Julen Lopetegui’s reign as Spain boss got off to a fine start in victory over Belgium on Friday but now makes its competitive debut against underdogs Liechtenstein.
Taking over following a disappointing World Cup campaign, Lopetegui’s task is to help La Roja transition from the most successful generation in their history to a new, younger group of players who have achieved great success at youth level.
What, then, are the major questions for Lopetegui to answer?
Lopetegui has already made his first big decision by omitting Iker Casillas from his current squad, thus seemingly ending the veteran keeper’s international career.
Casillas has been a magnificent servant for Spain and played a key role in their three consecutive tournament triumphs, but there are few complaints with Lopetegui’s decision to place his trust in David de Gea, who now has the belated opportunity to show he can reproduce his club form in the international arena.
At the other end of the field, the identity of Spain’s starting centre forward remains a hot topic for debate.
Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa and Paco Alcacer have all been given opportunities to claim the spot in the last two years but none have truly succeeded.
Diego Costa: “I won’t change my way of playing. I am how I am, that is what carries me to win matches." pic.twitter.com/mxr8nZvNwL— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) August 31, 2016
Much may depend on club form – Morata and Alcacer are likely to spend a lot of time on the bench for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, potentially putting Costa in a strong position…if he can finally start scoring for Spain.
Following his highly successful stint in charge of the Spanish under 21 team, Lopetegui is already very familiar with some of the ‘new’ faces who could now become automatic selections in the senior side.
In particular, midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Koke were starring members of Lopetegui’s 2013 Under-21 European Championship winning team, and both started his first game in charge against Belgium on Friday. They could well be there for good.
Although many players have already changed from the Spain teams of the 2008-2012 glory years, Lopetegui can still call upon long-established stars Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
They are all near-certainties to remain key players, but Lopetegui must also decide whether to retain faith with other familiar faces such as Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla, none of whom were named in his first squad.
With emerging talent such as Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio, Atletico’s Saul and Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams pushing for inclusion, Lopetegui will have to decide how quickly he wants to push through the next generation of talent.
His experience with the Under-21s should certainly help, but the pressure for points in a qualifying group also containing Italy may delay the process.
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