Should Spain evolve with Barcelona blueprint once again?
Spain, 11/2 with Coral to win Euro 2016, won three major international tournaments in row from 2008 to 2012 following a blueprint set out by Barcelona.
A brand of football, famously labelled ‘tiki taka’ saw both teams dominate everything they played in for a sustained period, with Barcelona under Pep Guardiola winning countless trophy multiples, and Spain following suit under the guidance of Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque at national level.
At their very best, both Barca and La Roja were unstoppable. However, both were, almost, one and the same. With the exception of the irrepressible Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp and a handful of Real Madrid players for Spain, the two entities embodied all that was great about Spanish football in an almost natural symbiosis.
It is no wonder that the styles of both teams were so similar. As a national team manager, when you have the luxury of being able to select the likes of the now retired defensive great Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro Rodriguez and David Villa, who all played at one time or another at club level together in a pulsating, mesmerising and winning style, you are bound to be successful.
The result, as can be seen below, is and was devastating. In perhaps one of the best examples of ‘tiki taka’ in recent times, Spain demolished Italy in the Euro 2012 final, which you can relive below:
However, these things tend to go in cycles. With Villa and Xavi both also retired at international level, the once ‘golden generation’ appears to be coming to an end, and with it their brand of football. This much was evident last season with Barcelona and at the World Cup with Spain.
The end of ‘tiki taka’ as we knew it. Teams had found a way to not only play against them, but to win. Spain were eliminated in Brazil at the group stage and went home wounded, frustrated, and maybe, just maybe resolutely determined to put things right as soon as possible.
A year earlier, Barca were dumped out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage, losing 7-0 on aggregate to a Bayern Munich side that combined aesthetics with pace and power to emerge dominant, sweeping the Catalan club aside with ease.
It was Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid that proved their nemesis a season later. Ending their La Liga dominance, Atleti also knocked them out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, with smart, effective, counter-attacking football.
As a result, Barcelona brought in former fans favourite Luis Enrique in the summer with transition top of the agenda.
In came a different type of player; Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic, a more direct, though nevertheless creative option switched from Sevilla and rightly so after 18 assists for the Bathtubs that season.
Rugged, yet experienced centre back Jeremy Mathieu proved to be a canny acquisition, offering a physical presence in defence. Young, promising German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was brought in from the Bundesliga, but is behind Chile custodian Claudio Bravo, who excelled at the World Cup, for La Liga matches.
Seasoned campaigner Thomas Vermaelen moved from Arsenal with injuries robbing him of making much impact in his maiden campaign. Perhaps the ace in the pack was Luis Suarez who, without a shadow of a doubt, has raised the standard in quality and arguably made Barca’s attacking front three the best in the world.
Although suspended for the start of the season following a bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, he has gone on to score 21 goals in all competitions, contributing 19 assists. However, there is no doubt Barcelona’s style has become more direct under Enrique, with the team encouraged to play the percentages instead of just ‘one more pass’. They are decisively more ruthless.
This is what Spain need to do if they are going to, once again challenge. Barca look like they are going to win La Liga, as well as the Champions League, which they are 7/4 to win. A simple tweak is all it takes.