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Marco Asensio assists in Spain’s 1-2 loss against Switzerland

Playing as a false nine, Asensio stood out an in a grey Spanish performance in Zaragoza.

Spain v Switzerland: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 2 Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Switzerland is one of the national teams that come close to club levels of team structure and organization. They are a hard unit to break down, with solid pressing and defending of the box. That’s a notoriously bad fit for a Spanish side that is particularly weak at attacking the opponent’s box and defending their own.

For today’s UEFA Nations League game at Zaragoza’s La Romareda stadium, Luis Enrique chose an eleven that featured FC Barcelona players heavily, with six of them starting.

The lineup included a rather conservative fullback pairing with Jordi Alba and César Azpilicueta, and a center-back pairing of Pau Torres and Eric García. This is a rather “soft“ defensive line for defending the box, and Switzerland took advantage of this weakness with their direct style of play and set pieces. Unsurprisingly, Swizterland’s goals came from two corner kicks.

While Eric García might make headlines due to his goal, his partner, Pau Torres, struggled the most throughout the game. With Torres playing at this level and in a team that doesn’t cater to his more passive defending style, it’s very hard to justify him starting for Spain.

In the forward line, Luis Enrique started Pablo Sarabia on the left, Ferran Torres on the right, and surprisingly, Marco Asensio in a false nine role.

The role did not cater to Asensio’s strengths. Asensio thrives in transitions and open spaces, while this role forced him to constantly receive the ball in between the lines and against some tight Swiss marking.

Asensio’s numbers against Switzerland (Sept 24th, 2022). Source: SofaScore.

Even in this unfavorable context, Asensio was by far the most productive Spanish forward, with his gifted left foot producing several dangerous passes. Throughout the first half, Asensio produced a couple of valuable switches of play to the left side that helped Alba and Sarabia shoot or send passes into the box. Asensio also had some good deliveries into the box that were claimed by goalie Yann Sommer or cleared by the solid Swiss defense.

During the second half, Asensio finally got a moment to show his impact in open spaces. In the 55th minute, Asensio received the ball close to the center circle and managed to evade Elvedi’s marking, turn around, and run for 20 meters past Swiss defenders. His threat forced the Swiss defense to focus on him, opening up a big space on the left for Alba to run into.

Asensio cut inside to get past Manuel Akanji and delivered a pass into the open space, allowing Alba to run into the box and finish with a strong shot into the corner of the net. Asensio’s efforts to draw the scoreline would soon be negated by Spain’s woeful set-piece defense, which conceded the second goal in the 58th minute.

To turn things around, Luis Enrique replaced the entire forward line, with Nico Williams, Borja Iglesias, and Yeremy Pino coming in for Ferran, Sarabia, and Asensio in the 63rd minute. The dribbling threat of Williams and Iglesias’ presence in the box helped pin down the Swiss defense. This allowed Spain to spend the final half hour in Switzerland’s half of the pitch, but they did not have the clarity in the final third to create better chances and draw the game.

All in all, Spain continues to be rather weak in the boxes. Their defensive line has major struggles in defending their own box, while their attack struggles to win duels in the box to create chances and shots. Even if Spain has a good possession and pressing structure for international football standards, it’s hard to see them win a World Cup with such issues in the boxes.

Spain and Luis Enrique will have to recover and learn from this loss quickly, as they have to deal with an arguably bigger test this Tuesday against Portugal.

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