Earlier on Friday, Spain coach Luis Enrique announced the squad for the upcoming Euro qualifiers against Norway and Malta.
The former Barcelona coach’s choice of players displayed signs of the impending transition period for the 2010 World Cup winners.
Firstly, Enrique has not shied away from excluding some big names that play for top clubs. Alvaro Odriozola, Isco, Saul Niguez and Koke have been omitted.
Further, it’s worth noting that the 23-member squad is not dominated by players who play for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The 2010 World Cup had eight representatives from Barcelona and three from Madrid. In 2014, the Catalan side provided the Spanish national team with seven players, while Madrid provided three.
More recently, the Spain squad that was humiliated in Russia had six Madrid players and four from Barcelona.
The squad that will take on Norway and Marca have just three players each from the two powerhouses of Spain. Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets will be Barcelona’s representatives, while Madrid will be sending Sergio Ramos, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio.
The rise of the lesser known teams in La Liga has been spectacular this season and it has clearly made an impact on Enrique’s selection.
Getafe are having a tremendous campaign and remain in the hunt for last Champions League spot. Naturally, their star striker Jaime Mata made the cut having contributed to 19 goals in La Liga this term (13 scored and six assists) and is on the verge of winning his first cap.
Although it has been a mixed bag for Real Betis, certain players have delivered consistently, one of which is Sergio Canales. The former Madrid midfielder has been one of the best players for Quique Setien’s side and has rightfully earned his maiden call-up at the age of 28.
Fabian Ruiz – whose tremendous performance for Betis last season earned him a move to Napoli – was also included in the list. The midfielder could be playing his first game for the national team during the international break. Having played under Quique Setien for one season, his understanding of the game and ability to distribute the ball well could come handy.
Centre-backs have been rock solid in the past season and half in La Liga and Enrique would surely have had a hard time short-listing the players. Dependable Sevilla defender Sergi Gomez and Espanyol’s solid Mario Hermoso eventually made the cut.
While these players have definitely earned their spot after a series of tremendous performances, they are not ball-playing centre-backs. Enrique would have opted for Marc Bartra as a replacement for Gerard Pique if he was intending to involve his centre-backs in build up as often as Vicente del Bosque and Julen Lopetegui used to.
Valencia captain Dani Parejo, Sevilla’s Jesus Navas and Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain are some of the players who made it to the squad after a hiatus.
Again, these players are brimming with quality, and probably cut-out well for Enrique’s philosophy. David Silva – who has recorded an xGBuildUp90 (measure of build-up involvement) of 0.74 was omitted to accommodate Parejo, who has an xGBuildUp90 of 0.51.
One can expect Parejo to be playing the role that Ivan Rakitic carried out in Enrique’s Barcelona. He will be handed defensive burden and will have to increase his work-rate to do well in such a role.
Analysing the squad, it’s safe to assume that Enrique has chosen the players who can employ his brand of football and it might not necessarily be identical to that of Del Bosque or Lopetegui.
The brand of football that won Spain the Euros relied heavily on possession, positioning and patient build-up.
While Enrique’s philosophy shares the same core, the former Barcelona boss likes to build his game around the attack-line and adopt a more direct approach towards goal.
The quality in the squad is truly immense, but if Enrique were to adopt the traditional juego de posicion style of football where the play is built patiently from the back and the final pass is played rather conservatively, his choice of players would have been different.
One can still expect Spain to dominate possession and play from the back. But Enrique’s managerial history and choice of players points to the fact that we could have a more direct approach, with the likes of Rodrigo, Asensio and Alvaro Morata playing a crucial role.
Rodrigo and Mata are quality strikers who can hit on the counter and trouble the defenders with intelligent runs into the box. However, they are not the first choice for a manager who would want his striker to involve in the build-up.
Spain is in transition and it won’t be easy. Yet it’s refreshing to have a wide variety of players who don’t play for Barcelona or Madrid making the cut.
Mario Balotelli has been overlooked for Roberto Mancini’s latest Italy squad as the head coach instead turns to a revitalised veteran to lead his strike force.
Ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Finland and Liechtenstein, Mancini has recalled 36-year-old Sampdoria striker Fabio Quagliarella, who has scored 20 Serie A goals this season.
Former Manchester City and Liverpool forward Balotelli has contributed five goals in seven appearances for Marseille since leaving Nice in January but the 28-year-old is not in the 29-man selection named on Friday afternoon.
Also returning to contention for national duty are Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy, Leonardo Spinazzola of Juventus and Armando Izzo of Torino.
Mancini will also take the opportunity to look at younger players including Juve forward Moise Kean, teenage Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo and defender Giuseppe Mancini of Atalanta, who is not related to the Italy boss.
Chelsea’s Jorginho represents the English Premier League in the squad while Paris St Germain playmaker Marco Verratti, Cristiano Piccini of Valencia and Freiburg midfielder Vincenzo Grifo are other Italians who play in foreign leagues.
The Azzurri host Finland in Udine on Saturday, March 23 before welcoming Liechtenstein to Parma three days later.
Italy squad: Cragno (Cagliari), Donnarumma (AC Milan), Perin (Juventus), Sirigu (Torino); Biraghi (Fiorentina), Bonucci (Juventus), Chiellini (Juventus), Florenzi (Roma), Izzo (Torino), Mancini (Atalanta), Piccini (Valencia), Romagnoli (AC Milan), Spinazzola (Juventus); Barella (Cagliari), Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Sensi (Sassuolo), Verratti (Paris St Germain), Zainolo (Roma); Bernardeschi (Juventus), Chiesa (Fiorentina), El Shaarawy (Roma), Grifo (Freiburg), Immobile (Lazio), Kean (Juventus), Lasagna (Udinese), Pavoletti (Cagliari), Politano (Inter Milan), Quagliarella (Sampdoria).
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Gareth Southgate does not believe England new boy Declan Rice should have to defend his switch from the Republic of Ireland.
Southgate’s comment was directed especially to both critics who have not “walked in those shoes” or former players that benefited from the rules.
Just eight days after FIFA ratified Rice’s switch of association, and less than 24 hours after being named Ireland’s best young player, he was included in the Three Lions squad for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
The 20-year-old represented the Republic at youth and first-team levels but his three senior caps were for friendly matches, allowing the West Ham defensive midfielder to switch to his country of birth.
The London-born player’s decision sparked debate – and in several cases backlash – but Southgate defended Rice after making a “complex decision” in a changing world.
“I think it’s easy to be vocal when you haven’t walked in those shoes,” the England boss said.
“I think he spoke really eloquently about being somebody of dual heritage and what that means. I saw a really good article that Eni Aluko wrote on that as well.
“For me it was easy, I could only play for England, so there was no question in my mind. And for lots of people that commented, that was the same.
“There were others who have commented, despite the fact that they didn’t play for the country of their birth, so they’ve benefited from some of the rules that are there.”
Preston-born former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane has been outspoken about Rice’s switch and said it “makes a mockery” of international football.
Andy Townsend, who was born in Maidstone and represented the Republic, said the “rules are wrong”, while former England striker Alan Shearer echoed such sentiments.
“Fundamentally, in this actual instance, he’s a boy that was born in London and educated at an English academy,” Southgate added.
“So, I don’t think there’s too much that he needs to defend but I understand the fact that there was a senior cap with Ireland, so that was always going to make it more complicated.
“But I think we’ve got to look at his age and normally a player of that age making this decision would be able to do it in a much lower-profile case, as was Michael Keane, as was Matt Targett who came from Scotland, as was the case with David Brooks who went across to Wales.
“So, I just think this is going to be increasingly part of the landscape because families are more transient.
“People will move countries because of family work and, as I said, there are over 50 per cent of our younger teams that will have dual heritage or maybe more than two countries they can play for, and that is just the nature of the world.”
Southgate pointed to Alex Iwobi, Ethan Ampadu and Brooks as players that have gone onto play for other countries having represented England at youth levels, like Wilfried Zaha and Victor Moses before them.
On the other hand, defender Keane is now part of the squad and the England manager says former Republic youth international Jack Grealish could be part of his plans down the line.
As for Rice, Southgate likes his “increasing technical and tactical awareness” in midfield as well as his personality and on-field leadership.
Such attributes led the Three Lions boss and former Football Association technical director Dan Ashworth to visit Rice before last summer’s World Cup, when they made it clear they saw an international future for him.
Southgate said he did not compare the achievements of England and Ireland in that meeting, instead focusing on how he saw the then-teenage defender as a player and where he might fit in.
“Then I gave him as much space as possible, occasionally calling just to say, ‘look, we’ve not spoken but it’s not because we’re not interested, but other people will be talking to you a lot, so we don’t want to be silent and (for you to) think we don’t care’,” Southgate said.
“It was really important that he had space because I knew that backlash would come. Maybe not everyone thought that might happen but I knew for sure that would happen.
“So he needed to be very certain in his mind that he was making the right decision and for the reasons that he’s talked about.”
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke City), Tom Heaton (Burnley), Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Leicester City), Michael Keane (Everton), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Chelsea), Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham)
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)