Comparing England and Spain - The Euro Qualifying Invincibles
In 2012, Spain went into the European Championships off the back of a 100% qualification campaign – before eventually beating Italy 4-0 in the final to claim European supremacy. Roy Hodgson’s England team has had a similar qualifying journey to that of Vicente del Bosque’s side way back when, recently winning all ten qualifiers in Group E. You may argue that this means very little overall, but in England’s defence – you can only beat what is put in front of you, right? Therefore, I am keen to compare the best possible XI for England (on paper) to the Spanish side that lifted the European trophy four years ago.
GK – Joe Hart vs Iker Casillas.
Easy decision – Joe Hart is undoubtedly the best we have in net by a long shot. His ruthless will to win shines through on the pitch, and his ability to pull off match winning saves could prove vital to England’s chances of Euro success in France.
Now we come to Iker Casillas, formerly known as Mr. Real Madrid. Despite moving to FC Porto from Madrid earlier this year, Spain’s most capped International is one of football’s most decorated ‘keepers. With a career riddled with trophies and medals, Casillas has solidified a place in the European hall of fame, both in the European Championships and the UEFA Champions League.
RB – Nathaniel Clyne vs Alvaro Arbeloa
Although Nathaniel Clyne is still finding his feet in the Premier League, the former Southampton defender has been a revelation for both club and country. England has certainly struggled to find a first-choice right-back since Gary Neville retired from International duty, and we may have just found our man at last. A monster on the overlap and a solid defensive full-back, it seems Liverpool’s now first choice right-back possesses every quality to sit on the right side of England’s back-line for many years to come.
Once upon a time, Alvaro Arbeloa sat at the right side of Liverpool’s back four – before the Spaniard departed for La Liga. Arbeloa is by no means a slouch going forward, but he doesn’t exactly match Clyne for pace. Clyne’s age, potential and ability to go beyond players gives the England full-back the edge over Real Madrid’s second choice right-back (just) – however Arbeloa’s pedigree and appearance record is rather impressive to say the least.
CB – Chris Smalling vs Gerard Piqué
Similar to the last positional face-off, one club plays a part in both these players’ careers for different reasons. Chris Smalling has made a real name for himself at Manchester United, where as Gerard Piqué used United as more of a stepping stone. On current form Smalling is most certainly United’s first choice centre half, clearly making him the first name on Roy Hodgson’s list of central defenders ready for the Euro’s next year. After making a shaky start to his Old Trafford career, Smalling has come into his own in the last two season and seems every bit worthy of his place in England’s back-four.
Piqué on the other hand has been at the pinnacle of the ‘centre half’s union’ for some time now; sitting immovably at the back for Barcelona, with partners coming and going. The tall Spaniard exudes confidence on the ball (no surprise there), but also brings some added tenacity to the table following the exit of former hard-man Carlos Puyol.
CB – John Stones vs Sergio Ramos
England’s other centre-half should, in my opinion, be 21-year old John Stones. As one of England’s hottest prospects, Stones pips Gary Cahill to a starting spot; showing maturity beyond his years every time he features for Roberto Martinez’s Everton. Despite his age, the young defender looks as confident as anyone of the pitch; happy to carry the ball forward and bring those in front of him into the game. With Stones there to partner Smalling, who is arguably in the form of his life, the pair complement each other well – with enough composure and defensive resilience to (in theory) keep out the very best of Europe.
To the left of Gerard Piqué, we have Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos – another name synonymous with the Spanish shirt. Ramos has held his place in both Madrid’s and Spain’s squad for many a year, thanks to his inspired performances at the back. Not only does the 29-year old have the ability to man-mark the very best of Europe’s front-men, but the Spaniard is pretty handy going forward; being known to contribute to his sides’ goal tally from set-pieces.
LB – Luke Shaw/Leighton Baines vs Jordi Alba
The left-back position for England is somewhat of a talking point at the moment, with the likely first-choice Luke Shaw out following a horrific leg break against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League. Shaw’s start to the campaign had been excellent, giving Roy Hodgson much to smile about as the qualifying rounds progressed. Nevertheless, in the wake of this injury blow, the go to man would probably be Everton’s Leighton Baines, who also finds himself sidelined with an ankle injury Providing this dynamic duo gets back to full fitness (more likely Baines) in the run-up to the tournament, I think it’s safe to say, they’ll find their names in and around the first XI.
The left side of Spain’s 2012 defence was perhaps not known to be the most defensively solid part of their back-four. Barcelona’s Jordi Alba falls perfectly into the ‘new age wing-back’ category; possessing bags of pace and attacking prowess. Alba’s ability to carry the ball forward not only gives Spain yet another attacking option, but suits the tiki-taka style of play perfectly – a game plan adopted by both Spain and his domestic club Barcelona.
CM – Jordan Henderson vs Sergio Busquets.
Liverpool’s newly appointed skipper has progressed tenfold in the last two to three years, playing with a swagger and the confidence of a certain former Liverpool captain. Although Henderson does venture forward, I believe he can be the man to anchor Roy Hodgson’s midfield at Euro 2016, giving others in the midfield region license to roam. His untimely injury has certainly affected Liverpool’s start to the 2015/16 campaign, thus proving that the former Sunderland man is an integral part of now Jurgen Klopp’s and Roy Hodgson’s set-up.
Barcelona’s anchor-man Sergio Busquets is a player often overlooked amongst his celebrity team mates. The tall Spaniard has held his place in Barcelona’s and Spain’s midfield for some time now, even with the shifts in managerial direction at the Camp Nou. Often taking a step back from the limelight, Busquets is a reassurance in front on the back four; breaking up plays brilliantly and giving the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva freedom.
CM – Jack Wilshere/Ross Barkley vs Xavi
The central midfield region of England’s starting XI is again an area of serious discussion. Jack Wilshere has played a key part in England’s qualification, but still the Arsenal midfielder struggles with persistent injury woes year in year out. Should Wilshere remain fit in the run up to Euro 2016, he has to feature for me – however, if he should find himself nursing another untimely grievance, Ross Barkley could be the man to fill his boots. Although his decision making at times is lacking, Barkley’s contribution to England’s most recent qualifiers has been impressive.
By the time the tournament is upon us, Barkley could have cemented his place in Hodgson’s starting line-up; giving England’s midfield another box-to-box option alongside Jordan Henderson. Now, there isn’t much to say about Xavi other than he is one of the games’ all time greats. The former Barcelona man has enjoyed one of the most decorated careers in the modern game; having won basically everything there possibly is both domestically and internationally. His ability, vision and tactical brilliance made him one of Spain’s top performers in an international career that spanned 14 illustrious years.
CM – James Milner/Adam Lallana vs. Xabi Alonso
Again, because of England’s flexibility in midfield, a number of players could be selected for different reasons by Hodgson ready for France. The experience and versatility of James Milner could mean the Liverpool vice-captain starts alongside his team mate Henderson in the middle. This option gives England overall stability and balance, as Milner is not shy of his defensive duties, but can also contribute going forward. Nonetheless, should Hodgson opt for an offensive style of play, Adam Lallana could find himself at the left side of a midfield three. Lallana’s ability to receive the ball anywhere, on either foot, sets the Liverpool midfielder apart from many in this position – however his inability to lock down a starting place under Brendan Rodgers may sound alarm bells for Roy.
LW – Raheem Sterling vs. Andres Iniesta/Juan Mata
The speed and agility of Raheem Sterling forced Manchester City to part with a cool £49million at the start of this Premier League campaign. His performances and goals for Liverpool, England and now City now mean the 20-year old is a one of the first names up top on the England team-sheet; giving Hodgson’s outfit bags of pace to the left of a front three.
Spain’s answer to Sterling is none other than Andres Iniesta – the man who almost single-handedly saw off Holland in the 2010 World Cup final. Scoring the winning goal against the Netherlands in South Africa, as well as putting in a man-of-the-match performance in against Italy in the final of Euro 2012, remain just two of Iniesta’s many achievements on the football pitch. Iniesta was eventually taken off by Vicente del Bosque against Italy, to see his replacement Juan Mata score a fourth in the 88th minute, as Spain homed in on European glory.
ST – Wayne Rooney vs. Fernando Torres/Cesc Fabregas
For me, Wayne Rooney should be the first name on Roy Hodgson’s team sheet for Euro 2016. As England’s all-time leading goal scorer, the statistics speak for themselves – even with speculation and doubt surrounding the England captain at the moment. For morale as much as anything, Rooney’s goal scoring record for club and country will not only fill his team mates with confidence, but will quite clearly give our European opponents something to think about. His qualities are well-known throughout world football, and I for one feel that Rooney’s less than impressive domestic performances are little more than a minor hiccup.
Although former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres did not start the Euro 2012 final, back then Torres was the Spanish number 9. Those of us who can remember the old Fernando Torres would marvel over a hungry, confident striker who could turn even the smallest whiff of chance into something very special. Despite not making the starting XI, del Bosque did bring on Torres in the 75th minute for creative midfielder Cesc Fabregas – and to good effect, as he netted Spain’s third in the 84th minute.
RW – Theo Walcott vs. David Silva/Pedro
Right of England’s frontline trio, should be Theo Walcott. Walcott has been deployed in a number of different positions, for both club and country, though with Rooney in the starting line-up, it makes sense to push Walcott slighter wider. Having played wide of a front three numerous times before, Walcott’s pace causes immense problems for defenders and ultimately gives England three forward who can all score goals.
To complete Spain’s attack was David Silva, who opened the scoring for Spain in the final against Italy after just 14-minutes. Silva’s tactical awareness and technical ability makes him one of Europe’s top performers in his position; though the Manchester City man often floats in between the line of opposition midfield and defence, making it nigh-on impossible to mark. Spain’s boss decided to replace Silva with Barcelona’s Pedro in the 59th minute, giving the Spaniards a different type of attacking option with almost 30-minutes left to play.
Pedro’s pace alone troubles defenders across Europe, however with a keen eye for goal and technique to rival any of Spain’s top players, Pedro’s inclusion epitomised Spain’s strength in depth.
Who could still make the cut?
The likes of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck will no doubt be in and around Roy Hodgson’s selections, providing they remain fit in the run up to France. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also another name who will surely crop up, following a steady qualifying campaign with Roy Hodgson’s side – though with a competitive Premier League campaign, the Arsenal midfielder will have to find more game time at The Emirates if he is to really make a case for a starting position.
Furthermore, despite starting for Chelsea and Everton, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are names (that in my opinion) are likely to, or at least should, feature away from the first Euro XI. Although the pair do perform well for both club and country, I feel the said centre-half combination of Smalling and Stones will secure England’s back four to better effect, following Jagielka’s and Cahill’s 2014 World Cup partnership.
Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Michael Carrick will also look to strengthen their selection campaign, as they play pivotal roles in their domestic club football. The likes of Kane and Vardy may not have the experience of some of England’s other strikers, yet they both bring quality for different reasons to England’s increasing list of virtues.
These players listed will probably come as little surprise to many, but one thing that this does prove is that we have a squad brimming with talent and diversity – though perhaps not one that could rival the Spain side of 2012.
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