Six stars to get Spain chances after Julen Lopetegui named new La Roja boss
Holly Thackeray | July 21, 2016
New era for La Roja after Lopetegui anointed
Spain have finally announced their successor for now retired La Roja coach Vicente del Bosque as ex-Porto boss Julen Lopetegui, with a real sense of tradition and continuation around the appointment after the tactician schooled a gaggle of present players at various international youth levels.
The former Spain Under-21 manager has a successful reign to follow after La Roja lifted 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship titles under Del Bosque. Yet, the Iberian outfit (8/1 second favourites with Coral to win the 2018 World Cup) failed to defend either trophy, with poor outings and early exits in Brazil and France respectively.
This should give new gaffer Lopetegui an easier task of crafting his own squad, as Spain prepare ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, in which they are 8/15 favourites to win Group G.
La Roja are set for scuffles with Italy, who recently ousted them from Euro 2016, as well as Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein on the road to Russia. So, Lopetegui will have his work cut out starting in September.
With that in mind, Coral cast our eyes back through the new coach’s past teams to see which surprise Spanish stars could see caps, rise to prominence or return to the Roja fold under Lopetegui’s reign…
Oliver Torres (Atletico Madrid)
Midfield may well require a refresh if Andres Iniesta decides to retire from La Roja’s set-up sooner rather than later as rumoured, but Lopetegui should already be more than aware of Spain’s future schemers – especially a pair of plotters from Atleti’s academy.
Oliver is certainly a talent on the tactician’s radar after he was given international debuts at both Under-20 and Under-21 level by Lopetegui before being brought from Madrid to Porto on loan for a season, where he featured under the Spanish boss 40 times in all competitions.
Having since gone on to secure an important squad place in Diego Simeone’s competitive Atletico side, it is surely only a matter of time before this adaptable attacking midfielder gets a chance at a cap under his former mentor.
Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)
Speaking of players on the red and white side of the Spanish capital, box-to-box all-rounder Saul, who was omitted from the Spain roster for Euro 2016, is another who received his Under-20 and Under-21 La Roja bows with Lopetegui.
So, expect the impressive Atleti hero, a tidy technician with bite who was a key cog in his boyhood club’s run to the Champions League final, to also catch a well-deserved first senior cap and perhaps become a crucial Spain fixture.
Cesc Fabregas should watch out as central prospects with promise just keep popping up, with Saul’s dynamism a component which was badly missed against Italy.
As for more defensive midfield shouts, Asier Illarramendi helped Lopetegui win the European Under-21 Championship in 2012, starring in the Team of the Tournament alongside the likes of David de Gea, Alvaro Morata and Thiago – all of whom were on the recent plane to France.
After rebuilding his reputation with regular games back at Real Sociedad – is Illarramendi finally ready for a senior international chance after his Real Madrid shambles?
Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)
Full back Bellerin, another given his maiden Under-21 level outing by the new Spain boss, has two caps already under his belt, but was taken to the Euros as emergency cover only.
Now, under Lopetegui, the Gunner could find himself truly challenging Juanfran for the right back berth, as his coach won the Under-21 European Championship with attacking full backs such as Alberto Moreno bombing forward, and Bellerin is a class above other options.
Denis Suarez (Barcelona)
Another Under-21 debutant for Spain under Lopetegui’s rule, Suarez’s sublime form for Villarreal last season saw the playmaker earn a return switch back to Barcelona, for whom he previously turned out in Barca B.
The one-time Manchester City youth player dazzled with dangerous displays and should slot straight into the Catalan club’s slick style – and playing with the Spanish Nou Camp fixtures at domestic level can only increase his chances of starring with them for his country.
With one cap each for La Roja and unofficial team Galicia, Suarez, 22, is one Lopetegui should certainly be looking to build around for the future.
Another Barcelona-owned winger Cristian Tello was previously plucked by the tactician to Porto on loan, so he must see something in the slightly stalled wideman, who has a chance to catch attention again at Fiorentina this term.
Spoiled for choice with flank threats he has helped nurture, Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu is another who needs to iron out consistencies but clearly has talent, and will be aiming to win a second senior cap in this new era.
Paco Alcacer (Valencia)
Many pundits were puzzled as Del Bosque opted to leave striker Alcacer at home for Euro 2016, after he struck 13 times in La Liga for a poor Valencia side.
Alcacer should find himself back to put pressure on main Spain marksman Morata under Lopetegui though, after making his maiden outings for his nation at various youth levels under him, and proving his potential with good goal returns and two European Under-19 Championship crowns.
Another Los Che attacker in Santi Mina was also schooled in the lower levels by Lopetegui and was another bright Spanish spark in the Bats’ season to forget.
Marc Bartra (Borussia Dortmund)
As for La Roja’s rearguard, Marc Bartra hails from the European Under-21 Championship winning vintage that boasted De Gea and co. A summer move to Dortmund from boyhood club Barca could really reinvigorate the centre back’s career.
Bartra has always remained in and around the Spain camp, but with the old guard ahead of him getting no younger now is the time to push on under his former mentor and become more involved.
The same too can be said of Real Socidedad’s Inigo Martinez, who also hails from the triumphant Under-21 class of 2013 but has just two senior caps to Bartra’s 10 so far.
Keep up to date with the Spain squad in our dedicated football section.