Eight players combined, from Real Madrid’s A-squad, represented Spain tonight at both the senior and U-21 level. All of them but Lucas Vazquez started for their teams respectively, and all of them played their part — some more than others, to be sure.
Just before Lopetegui’s side suited up to face Argentina in a friendly; Albert Celades’s U-21 side had to play a Euro qualifier against Estonia — a match in which Dani Ceballos, Jesus Vallejo, and Borja Mayoral all started in.
Borja Mayoral, who was in clear goal-scoring-form heading into this game, scored a brace to continue his hot streak. Somehow, he ended just short of a hat trick. In the second half, he missed an open net to score his third (it was a chance that was more difficult than it looked live), and he had several chances throughout the match after starting the game a bit anonymous. Spain’s general flow was very heavily loaded on the right flank; where Pablo Maffeo, Ceballos, and Carlos Soler kept the ball. Mayoral looked a bit isolated because of this, but eventually grew into the game.
Mayoral took both of his goals really well. On his first, he made an instinctive run from the far post and met a low-cross from Soler at the near post. For his second goal, he was fed by Ceballos at the top of the box for a low, bottom corner finish.
Gol de @Mayoral_Borja— Joel Carrera (@992JoelYoutube) March 27, 2018
Los otros no conseguí grabarlos pic.twitter.com/Dn6S8LYq5x
Gol de Borja Mayoral, 3-0 ante Estonia Sub21 pic.twitter.com/xmcYVQOgMk— Le Commandant (@Rayhunter_eu) March 27, 2018
Ceballos, the architect of Spain’s third goal, was arguably the most instrumental player on the pitch. As is generally the case with the U-21 team, he’s the key cog — the alpha-male who funnels everything the team does offensively. Some of things he did in tight spaces tonight were outrageous, and of particular note, his constant ability to execute passes that no one else in the stadium could see was remarkable. Ceballos sees those passes in his mind, and picks out his target regularly. These unpredictable passes generally break stubborn defensive lines. Ceballos should’ve had a second assist to his name, when one of these said passes found an unmarked Soler through on goal, but the Valencia winger couldn’t finish his chance.
Jesus Vallejo, meanwhile, captained the side, and though he didn’t have much to do defensively (Estonia threatened a bit in the second half, but generally couldn’t do much in Spain’s half), he dealt well with what he had to do, and was more of a distributor from the back.
Fast forward a couple hours, and the senior side kicked-off against a depleted Argentinian team where Sergio Ramos, Isco, Marco Asensio, and Dani Carvajal all started for Spain; while Lucas Vazquez came on the second half for a brief cameo. They all put on a show.
Isco was the clear standout. He started on the right flank, but regularly swapped positions with Asensio on the left. He always looked vertical with his passing, and his dribbling was key early on where Argentina had implemented a good press. Oh, he, umm, also scored three goals:
Asensio to Isco pic.twitter.com/Xt9HiuRAYf— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) March 27, 2018
Isco scores his 2nd. This time from Aspas. pic.twitter.com/TSZec1Cy4U— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) March 27, 2018
Isco reads the passing lane then completes his hat-trick. Argentina blown away. pic.twitter.com/ZwSHAEWACd— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) March 27, 2018
Isco also had a hand in Spain’s fourth goal, where he received an outlet pass from Thiago, then played a square ball to the on-rushing Aspas, who’s flick found Thiago for the finish. If I were to nitpick one thing about Isco: there were moments where he roamed to the left and jogged back in transition, leaving Alba marking two-to-three players. Having said that, this is a friendly, and it’s good not to get carried away in either direction.
Asensio, Isco’s partner on the opposite flank, was also buzzing and proving a thorn in Argentina’s side. Apart from being dispossessed deep in his own half early on, he had a nice game offensively, slinging an assist to both Isco and Diego Costa before him:
Lo Celso gives the ball away in Madrid— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) March 27, 2018
Sergio Ramos had an eventful game as well. Early on, he gave the ball away deep which, thankfully Jordi Alba was able to recover. Other than that, he was staunch at the back, had a goal disallowed for a foul, pushed a bunch of people around, and even found time to shine Isco’s stinky shoe:
March 27, 2018
Ramos snuffs it out. pic.twitter.com/6w3NodUm7J— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) March 27, 2018
I’ve been excited about Spain generally — past two games included. But I’m also here to throw some cold water on the excitement with some caveats: Argentina were short-handed, and Spain still has a half-broken press with shaky defensive transition as a resulting domino. We saw it against Germany with Rodrigo / Isco / Silva / Iniesta getting by-passed by an exploitative Ozil, and we saw it early on against Argentina tonight when Higuain missed a sitter. Still, somehow it seems Spain haven’t even hit their full gear yet, and as I mentioned on yesterday’s Churros y Tácticas Podcast, there is a certain brotherhood / cohesiveness / identity about Spain that gives them a head-start at these international tournaments. They’re akin to a club team who know each other’s games inside and out. I’m not big on international stuff, but I would be lying if I said games like this don’t tickle me a little bit for this summer’s tournament.
Elsewhere, Varane didn’t play a single minute against Russia; and Toni Kroos, Marcelo, and Casemiro all played the full 90 in Brazil’s 1-0 win over Germany. I was unable to watch it or report on it, given I was spread thin with all the Spanish national team coverage, but I’m happy to report most of the action from a Madridista point-of-view tonight came from the two aforementioned matches.