Glasgow was rocking on Tuesday night as Spain fell to an embarrassing 2-0 defeat at Hampden Park, made worse only by the way that their right flank was torn apart on two separate occasions to allow Scott McTominay to score a brace.
Coach Luis de la Fuente lost his first away match in charge of the country having made eight changes to his starting line-up, including the decision to drop Dani Carvajal and Nacho from the defensive unit.
Many were surprised that Ceballos was not granted a starting role against Norway in Málaga, but he was the only Madridista in Luis de la Fuente’s starting line-up in Glasgow. He started in a number 10 role just behind La Fábrica product Joselu and was one of few bright sparks.
From bad to worse at right-back
Watching on from the sidelines, Carvajal would have been wondering what could have been had he been selected to start. Tottenham’s Pedro Porro was chosen at right-back and it was Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson, who Carvajal and Real Madrid had handled superbly across both legs of the recent Champions League tie, who pressed him and turned over possession in the final third for Scott McTominay to score only a few minutes into the game.
The issue was that Carvajal did have his chance in the second half, and was shown up in the opening minutes of the second half as he was introduced at the break. Kieran Tierney, the Arsenal defender, blasted past him to deliver a cross into the box and it fell to McTominay again to score. Tierney is not exactly blessed with pace, either, and he would struggle with injury just moments later.
Carvajal just brushed aside like he's not even on the field. Brutal seeing him like this.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) March 28, 2023
Spain had not come back from behind to win a match since the European Championship knock-out clash with Croatia in 2021, and even with Caravajal brought on for his experience, it was a disappointing start to the second period.
Tierney and, more often, Robertson threatened with great intensity and pace, and Carvajal struggled with little protection from Yeremy Pino in front of him on the right flank. It was such an incident that led to Carvajal being shown a yellow card. It was a clear illustration of the difference between playing at club and national team level, with Caravajal shown up by the lack of a support system around him.
To a large extent, the game passed Ceballos by in the first half. Scotland’s low-block invited Spain into a more direct battle, looking to go wide and then cross into Joselu, or go direct from the back. Often, it was Mikel Merino or Rodri who would try to play through to the front line from deep, and Ceballos ended up being bypassed. It says much that of his five passes into the final third in the first 45 minutes, four were long balls.
When he did get on the ball, Ceballos looked to drive possession forward and find gaps in the Scotland defence. Whereas Merino and Rodri were quick to dive into the pass, Ceballos would add a little pausa and look to carry the ball directly, with the joint-highest number of attempted dribbles.
De la Fuente’s faith in the Real Madrid man was evident in that he kept the number 10 on while rotating almost every other offensive player in search of a spark to bring the visitors back into the game, with Ceballos’ withdrawal for Gavi on 79 minutes being the coach’s last roll of the dice.
Ceballos was Spain’s designated set-piece taker and was on both corners and free-kicks, but his deliveries struggled to find their target against a Scotland team with far more height and physicality to handle such deliveries. It proved to be Spain’s best bet, given that they continually ran into dead ends down the right flank and were blocked by a low block from Scotland.
The result leaves Spain in a delicate second position for Euro 2024 qualification in their group, behind Scotland who go top after beating Cyprus 3-0 at the weekend. Luis de la Fuente’s new era may only just have started, but he already has his work cut out.