At First Glance: A New Look Spain?
It goes without saying that Spain have one of the most talented and deepest squads in World football. However, Luis Enrique struggled to get anything out of his side during the World Cup.
They were boring to watch, toothless even, and Enrique was attempting to implement a style of football that he simply hadn’t selected the players for.
Yes, he wanted to keep that possession based game in tact, but there were obvious signs that the manager wanted to add a level of intensity and physicality that the players simply couldn’t match.
Gavi’s dogged and fiery game perhaps fits this, but the selection of Pedri, Koke, and Soler as other midfield options doesn’t exactly scream ‘physicality’.
However, with Luis de la Fuente now at the helm, there looks to have been an immediate shift to such a style of play, and squad selection alone evidences that.
The former U21 manager has gone for a mix of experience and youthful exuberance. The old guard of Ramos, Alba, and Busquets have been fully removed from the squad, thus, allowing their game to be played at a much quicker pace, and with extra physicality in general.
Balde, Gavi, Pino, Williams, Porro, Zubimendi, young and willing runners that aren’t afraid to put their foot in. They’re accompanied by the likes of the returning Fabian Ruiz, Joselu, Borja Iglesias, and David Garcia, players capable of matching the physical outputs of other nations.
All are still technically very solid, and the possession based style won’t be lost, rather, it’s evolving into something that allows for more direct play when necessary.
Mikel Merino perhaps embodies this more than any other addition to the squad. The Sociedad man stands at 6 foot 2 but is fleet of foot and incredibly silky on the ball.
His club stats are evident of the shift that de la Fuente is trying to implement. 1.74 shots P/90, 53.0 passes P/90, 3.03 tackles P/90, 1.69 dribbles P/90, 2.64 fouls P/90, and 1.91 fouls drawn P/90. Merino is a midifielder capable of mixing it in every phase of play, something that Spain have been sorely lacking.
On Saturday against Norway, Merino mustered 3 shots, 50 passes, a foul, and drew a further 3 fouls himself. His physical presence was evident, but so was his quality.
The midfielder wasn’t alone in his endeavours though. The left flank of Gavi and Balde combined for a total of 17 duels, 3 fouls, and 4 fouls drawn. Laporte and Nacho won all 8 of their duels, whilst Rodri got firmly stuck in with 2 fouls in the heart of midfield. Yeremy Pino even caused havoc with a foul and 2 tackles in his cameo.
It may be too early to call any given levels of success, but this is a squad that looks to be playing for their new manager, one that is embracing both their technical prowess, and their physical capabilities.
So, where’s the Value?
To put it plain and simple, fouls.
Before discussing the value in that market, don’t ignore shots and shots on target either. 7-0 drubbing of Costa Rica aside, Spain amassed their highest number of shots and shots on target in a competitive fixture since September 2021 on Saturday.
With Spain now seemingly willing to play direct whilst also maintaining possession, new avenues through which to muster attempts at goal have opened up. Crosses to the likes of Joselu, long balls to willing runners such as Gavi and Merino, and direct running down the flanks from the likes of Balde, Pino, and Williams, the opportunities are much greater than they were with the laboured, passing-focused style that Enrique could not shake.
This shift in style is also the exact reason as to why fouls, both for and and against Spain, look so tantalising. The Spaniards are willing to get stuck in, but as an opponent, not only do you have to worry about giving away a foul as a result of technical ability, physical prowess could also see you up against it.
With that in mind here are some players and selections worth keeping an eye on in tonight’s clash against Scotland:
John McGinn – 1+ fouls @ 1.4, 2+ fouls @ 2.88
This strikes me as ridiculous value given McGinn’s stats and the level of opposition.
The Villa man gave away 3 fouls against a poor Cyrus team, a number that should increase against Spain. We’re all aware of how willing he is to get stuck in as well, with McGinn averaging 2.49 tackles P/90 and 1.16 fouls P/90 at club level.
Rash and forceful challenges won’t fly against his likely opponents. McGinn often plays towards the right-hand side for Scotland, and such a position will see him up against Balde and Gavi.
The pair are quick, direct, and certainly won’t shirk a tackle. They were both fouled twice on Saturday, and are fouled 0.92, and 2.20 times P/90 at club level. Dropping into midfield could see McGinn having to deal with Merino as well, who was fouled 3 times against Norway as a result of his physical presence and sheer willingness to get involved.
Aaron Hickey – 1+ fouls @ 1.4, 2+ fouls @ 3.0
Another who will happily mix it, but could find himself up against it if not given the support.
Yes, John McGinn will likely run non-stop in front of him, but with no natural wide man on that side, Hickey could be forced into a 2-on-1 situation against a pair of incredibly direct players.
If they bypass McGinn, Hickey will be faced with the task of monitoring both Gavi and Balde, who will run at him non-stop and get stuck into every challenge possible, such is the nature of the two youngsters.
The Scottish right back gave away 2 fouls against Cyprus, and that number could easily be hit again against better quality opposition. If Patterson is to start ahead of him, he’ll likely face the same issues.
Andy Robertson – 1+ fouls @ 1.57, 2+ fouls @ 4.0
Captain and leader, the Liverpool man will be looking set the tempo for his side here, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him fly into some poorly timed challenges.
Robertson gave away 2 fouls against Cyprus at the weekend, and he’s likely to face a much more difficult task this evening.
3 potential opponents, all of whom are capable of drawing a foul in different ways. Olmo is perhaps the most likely candidate to start. He’s fouled 3.14 times P/90 at club level, and is perhaps slightly more elusive with regards to positioning.
Pino could well get the nod, and is fouled 2.08 times P/90 as a result of his endless endeavour and willingness to get stuck in. Williams is the wildcard. He’s fouled just 1.00 times P/90, but possesses a ridiculous burst of pace and attempts 5.79 dribbles P/90.
There’s some ridiculous value here given these stats.
Gavi – 1+ fouls @ 1.2, 2+ fouls @ 2.1
A great price when you take club stats into consideration, and in fact, you’d often struggle to get any sort of price at all on the youngster to commit 1 foul.
Gavi gave away a singular foul against Norway, but averages a whopping 3.03 fouls P/90 for Barcelona. He cuts a diminutive figure alongside the likes of Merino and Rodri, but behind the former, he arguably embodies de la Fuente’s philosophy more than anyone else.
He’s non stop, all action, and will mix it with just about anyone regardless of size. His fiery nature means that he often gets into multiple altercations, and took part in 10 duels against Norway.
He’ll likely be up against Hickey and McGinn. The pair combined for 5 fouls drawn on Saturday, and Gavi will relish the physical battle with McGinn in particular.
Rodri – 1+ fouls @ 1.22, 2+ fouls @ 2.1
A man that needs little introduction in this department. Luis de la Fuente already seems to be setting the foundations for Rodri to take the captains armband in time, and there’s arguably no better player for it.
The Man City enforcer loves a tackle, and will look to use his imposing frame to control the midfield in any way possible.
He gave away 2 fouls against Norway, and averages 1.41 fouls at club level.
He dwarfs the majority of Scottish midfield options, and that in itself could see his physicality result in a foul. Potential opponents such as Christie and McTominay are fouled 2.20, and 0.73 times P/90 for their clubs, and taking everything into account, a Rodri foul looks solid value here.
Alejandro Balde – 1+ fouls @ 1.4, 2+ fouls @ 2.88
Balde has made a huge impression at Barcelona this season, seemingly displacing veteran and former teammate of manager Xavi, Jordi Alba.
His electrifying pace is one thing, but his desire to get stuck in and make tackles is commendable, and arguably is what differentiates him from Alba.
Balde gave away 2 fouls as he motored up and down the line on Saturday, and 1.03 fouls P/90 in La Liga would suggest that he’ll be good for one here.
Much like Gavi, Balde will have to deal with McGinn and Hickey who are fouled 1.75 and 1.95 times P/90. This should lead to fouls from a left back who will leave everything out on the pitch.
Of course, this is where I’m seeing the value, and fouls looks likely to be a great market for consideration in future Spain matches given their evolving philosophy. But if you’d like to take a look at other markets, or even build upon the above selections, then you can check out my Scotland vs Spain Bet Builder Stats Pack.