Man Utd duo Herrera and Mata omitted from Spain squad despite fine form
Reigning European Championship victors Spain are set to face Costa Rica in a friendly on June 11 before tackling Belarus in their Euro 2016 qualifier clash three days later, and international boss Vicente del Bosque has curiously opted to overlook star Manchester United pair Ander Herrera and Juan Mata.
The creative Old Trafford duo have both enjoyed fine seasons in the Premier League under the guidance of Dutch boss Louis van Gaal, helping the Red Devils clinch fourth spot and set up a return to the Champions League next term, but their impressive exploits haven’t been enough to warrant an international call-up.
Del Bosque has included Sevilla trio Aleix Vidal, Sergio Rico and Vitolo, after they inspired the club to fifth place in La Liga and a second successive Europa League final outing, along with United stopper David De Gea, while Brazil-born Chelsea frontman Diego Costa and Thiago Alacantara have been rested after returning from injury.
Spain (13/2 with Coral to win Euro 2016) boast a host of talented midfielders in their ranks, including Premier League assist-king Cesc Fabregas and supreme Barcelona maestro Andres Iniesta, but the absence of Herrera and Mata still comes as a shock after their impressive top-flight campaigns.
In-form Basque playmaker Herrera moved to Old Trafford last summer from Athletic Bilbao for £29m on a four-year deal, a year later than expected and, despite struggling to cement a regular starting place early on, the 25-year-old convinced Van Gaal with his encouraging central midfield displays.
The former Spain Under-21 international scored with six of his seven shots on target in his debut Premier League campaign, and earned the admiration of the Red Devils faithful with his astute attacking approach and ability to effortlessly link-up with close friend and teammate Mata.
Having grown out of favour with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, and regularly being deployed in an unfamiliar wide position under former United boss David Moyes after his switch from Chelsea, Mata has managed to rediscover his flamboyant class, evidently highlighted by the incredible volley against bitter rivals Liverpool last March.
In the heart of United’s central areas, both Spaniards have flourished at the Theatre of Dreams, captivating the demanding, yet adoring, Old Trafford crowd with their intricate and menacing midfield attributes.
Next season, both former La Liga stars will be part of a Red Devils outfit set to mount a title challenge (9/2 to win 2015/16 PL) and returning to Europe’s elite club competition, but could be boosted by a new midfield partner in the summer transfer window.
Possibly the only area where both these midfield magicians are lacking is in pure physical strength, possessing more freeflowing and technical qualities rather than brute power, but alongside a new midfield enforcer they could prove to be even more effective from creative positions.
When holding midfielder Michael Carrick has been missing through injury, Herrera had the daunting task of dropping deep and filling in a more defensively-minded role, but he managed to perform convincingly in the England international’s absence, but a boost in personnel in that area could potentially see this potent pair perform even more impressively in the future.
Despite being recently overlooked on the international stage, both Herrera and Mata have become pivotal playmakers within Van Gaal’s set-up and an eventual return to the Spain senior ranks is surely just a matter of time.
Full 24-man Spain squad to face Costa Rica and Belarus:
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), David de Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)
Defenders: Juanfran Torres (Ateltico Madrid), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Juan Bernat (Bayern Munich)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Nolito (Celta), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Isco (Real Madrid), Aleix Vidal (Sevilla), David Silva (Manchester City)
Forwards: Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Paco Alcacer (Valencia), Vitolo (Sevilla), Pedro (Barcelona)