An average of 2.48 successful presses per 90 minutes last season (according to FBRef) is a decent stat, considering that he is also not the type of player who would dive into a tackle (1.12 tackles per 90 minutes last season).


In order to find their glory days back in the early 2010s, Spain’s transition phase will be considered as the most crucial phase where the veterans will look to support the younger players in their last several international tournaments. Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022 will be great opportunities for young players to showcase their talent alongside players who have been through that golden period of Spain.

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