5 Players Who Should Be Part of the New-Look Spain Squad for Euro 2016
Spain suffered a humiliating group-stage exit at the 2014 World Cup and now face a period of rebuilding ahead of Euro 2016 in France.
David Villa, Xabi Alonso and Xavi all retired from international football in the wake of that elimination, and the time is now right for coach Vicente del Bosque to look to the future.
There was already a slightly different look to his side in Spain's 1-0 friendly defeat to France on Thursday. Four players were handed their international debuts, while David de Gea was given his first start in goal.
Here are five players who should be part of the new-look Spain squad for Euro 2016. Some of them were part of the 2014 World Cup squad but were not regulars in Del Bosque’s starting XI. They can be expected to assume roles of greater importance over the next couple of years.
Here are four players who just failed to make the main list, but who still have a solid chance of being involved at Euro 2016 if they perform well in the interim.
Alberto Moreno (Liverpool)
Euro 2016 may come a little too soon for the new Liverpool full-back. Much depends on the form and fitness of Jordi Alba. Moreno is excellent going forward, but he needs to work on the defensive side of the game if he wants to become an international regular.
Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
Carvajal made his international debut against France. He was bright and alert in his defensive work and got forward regularly, although his final ball was poor on the couple of occasions he got into good advanced positions. He is a regular at Madrid, and that could soon be the case for the national team.
Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao)
Spain currently have a dearth of quality centre-backs, so San Jose is likely to get plenty of opportunities to impress. He performed at a solid level on his debut against France, although his lack of pace was an issue at times. Athletic’s Champions League campaign will provide a strong test of his quality.
Paco Alcacer (Valencia)
Alcacer burst onto the scene last season with 14 goals in all competitions. With Villa now retired from international football, there is space in the squad for another striker. The arrival of Alvaro Negredo to Valencia, however, could limit Alcacer’s playing time this season.
Koke was included in Spain’s World Cup squad on the back of a superb season as a key component of the Atletico Madrid side that confounded all expectations to win the Primera Division title. He played in the second half of the defeat to Chile and started the dead rubber against Australia.
He can, however, expect to have a more central role going forward. With Xavi now retired from international football, Koke looks his most likely successor.
Xavi was certainly happy to endorse Koke’s candidacy in a video interview on the Atletico Madrid website in May of last year, as reported by The Independent.
Koke is an extraordinary footballer. He has everything: talent, physical ability, he is a footballer of the present and the future. He has been marked out as the conductor of Spain’s orchestra for the next 10 years. I have special affection for him because we play in the same position and I think he is an extraordinary player.
Koke started in the defeat to France on Thursday and performed well. He displayed excellent touches to help link the ball through midfield and found good space between the lines. He was occasionally a little sloppy in possession, but at just 22, he still has time to grow into the role.
He is likely to be a fixture in the national team for some years to come.
David de Gea
David de Gea started at international level for the first time in the defeat to France and produced a highly competent performance. He dealt well with the shots that came his way, while his distribution was also of good quality.
Del Bosque, for one, was pleased with the performance of the Manchester United goalkeeper. "De Gea did well, we are all happy with him,” he said after the match, per AS. “We needed to give him a run-out and we took advantage of this game to field him in a big game.”
Iker Casillas is expected to return to the starting XI for Monday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Macedonia, while Victor Valdes will also hope to challenge for the No. 1 jersey once he returns to action—probably with Liverpool, per the Daily Mail—following a serious knee injury.
But it is De Gea who looks the best long-term option. The former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper won European titles with Spain at both under-17 and under-21 level and has already made over 150 top-flight appearances, per Soccerway, at the tender age of 23.
The arrival of Louis van Gaal to Old Trafford will provide De Gea with the opportunity to work closely with the Dutchman’s long-serving goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek, who played an instrumental role in the development of Valdes during Van Gaal’s time at Barcelona.
De Gea is only likely to improve under Hoek’s tutelage. That is good news for both United and the Spanish national team.
Isco made a positive impact in his cameo substitute appearance against France on Thursday. He was bright and inventive and nearly produced a superb assist for Paco Alcacer.
It was a timely reminder of the qualities of a player whose progress has stalled a little since his move to Real Madrid last summer. He had been excellent for Malaga the season previous—leading Marca columnist Pablo Polo to describe him as having “Zidane’s class and Aguero’s shimmy”—but struggled to establish himself in his first season in the capital.
The Andalusian native has outstanding technical attributes. His touch is excellent, allowing him to glide past challenges with relative ease. If he can add a consistent end product to his game, he will become one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe.
Isco has represented Spain at every level from under-15 on and played a key part in the country’s success in the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. Once he finds his place in Madrid, he can be expected to take on a role of similar importance in the senior national team.
Javi Martinez missed Thursday's friendly due to the ruptured cruciate ligament he suffered during Bayern Munich’s German Supercup defeat to Borussia Dortmund in August.
The injury is likely keep him out of action for some time. But providing he makes a good recovery, he should still have time to play his way into Vicente del Bosque’s plans for Euro 2016.
The former Athletic Bilbao man is both an excellent defensive-midfield destroyer and a competent centre-back. Prior to his injury, Martinez had been earmarked by his club coach, Pep Guardiola, to play a sweeper-like role in the centre of a three-man defence.
The versatility of Martinez is illustrated by the fact that Bayern felt it necessary to sign both a defensive midfielder (Xabi Alonso) and a centre-back (Mehdi Benatia) following his injury.
Martinez is much more physically imposing than the majority of Spain’s midfielders and could have a central role to play for the national team going forward—particularly if Del Bosque adopts a slightly more dynamic approach from now on.
Another Bayern Munich midfielder, and another who has struggled with a knee injury in recent times. Thiago made a highly promising start to his Bayern career following his move from Barcelona last summer before being struck down by injury in March.
He is now expected to return to action in October, as per The Guardian.
Thiago was a serial winner with Spain at youth level, taking part in the 2008 UEFA European Under-17 Championship success and the triumphs at the under-21 level of the same competition in 2011 and 2013. He was the captain of the side for the last-mentioned tournament.
The 23-year-old graduated from the Barcelona academy and made in the region of 70 league appearances for the club prior to his move to Bayern, per Soccerway. His technical ability and extensive passing range persuaded former Barca coach Pep Guardiola to take him to Germany.
Thiago has made five appearances for the senior national team and would likely have been a part of Del Bosque’s World Cup squad had injury not ruled him out. If he makes a full recovery and can rekindle his pre-injury form, there is no reason to suggest he won’t be part of the squad for Euro 2016.