The Luis Enrique era for Spain began with a win in the new manager’s first game in charge, as ‘La Seleccion’ saw off England 2-1 at Wembley in a close-fought affair.
Enrique, brought in to revitalise the national team after a second straight disappointing World Cup, saw several key players play at their best to ensure a victory that often looked precarious.
Here’s a closer look at how the new Spain boss got his reign off to the best possible start.
Goals – 2
Shots – 9
Possession – 55%
Accurate passes – 533
Dribbles – 5
Enrique’s first team selection as Spain manager saw the side adopt a familiar 4-3-3, with Real Madrid playmaker Isco part of the front three alongside Iago Aspas and Rodrigo, while Nacho replaced the retired Gerard Pique at centre-back.
As usual, Spain dominated possession, and scored two slick goals after falling behind early. However, they didn’t quite make their dominance count, with keeper David de Gea being called upon to make a couple of outstanding saves to preserve the win.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Spain had dialled down the high press during the World Cup, but Enrique brought it back, and it had an instant impact. England kept trying to play out from the back, but Spain’s relentless attackers constantly harried the Three Lions backline, drawing several errors.
However, the press also left Spain exposed on occasion, as the players committed left space behind. When England were able to bypass the press, they exploited that, finding their wide men with aplomb.
Getting the win was a good way to start for the former Barcelona and Roma manager, but when Enrique knows his side survived by the skin of their teeth. The defending was shaky at times and better England finishing would have certainly led to a loss, while Spain didn’t create enough opportunities of their own.
Getting a new-look midfield and an attack shorn of Diego Costa to work seamlessly was impressive, and augurs well for the future.
However, there’s still a lot to work on.
RATING – 7/10
England failed to build on the momentum of reaching the World Cup semi-finals to begin their Nations League campaign as Spain came from behind to win 2-1 at Wembley in Luis Enrique’s first game in charge.
Gareth Southgate couldn’t have asked for a better start in England’s first game since returning from Russia as Marcus Rashford swept the hosts into an early lead.
But Spain punctured the feel-good factor surrounding the Three Lions by hitting back through Saul Niguez and Rodrigo before half-time.
Here, we focus on the England manager’s performance.
Goals – 1
Shots – 9
Possession – 45%
Accurate Passes – 415
Dribbles – 5
Southgate went with the 3-1-4-2 formation that served England well in the summer. Joe Gomez replaced Kyle Walker as the third centre-back, while Luke Shaw made a long-overdue return as left wingback, and Marcus Rashford partnered Harry Kane up front.
England acquitted themselves well, taking an early lead, with Manchester United duo Shaw and Rashford combining superbly. However, they were caught out twice by Spain, who had the lead by half-time. England passed up several chances to equalise, with Rashford particularly guilty.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
With Spain defending narrowly, England constantly targeted the space on either flank. The Three Lions defenders and midfielders kept pinging long diagonals to find their wingbacks, with Harry Maguire and John Stones in particular showing their prowess at picking out a colleague.
Kieran Trippier, Shaw and Danny Rose all profited, with Shaw providing the assist for England’s goal off a flowing move. However, Spain defended their centre well, shackling England’s strikers, which negated England’s width.
Southgate ditched the waistcoat that had become an inadvertent fashion statement over the summer, but little else had changed about the England manager and his side over the last couple of months.
With better finishing, the conversation would have been about how England were truly resurgent, backing up their World Cup performance with a win over a traditional power.
Instead, they were left to rue familiar failings in defence and attack as they began their UEFA Nations League campaign with a loss.
RATING – 7/10
Spain came from behind to win their Nations League Group A4 opener 2-1 against England at Wembley.
Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate started with eight of the XI which began the World Cup semi-final against Croatia – and saw his team sweep into a 10th-minute lead.
Marcus Rashford clipped the ball past Manchester United team-mate David De Gea after a fine low cross from full-back Luke Shaw.
Spain, with former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique now in charge, hit back straight away when Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez lashed in from close range after slick build-up play from Dani Carvajal.
The visitors then turned the match around after 32 minutes when Rodrigo volleyed in following a free-kick.
There was a lengthy delay early in the second half as United defender Shaw, making his first England start since September 2015, was taken off on a stretcher after a heavy fall following a collision with Carvajal.
Deep into nine minutes of added time, England thought they had found an equaliser when substitute Danny Welbeck hooked the ball in after it had been dropped at his feet by De Gea – but the Dutch referee ruled the goal out for a foul.
In Group A2, Liverpool midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri helped Switzerland to a thumping 6-0 win over Iceland.
Steven Zuber fired the home side in front after 13 minutes, with Denis Zakaria knocking in a second shortly afterwards.
Shaqiri’s free-kick flicked in off Birkir Bjarnason after 53 minutes, with Haris Seferovic and Albian Ajeti, on his debut, completing the route in St Gallen.
Northern Ireland’s Group B3 campaign got off to a frustrating start as they lost 2-1 to Bosnia and Herzegovina despite dominating the match at Windsor Park.
Michael O’Neill’s side could have been given a penalty within the opening minute when George Saville tumbled under a challenge from Ervin Zukanovic, but Czech referee Pavel Kralovec waved play on.
Despite Northern Ireland dominating possession, it was the visitors who opened the scoring after 37 minutes through a close-range finish from Haris Duljevic.
Elvis Saric later capitalised on a defensive mix-up to double the lead in the 64th minute.
Northern Ireland rallied again and finally found a goal in stoppage time through Will Grigg but could not conjure a dramatic equaliser.
Norwich forward Teemu Pukki’s early goal proved enough to give Finland a 1-0 victory over Hungary in their Group C2 clash in Tampere.
Olympiakos captain Kostas Fortounis was on target in the second half as Greece won 1-0 in Estonia.
Saturday’s Group D2 matches saw Belarus romp to a 5-0 home win over San Marino, Stanislaw Drahun scoring twice, while Luxembourg saw off Moldova 4-0.