After England’s surprisingly good outing at the World Cup in Russia (first semi-final since 1990), expectations have been raised. This is in sharp contrast to the mood in Spain after the farce that was the team’s World Cup campaign.
It is against this backdrop that tomorrow’s UEFA Nations League clash at Wembley Stadium will be played. Both managers have called up quality players although the English camp has been hit by a gale of injury-related withdrawals (Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling amongst others).
The makeup of both teams
Everton’s Jordan Pickford is now firmly established as the Three Lions’ first-choice goalie following his brilliant displays at the World Cup. Southampton’s Alex McCarthy (first call-up) and Stoke City’s Jack Butland will be on the subs’ bench ready to be called on.
Despite his horrible displays at the World Cup, David de Gea is expected to continue as La Furia Roja’s number one. Chelsea new boy Kepa Arrizabalaga and potential debutant Pau Lopez make up Luis Enrique’s goalkeeping line-up.
Gareth Southgate is expected to continue with the defensive set-up that looked good in Russia; 3-5-2 with John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker, and Kieran Trippier expected to reprise the roles they played in Russia.
Manchester United’s Luke Shaw has had a barnstorming start to the season and is expected to take the place of club-mate Ashley Young. James Tarkowski, Danny Rose, Joe Gomez, and Trent Alexander-Arnold make up the defensive reinforcement for the English.
After six long years, Spain will no longer play with a Sergio Ramos-Gerard Pique central defense pair (following Pique’s retirement). One of Inigo Martinez, Nacho, Raul Albiol (first call-up in 3 years) or Diego Llorente is expected to start alongside the captain, Ramos.
Jose Gaya (debutant) and Marcos Alonso will slug it out for the left-back spot while Dani Carvajal is expected to start ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta on the right.
The midfield battle promises to be fierce
England’s midfield options have been threadbare for a long time now. While there has been a growth in the number of players coming through, these players have had their playtime severely limited. The called up players were all in the team that played in Russia and it is expected that Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, and Jesse Lingard will start against the Spanish.
Rodri, Sergi Roberto and Dani Ceballos are the new-ish players in the team. The call-up of Ceballos like that of Ruben Loftus-Cheek for England is a nod towards their talent as neither has played anything close to regular club football in the last one year.
With Southgate expected to have four players in midfield (Alli will play closer to Harry Kane), Enrique plans to play with three men in the middle; Sergio Busquets and two others.
The attack promises to be intriguing for both sides. Captain Kane will definitely start on his own up front with support from the likes of Lingard and Alli.
With Diego Costa absent, Iago Aspas, Rodrigo Moreno and returnee Alvaro Morata will fancy their chances of getting the nod to start. One of Marco Asensio and Suso may start on the flanks with Isco expected to occupy one of the attacking berths.
Tactical battle between Southgate and Enrique
Southgate is expected to continue the system which he favored during the Mundial; a compact defence with Walker as the right-sided centre-back in the back 3. Shaw and Trippier will be playing as wingbacks with the license to bomb forward and join the attack.
It’s not clear if he will stick to having just a single midfielder though given the passing quality the Spaniards possess. Eric Dier might be paired with Henderson to give the team more solidity in the middle.
Enrique has continuously shown his disdain for the possession-heavy style favored by his predecessors. His 4-3-3 formation will be more pragmatic and tailored towards getting the desired result. It is expected that under him, La Furia Roja will play with a quicker tempo and take more risks.