With Spains disappointing and rather shocking exit from the World Cup and the old guard retiring,we look at five players who can carry the Spanish legacy forward on their more than capable shoulders.With heaps of talent at their disposal, Spanish domination is far from over.
Koke is a dynamic box-to-box midfielder who can adapt to any playing style. He has great tactical insight of the game, which enables him to orchestrate the play according to the gaffer’s tactics. He can very well play the pressing game with his more often than not perfectly timed tackles.
On the defensive end, Koke recorded the highest no. of successful tackles in the UEFA Champions League beating the likes of well-established central midfielders Fabregas, Alonso, Modric and many others. He has good physical strength which helps him fend off defenders and hold the ball in tight situations.
Apart from tackling, he has a keen eye for putting the ball in the final third, spotting the runners with his pin point passes, thus contributing to the team in attack as well as defence. He has managed to provide 67 goal scoring chances in 36 appearances with 13 resulting in goals.
Comparisons are already being drawn between him and the current midfield maestro for Spain – Xavi. Both Xavi and Koke have strikingly similar game play and tactically sound minds by which they control the game. With Xavi’s illustrious career coming to an end soon, the next World Cup will certainly see the Spanish hopes lying on their new Midfield Maestro- Koke who will try to keep the ‘Spanish Engine’ running.
Xavi on Koke: “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 a special affection for him because we play in the same position and I think he is an extraordinary player.”
#2 Asier Illaremendi
Illaramendi is a midfielder who is most efficient at redistributing possession. Playing as a defensive midfielder, he shows great composure and excels in finding players in open spaces while still lying deep. Since coming into the limelight there have been inevitable comparisons with Xabi Alonso due to their similar playing styles.
But unlike Xabi Alonso, Illara focusses more on his defensive game. He at a tender age, has clean tackling skills which make him excellent at regaining possession. Showing his excellent game reading, he often comes up with vital interceptions thus stopping the opposition attacks before they can pose a serious threat.
He has been widely regarded as the successor for Xabi Alonso in the Spanish International as well as the Real Madrid side. To replace him equally, Illara needs to develop his passing range. While Alonso excelled at delivering pin point long range passes from 30-40 meters, Illara still needs to include that in his arsenal.
But with age on his side and adaptability as his major strength, he is bound to improve. He is an engine who can run relentlessly for the whole game. He, if required, can make advanced runs into goal scoring positions thus providing flexibility.
In years to come, with some improvements, Illaramendi will surely be the midfielder the Spanish side can rely on to provide the much required link between defence and offense with a rock solid defensive stability
#3 Iigo Martnez
Martinez is a rare left footed 23-year-old centre back plying his trade at Real Sociedad. The major strength of Martinez lies in his aerial ability and agility. A more than commendable aerial leap coupled with good physical strength, Inigo Martinez is the favorite to win majority of the aerial duels as he does more often than not.
He is tactically sound and a gifted game reader. He won 80% of the tackles in the past season, which is very impressive for a player that young. For a player of his age, he shows great maturity and composure.
He is comfortable with the ball at his feet which enables him to play the proper pass which can instigate a successful counter attack. Martinez has a very high pass completion ratio (80%) which also include some delightful long balls, switching the play completely.
He has a knack of scoring goals as his aerial prowess contributes a lot during set pieces. Keeping in mind all these qualities, he has been compared to the Spanish and Barcelona center back Carles Puyol. Both have strikingly similar approach with same defensive abilities.
Carles Puyol has already retired and the Spanish defence has looked more mediocre than ever. It’s time to rebuild the defense and Inigo Martinez is the right man to start with.
#4 Thiago Alcantara
There are very few better technically gifted players than Thiago for his age. While the second half of the 2013-14 season saw him getting injured and out of action, he certainly put his talent out on display during the first half. At Barcelona he was used to playing as a central midfielder alongside Xavi sometimes, but at Bayern Munich he is being developed as a player suited to a much more direct approach by playing him behind the striker, in the hole.
He has great vision, awareness and ball control coupled with some skills of his own to go past defenders. He has an exemplary first touch. He has a special flair about his game which separates him from the other La Masia graduates. He has the confidence in himself which is very much visible on the field.
He often tries passes and skills which other Barcelona players might not think of. With his great passing range and adventurous mindset, he often tears the opposition defence apart. Despite his adventurous approach, he has an impeccable pass completion ratio of more than 90%.
He has good maturity which is shown by the timing and selection of the passes and the decisive runs he makes. He has one of the very rare abilities of switching from a defensive mindset to an offensive one in no time. One moment you might see him holding and distributing the ball in his own half and the other making forward runs in the final third.
In the Spanish side, he may be considered as a replacement for Xavi or the one that can be moulded into Andres Iniesta’s role. But what he brings is his own unique style of play which is very different from all the other available crop of players.
#5 David De Gea
With Iker Casillas, Spain had no worries for who will safeguard the net for an entire decade. But as dark clouds loom over his illustrious career, it’s time to find a replacement. Well, the replacement is already available – David De Gea.
Since arriving at Old Trafford, De Gea has improved a lot. From a shaky first season, he has evolved to become much more confident. His major strength is his shot stopping ability. He has great agility and quick reflexes which have kept some fierce shots from hitting the back of the net.
His major weakness when he first arrived was his physical presence, especially his inability to deal with crosses. But over the years, he has improved on that aspect too. He is much more comfortable now, though still not a commanding figure. Another flaw which he has to improve on is his punching and ability to deal with set pieces.
He more often than not finds himself cornered. But with age on his side, he is bound to improve. In a woeful season for the ‘Red Devils’, De Gea was one of few who managed to shine. Some of his saves were monumental in securing results while some great saves were over looked as a result of despair.
But in recent seasons, the Manchester United custodian has shown he is now capable of filling in the shoes of the Spanish legend Casillas.