Luis Enrique’s Spanish Revolution takes an agonizing step forward | Euro 2020


Luis Enrique wants Spain to be more vertical, but the problem with verticality is that it can lead to chaos. At least with the sterility of possession there is a sense of control – and against Croatia on Monday night there was none of that. But it may be that an exhausting victory that played with emotions and required extraordinary character was a necessary battle in Luis Enrique’s revolution.

Not that there were many signs of this in the first half, which started the traditional way. Pass, pass, pass, miss. Pass, pass, pass, miss. Then a twist: pass, pass, pass, absurd goal against his camp. Whenever you think Spain can no longer capitalize on the same old joke, they discover a new level of comedic doom.

But the problem is that Spain needs the overtaking. They had conceded just 12 shots in the group stage, less than all the other teams, and only allowed one goal to slip away. They may have scored five goals for the second game in a row as Croatia pushed higher, leaving space behind their defensive line, but once that familiar pattern of passing in front of an opponent at depth has been removed, l Spain was on display. Pass, pass, concede possession, panic with every ball in the box.

There is angst in Spanish football. The old certainties no longer seem so certain. No Spanish club have reached the Champions League semi-finals in the past two seasons – and it’s not just because of the financial woes plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona. It is also a tactical question.

With Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, ​​Spain actually invented modern football, taking the press and possession game to levels unimaginable before.

But the problem with revolutions is that they keep turning, and those who instigated them are often left behind. It’s a familiar story: someone gets up with a radical project and is very successful, but then falls into the trap of believing that their way of doing things is the right one, maybe the only one, and therefore is. unable to respond when a challenger emerges. Why change a winning formula? If you are the best, why bother about anyone else? And when it comes to a football culture and is, for financial and political reasons, dominated by such poorly managed institutions as Real Madrid and Barcelona, ​​the decadence can be deep.

Luis Enrique has always been aware of the problem. He is not complacent. At 51, he still looks great. He is, after all, someone whose response to retirement from gaming was to engage in ultrarunning. When he took office at Barcelona in 2014, he made the conscious decision to make it more direct. It was not a comfortable or easy process, but it made it possible to win the title of the Champions League 2015. With Spain, his goal was much the same: to give them more verticality.

Luis Enrique’s side have now scored 10 goals in their last two games at Euro 2020. Photograph: Stuart Franklin / Reuters

In 2012, Spain completed an unprecedented streak for a European team, winning a third consecutive major tournament. Their football was the best in the world, not only at club level but also at national level. After which they entered three majors without winning a knockout match. The draw against Sweden in the opening group game of this tournament looked ominously like the exit of Russia in 2018, an almost self-parodying exercise in futile passing.

Old habits tend to disappear in international football, in which teams are used to failing in predictable ways. But revolutions are not easy; by definition, these are traumatic and disruptive events. Whatever advantages Luis Enrique’s greater verticality offers offensively, it exposes the center of the defense.

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There is a balance to be struck there, and defenders need to learn a new way of playing. Pass, much longer pass, cross, header may be the one-sided formula, but Spain can’t rely on character to get them through in every game. There is a serious danger that this team will be too spent physically and emotionally to perform at their best in the quarterfinals. But there’s a sense in which it shouldn’t matter: it was still a transitional tournament, instilling the new style ahead of the World Cup.

This time, that spirit was enough. As agonizing as the victory is, whatever problems the change of approach may have caused, Luis Enrique secured a first knockout victory for Spain since the Euro 2012 final. now a team that will always remember Copenhagen. , veterans who may still be able to say they were there at the start of the revolution.

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