In a one-sided night in Cardiff, Spain walked all over Wales, winning 1-4.

The friendly started off in a bad way for Wales, but Ryan Giggs’ men regrouped and ended the night on some degree of a high even though the overall result was of course overwhelmingly in Spain’s favour. What did we learn?

1. Paco Alcácer has the sauce

Paco Alcácer was a bright young prospect when he joined Barcelona in the summer of 2016. It should have been a roaring success for him as first back-up and then replacement for Luis Suárez as the Blaugrana’s striker. But Paco was unlucky.

Sure, he struggled to adapt to the role instantly, but seriously, this dude was absurdly unlucky. It took him until February to score in La Liga and that involved some incredibly close shaves for the striker. Despite improving in his overall play, he never really got over this initial period and always looked a nervous, unreliable goalscoring presence. So this summer he was moved on loan to Borussia Dortmund.

He’s started his career in Germany with the kind of energy and luck that he never had in Barcelona. Coming into tonight’s game he had seven shots on target for club and country; and every single one of them had gone in. Within 30 minutes of the game against Wales, Paco had added two more shots and thus two more goals to his tally.

The first a tasteful bit of control and a devastatingly whipped finish that wrongfooted Wayne Hennessey; the second an instinctive strike, being the quickest to react to a loose ball in the area and stabbing home. Nine shots, nine goals, all in 247 minutes of action. Finally he had added goals to his great overall play. At long last, Paco Alcacer has the sauce.

2. Spain’s slick new midfield shines

The main unit that defined Spanish football for so long was their midfield. It was both their greatest strength and, as key players aged, one of their bigger weaknesses. Luis Enrique has changed the midfield personel, but the one holdover from the previous era is Sergio Busquets.

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Now, Busquets is the best midfielder in the world (sorry, Modric and Kanté fans, but the fact that those two get ritually humiliated by Busquets whenever they go head-to-head kind of decides it) so that makes sense. But he’s also 30 years old.

So tonight against Wales, Luis Enrique tried out an entirely new-look midfield. What has been obvious is that Dani Ceballos and Saúl were his chosen central midfielders. It will take an injury to change this because these two midfielders are not only two of Spain’s best on a technical and tactical level but they play football in almost the exact aggressive style that Lucho adores.

And tonight they were backed-up not by Busquets, but by Rodri. The Atlético Madrid man started at the base of midfield and put in a resplendent performance, a Busquets-esque performance (although respect must be given to Bruno Soriano, his mentor and stylistic predecessor at former club Villarreal). Rodri is, incredibly, just 22 years of age. So once Busquets is phased out (possibly after 2020) then Rodri will step in seamlessly and Spain’s midfield carousel will continue to turn.

3. Wales not so lost without Bale

Wales are a side that aren’t exactly deep on quality, but they can play with a sense of great organisation and spring forward on the counter-attack. The problem is this is almost entirely built around the maverick abilities of Gareth Bale.

It’s not that Bale is such a stupendous playmaker that he automatically makes Wales better in attack; but Bale is such a totemic presence that he simply inspires his team-mates to play better as well as providing them a focal point to hit with long balls.

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Tonight against Spain, Wales did spend most of the match looking lost without their star man. But after half-time, Ryan Giggs made some tactical changes and the side rallied. David Brooks in particular began raiding down the right-flank and actually causing Spain problems.

Buoyed by Brooks, Wales began pushing forward in attack and creating a series of decent or at least half-decent chances. Then Brooks produced an absolute gem of an outside-of-the-foot cross for Sam Vokes to head in and Wales had a goal back!

Obviously it only made the score 1-4, but the fact that Wales made good tactical adjustments and showed their confidence and composed themselves to attack without Bale is genuinely significant. Brooks’ ability to lead the charge is also something that cannot be overlooked. If Ryan Giggs can keep that momentum alive when Gareth Bale returns? Wales could be serious business.

4. Homage to Catalonia

In Spain’s great era, their midfield was run by Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. The two legends were team-mates for club and country and had a phenomenal influence on both sides. For Barça, Xavi wore 6 and Iniesta wore 8.

But due to the way Spain’s shirt numbering system works (when you first enter the squad you take the best available shirt number) when Xavi first broke through for Spain he wore 8. So when Iniesta joined him in the team, he took Xavi’s club number 6. So this duo so thoroughly dominated world football whilst sharing shirt numbers.

Now Saúl is the new star of Spain midfield, whilst Koke is going to be a useful squad member going forward. The pair are team-mates at Atlético Madrid, where Saúl wears no. 8 and Koke wears no. 6.

When Koke broke through for Spain, he did so in the retiring Xavi’s stead, so he took the no. 8 shirt for his own. When Saúl broke through after Iniesta’s retirement, instead of the pair swapping numbers to replicate their club shirt numbers, they instead kept things mirrored, paying homage to the two Barcelona legends; Spain will only be hoping they can be as successful!

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5. Get the hell out of Spain’s way!

When he took over Barcelona, Luis Enrique made the Blaugrana leaner and meaner. They didn’t play with as much tactical brilliance and harmonic genius as they had under Pep Guardiola or Tito Vilanova, but they were a ruthless outfit who played harder and more direct.

Lucho looks like he’s done the same thing to Spain. Under his leadership they’ve now played three games and won them all; scoring 12 goals and conceding just two. They have been so driven and dangerous despite the changes he’s made and the fact that he’s not picking the world’s best left-back (out of sheer pettiness!) nor is he providing a stable defensive partner for Sergio Ramos.

Spain are great and they still have oh so much room to grow. When Luis Enrique and Ryan Giggs last faced off as players it ended in a pair of thrilling 3-3 draws back in late 1998. No such luck 20 years later as coaches, with Lucho’s side obliterating Giggs’. It’s early yet, but you wouldn’t want to be anyone in the way as Luis Enrique looks to turn the Spanish national side into a juggernaut.

The post Alcacer has the sauce: Five things learned as Spain ease past Wales with 4-1 win appeared first on Squawka News.

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