Diego Costa's inconsistency and more talking points as Spain struggle against Switzerland

Andy West 4/06/2018
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Will the Atletico Madrid man lead the line in Russia?

Spain and Switzerland played out a 1-1 draw in Villarreal on Sunday night with a pair of full-backs getting on the scoresheet, as Spanish youngster Alvaro Odriozola saw his first-half strike cancelled out by Ricardo Rodriguez after a poor mistake from David De Gea.

The home team dominated possession but created few clear cut chances, giving coach Julen Lopetegui reason for both optimism and concern ahead of the World Cup Finals.

Here, we take a look at the three big stories to emerge from the game.

Spain sparkle but lack punch

This was a game which fully displayed the good and bad of Spain, with the home team dominating possession and stringing together plenty of pretty passing movements but lacking punch in the final third, creating few clear chances and needing a fine strike out of nowhere from young right-back Alvaro Odriozola for their only goal.

The tone was set straight away with Switzerland failing to complete a pass until more than two minutes had elapsed, and at that stage the visitors appeared to be set for a long night as Koke and Thiago both got early efforts on target.

But the Swiss soon found their usual defensive solidity to crowd out the hosts in the penalty box, and at times there was an excess of finesse but a lack of purpose from the Spanish forwards. They looked more dangerous with David Silva on the pitch, and with Isco also due to return after being rested there’s plenty of reasons to believe Spain can score plenty in Russia. However, finding penetration to match their approach play is imperative: we know they’ll look good, but will they score?

Spain's midfielder David Silva (L) vies with Switzerland's defender Stephan Lichtsteiner during the international friendly football match between Spain and Switzerland at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on June 3, 2018. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Made an impact: David Silva.

Strikers fail to shine

Very much linked to Spain’s unconvincing performance in front of goal is the question of their starting striker, with neither Diego Costa, Iago Aspas nor Rodrigo Moreno doing much in this game to further their hopes of getting the nod from Lopetegui.

Aspas, in fairness, was lined up on the right wing – not his preferred role, and not one he is likely to fill in Russia when everyone is available. But the Celta Vigo man had little impact before being replaced at half-time.

Costa was exactly what you’d expect from Diego Costa: strong and powerful, a physical handful for the opposition defence, and some poor touches leading to unnecessarily conceded possession. But his battering ram style does give variety from the tippy-tappy approach employed in midfield, and he probably looks the best starting option right now.

Substitute Rodrigo was the least convincing of the trio, failing to make the most of three opportunities to net a winner with timid finishing – and if Spain end up using him much in Russia, it will probably be a bad sign that things are going wrong.

VILLAREAL, SPAIN - JUNE 03:  Diego Costa of Spain reacts on the pitch during the International Friendly match between Spain and Switzerland at Estadio de La Ceramica on June 3, 2018 in Villareal, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Likely to lead the line: Diego Costa.

De Gea doesn’t save

It might sound strange to suggest that David De Gea could prove to be a weak link for Spain this summer, following the Manchester United man’s stellar form in the Premier League over the last few years.

But the supposed Real Madrid transfer target was responsible for Spain failing to win this game, making a major error with the only save he had to make as he badly fumbled Stephan Lichtsteiner’s cross into the path of Rodriguez for the leveller.

The issue for De Gea is mental: playing in this Spain side, which controls so much of the possession in every game, is a very different task from appearing in a United team which is regularly prepared to soak up opposition pressure and therefore keeps the goalkeeper automatically involved in the action.

De Gea must adjust to having long passages of play where the ball doesn’t even come anywhere near him, and still stay mentally alert enough to deal with the danger when it finally arrives. He failed on this occasion and must use this lesson as a wake-up call – further lapses like this in Russia could prove disastrous.

Uncharacteristic: David De Gea.

Uncharacteristic: David De Gea.

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Brazil star Neymar 'at 80 per cent' after return from injury

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Brazil star Neymar said he was “very happy” to have made a goal-scoring return after injury in the 2-0 friendly win over Croatia at Anfield on Sunday, but believes he is only operating at “80 percent”.

The PSG forward came on to replace Fernandinho after the break as the Selecao stepped up their World Cup preparations.

And the 25-year-old needed just 23 minutes to score, showing some deft footwork to beat Sime Vrsaljko and Duje Caleta-Car, before unleashing a powerful effort to the roof of the net.

“It’s been three months that I’ve been injured,” said Neymar.

“To come back and do what I love the most, playing football, and furthermore to score a goal, is an immense joy. I’m very happy.”

He added: “I still feel a little pain, but that’s normal when you spend so much time not walking.

“I feel at 80 percent of my capacity.”

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Neymar scores for Brazil on return from injury against Croatia

niall 3/06/2018
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Neymar celebrated his eagerly anticipated return from injury with a superb goal for Brazil in their World Cup warm-up against Croatia on Sunday.

Neymar had been sidelined for over three months after fracturing his foot while playing for Paris Saint-Germain against Marseille in Ligue 1 on February 25.

But the 26-year-old striker has made a strong recovery and handed Brazil a pre-World Cup boost when he came off the bench to replace Fernandinho for the second half at Anfield.

And Neymar showed no signs of rust as he got on the scoresheet in the 68th minute with a sublime individual effort to put Brazil ahead.

He needed just 23 minutes to prove how important he is, not only to Brazil’s hope of a sixth world title but also for the millions of fans who will watch the World Cup hoping the planet’s most expensive player can take a leading role.

Receiving a pass from Philippe Coutinho, Neymar cut into the area, beating Sime Vrsaljko and Duje Caleta-Car with impressive close control and dribbling, before burying a shot into the roof of the goal from the edge of the six-yard area.

Neymar ran behind the goal, in front of Anfield’s legendary Kop end, and punched the air in delight as he was mobbed by team-mates.

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