SOCCER

Spain must be Spain, not Barcelona, ​​if they are to succeed at Euro 2022 and beyond

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Barcelona’s 4-0 triumph over Chelsea in the 2021 Champions League final was not just about establishing itself as a new force in European football; it was the beginning of a buzz around the national team of Spain. Based on 45 minutes of football at the Gamla Ullevi in ​​Gothenburg – as well as Barca’s unprecedented 30 wins in 30 games in the Primera Iberdrola – Spain have suddenly been seen as the team to beat at the European Women’s Championship. 2022.

It’s easy enough for anyone to take a look at the Barcelona squad – with players like Sandra Panos, Irene Paredes, Alexia Putellas and Mariona Caldentey – and see the Spanish vertebrae lining their spine, just like anyone else. who can watch Spanish teams Jorge Vilda has reunited since taking charge and seen the distinctly Catalan flare. However, the two are not interchangeable. Even if you were to start a purely Spanish XI for Barcelona and then play the exact same team for Spain, the football just wouldn’t be the same.

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Barca’s success only added pressure on a Spanish side that had little pedigree when it came to keeping their cool. In its history, the women’s national team has played four knockout matches in major tournaments (three Euros and one World Cup) and won none of them. Indeed, the team came one step closer to success when they lost to Austria on penalties five years ago.

Spain’s misery when it comes to knockout matches is simply part of the larger picture of their tournament struggles: the team at their best in friendlies and qualifying, rather than when the pressure is on. Ahead of a quarter-final against England on Wednesday (stream live on ESPN+ in the US at 3 p.m. ET.) they are far from favourites, and Barcelona’s success is partly to blame.

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Ever since 2015 when he first took charge, Vilda has always struggled to mix up his players on the pitch. While the squad has shifted mainly from Barcelona with Atletico Madrid supplying the rest of the squad, to a healthy mix of Primera Iberdrola representatives with increasing numbers coming from Real Madrid and the Basque Country, the problems have persisted.

As Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque discovered during their spells in charge of the all-conquering men’s team from 2008-2012, mixing Barcelona’s free-flowing style with Madrid’s more direct style is no easy task, but It’s necessary. Although Vilda found times when he could call up younger players and almost choose to play a ‘Spain B’ team, there is still a fondness for Barca’s in-form players – but their understanding with their counterparts in the capital lack. .

Instead of rotating his favorite Putellas midfielder Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro, looking to see how he can integrate the others and find a desperately needed plan B in the event of injury – a nightmare came true this summer when Putellas ruptured her ACL on the eve of the tournament — Vilda held on. Admittedly, the midfield trio are one of the best, if not the best in the world, but they are players who spend the whole year in each other’s pockets, so there’s nothing more to it. learn by starting them every game.

When casual fans tuned in to the Arnold Clark Cup – a four-nation friendly tournament played in February – expecting to see Barcelona face off against Germany, England and Canada, confusion reigned: where was the fluidity? ? Where was Barca’s distinct feel? Even with this favored third Catalan midfielder, the team looked confused and directionless.

Keen to build on Barcelona’s style, Vilda maintained continuity with the rented club’s squad players, but they were never able to replicate their domestic form for their country. Indeed, the more Vilda tried to lean into the Blaugrana style, the more the team seemed lost.

Then, in February, it was the representatives of Real Madrid and Real Sociedad who came off the bench and offered this La Roja had disappeared from the start.

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Marta Cardona finds the net in the 90th minute as Spain cruise to a 1-0 win over Denmark.

Stylistic diversity is necessary

It’s no surprise that three of Spain’s five goals at Euro 2022 came from dead-ball situations (two set pieces and a penalty, all in the 4-1 win over Finland ) because the team cannot find clean ground. break through the stubborn defenses they faced. Although many would be surprised to learn that four of those goals were headers – two of which came from players 5ft 4in or under – it makes sense as the team were unable to bring down the balloon and make sense connections so they choose to cross into the box instead.

When the passing lanes are closed for Barcelona, ​​players still link up to find a route through; when the same thing happens in Spain, the team becomes paralyzed.

Obviously, the need for players outside Barcelona’s core is critical and no easier to highlight than when looking at Spain’s winner in the 1-0 win over Denmark. After replacing Leila Ouahabi, Olga Carmona offered more in attack from the left flank and whipped in a cross that was met by former Real Madrid team-mate Marta Cardona, who came home in the final minute.

It’s too simplistic to highlight Ouahabi’s 12 years at Barcelona compared to Olga’s home in Andalusia or Cardona’s roots in Zaragoza, but it shows a need for players outside the Barca bubble. For players who will approach problems in a different way than those who have been trained at La Masia. Just as Barcelona need players like Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen, Switzerland’s Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic or Sweden’s Fridolina Rolfo who add footballing diversity to make the whole team stronger, Spain needs to move away from mere attempt to be Barcelona and embrace the different footballing identities from across the country.

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But what now?

There is of course no silver bullet for Vilda or the Spanish Football Federation; the team is not going to suddenly switch to a foreign way of playing just because they reached the knockout stages of Euro 2022. The team will probably persist as they have done so far, even if Vilda may be looking to find a better balance on the pitch. , as he did for their decisive group game against Denmark when he changed part of his usual starting XI.

After being criticized for being late to make changes in the 2-0 loss to Germany, the 41-year-old was much quicker to get to his bench against Denmark and, if the Spain were still in the game against England at half-time. , he can do the same thing again.

However, the coach isn’t one to have a big bag of tricks he can wade through and if anything needs to change, it will be up to the players to make the decision on the pitch. Which, again, isn’t something that seems too likely, especially with a figurehead like Putellas sidelined.

Against England, Spain will have to do something they have never achieved before: win a knockout game. The tournament hosts are full of confidence after two morale-boosting routs and 14 goals in three matches, as well as being boosted by a crowd of some 30,000 England fans. But Spain will have to try to find something that has so regularly eluded them on the biggest stages.

After their loss to Germany, Ouahabi said: “What we have to do is play our way, believe in ourselves, be strong.” Still, playing this way is what makes Spain weaker. It looks too much like an inspired Barcelona that downplays the strengths of many footballers available for the national team.

There’s no doubt that Barcelona have a huge amount of talent, most of it local, but Spain can never be Barcelona, ​​just like Barcelona can never be Spain. The sooner Spain finds a way to play like Spain, the sooner this generation of talent can finally start to shine.

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