Predicting Spain's Starting Lineup at the 2018 World Cup
Despite losing heavily in the final of the Confederations Cup, Spain are far from defeated. With an incredible array of talent at their disposal, they will look to regroup and head into next summer's tournament with more focus and execution.
However, that loss did begin to expose some older players who might be nearing the end of their international careers. The core group that helped Spain earn three straight major championships will likely be phased out following the 2014 World Cup.
The likes of Xavi, David Villa and Andres Iniesta will finally give way to a new crop of Spaniards eager to take the reins.
But just who are these players, and how will they fit in with the young contributors already in the side?
In the next few slides, I will attempt to fast-forward to World Cup 2018 in Russia, and predict what Spain's starting lineup will be—five years from now.
David de Gea
With Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina all past the age of 30, it is hard to see any one of them getting the start in Russia.
While I'm sure one or two may be in the side, Manchester United's David de Gea looks set to be the man between the posts for Spain in the future.
His transition to the Premier League may not have been perfect, but the shot-stopper is just 22 years of age and has ample time to improve on his impressive talent.
De Gea was not an automatic choice for Sir Alex Ferguson a year ago, but the youngster solidified the No. 1 spot with the Red Devils during this campaign—winning the league along the way.
His 12 shutouts in 28 appearances placed him fifth for the Golden Glove award, but De Gea was voted in to the PFA Team of the Season, beating out the likes of Joe Hart and Petr Cech to do so.
As long as he continues to focus, De Gea will be the man in goal for Spain come 2018.
Alba burst onto the scene following the Euro 2012 tournament and has been a staple in the left side of defense ever since.
His incredible athleticism and confidence on the ball enable the left-back to push up the field and get involved in the attack. Alba's two-goal display against Nigeria in the Confederations Cup showed what a threat he brings to the left side.
During the 2018 World Cup, Alba will be 29 years old—he should have the prime combination of youthful speed and wisdom. Alba's experience with Barcelona and ability on the ball with ensure that he reaches the World Cup in Russia as a sure starter on the left.
The youngster had a solid first year in the Premier League but has plenty more to offer.
Azpilicueta has an athletic build and, like Alba, is capable of transitioning from defense to attack with ease.
Five years from now he should have plenty of experience in England playing against physical opposition and can add his scrappy tendencies to the Spanish back line.
The 23-year-old will look to improve on a good start to his international career and lock down the right-back slot.
With over a century of caps for the national team, it is easy to forget that Sergio Ramos is just 27 years old. He was thrust into the limelight as a youngster at Madrid and has found a clear home in the middle of defense.
Ramos is a true athlete. He has the physicality to deal with burly strikers, but he is agile enough to compete against speed.
The Spaniard can also chip in with a goal every now and again, having recorded nine for La Roja so far.
He will be 32 during the 2018 World Cup—it will likely be his last major tournament—but I don't see any other man leading the defense.
Pique will certainly have some competition for this spot in the future, but if he continues to progress, it will be his to lose.
Pique is a mainstay at the back with Barcelona, but he has developed a solid partnership with Ramos for the national side. Careful in possession and strong in the air, Pique exemplifies the necessary qualities needed from a central defender.
The one area in which Pique comes up short is speed. He gets beaten for pace far too often, and athletic sides expose this fragility even further. Pique will be 31 during the 2018 World Cup, and he will need to use his experience to offset his lack of pace.
There are not immediate replacements knocking on the door, but players like Alvaro Dominguez and Inigo Martinez will certainly get looks if Pique fails to do the job.
Fabregas can only hope that he cracks the starting lineup in 2018.
The former Arsenal star has faced the same obstacles for getting time with national team as he has in Barcelona—namely Xavi and Iniesta.
Despite his incredible vision, composure and technical ability, Fabregas has not found a home in the midfield for La Roja on a regular basis. The playmaker has been moved throughout the attack, sometimes being deployed as a center forward.
Luckily for him, Xavi and Iniesta should be long gone by the time Spain heads to Russia.
Calm, collected, methodical—Fabregas typifies the mold of a Spanish midfielder. He will be 31 by the time World Cup 2018 rolls around and will use his experience to dictate play in the center of the pitch.
The holding role is crucial in the Spanish midfield trio. Though cool in possession, Spain need somebody who can break up the play in the middle of the pitch and win the ball back.
Martinez can do it all. Skillful on the ball but physical in defense, Martinez will lock down a holding role currently occupied by Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso.
His contribution to Bayern Munich's treble-winning side should not go unnoticed, and Martinez will use his experience abroad to his advantage.
The exciting youngster will replace Iniesta with his attacking play from midfield. Quick, agile and always searching for a killer pass, Isco can push forward and wreak havoc on the opposition's defense.
The budding superstar is just 21 years of age now, but Isco will be entering his prime in 2018.
With some seasons at Real Madrid under his belt, expect Isco to star in the middle for Spain. His attacking vision and clever skill will help the side transition into the final third.
The Barcelona forward will be an experienced 31-year-old in 2018.
With a terrific return of 13 goals in 31 caps for Spain, Pedro has consistently found the net on the international stage.
His speed may be diminished in five years time, but his experience with Barcelona will be an asset. Capable of playing on the flank—possibly even through the center as he gets older—Pedro's athleticism and versatility will be critical to Spain's attack in the future.
With 12 goals and 12 assists this year for Chelsea, Juan Mata showed the world once again that he is an elite player. A left-footed wizard, Mata should be able to lock down a wide forward role with Spain by 2018.
His speed and technical ability are wonderful, but it is his deliveries that make him truly unique. Providing Spain service from the left, Mata will be a constant threat for the opposition.
Despite just 14 caps for Spain, Negredo has a future with the side. The Sevilla man boasts an impressive six international goals and will be a ripe 32 years old in 2018.
A bit on the older side, Negredo seems to be improving with age. His tally of 25 goals in La Liga this season indicate he is capable of great things.
Spain have opted to go without a true striker in the past, but they are at their best with a mobile front man capable of putting the ball in the net.