Spain need to be Spain, not Barcelona, if they are to succeed at Euro 2022 and beyond

Barcelona’s stunning 4-0 triumph over Chelsea in the 2021 Champions League final was not just about establishing themselves as a new force in European football; It was the beginning of excitement for the Spanish national team. Based on 45 minutes of football in Gothenburg’s Gamla Ullevi – as well as Barca’s unprecedented 30 wins from 30 games in Primera Iberdrola – Spain was suddenly seen as the side to beat at the 2022 European Women’s Championship.

It’s easy enough for anyone to take one look at the Barcelona squad – featuring the likes of Sandra Panos, Irene Paredes, Alexia Putellas and Mariona Caldentey – and see the Spanish swirls that line its backbone, just as anyone can see the Spain squad Jorge Vilda has gathered since he took charge and sees the distinctly Catalan flare. But the two are not interchangeable. Even if you set up an all-Spanish team for Barcelona and then played the exact same team for Spain, the football just wouldn’t be the same.

Barca’s success only put more pressure on a Spanish side that lacked experience when it came to keeping their nerve. Throughout its history, the women’s national team has played four knockout matches in major tournaments (three European Championships and one World Cup) and not won once. In fact, the closest the team came to success was when they lost to Austria on penalties five years ago.

Spain’s woes in knockout games is only part of the bigger picture of their struggles in tournaments: the side are at their best in friendlies and qualifiers, not when the pressure is high. Ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final game against hosts England (Live stream on ESPN+ in the US at 3pm ET.) they are far from the favorites and Barcelona’s success is partly to blame.

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Vilda Ball

Ever since he started the job in 2015, Vilda has constantly struggled to integrate his players on the pitch. As the team has shifted from predominantly Barcelona, ​​with Atletico Madrid providing the rest of the squad, to a healthy mix of Primera Iberdrola representatives, with more and more coming from Real Madrid and the Basque Country, problems have continued.

As Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque noted during their stints in charge of the all-conquering men’s team from 2008-2012, mixing the fluid Barcelona style with the more direct Madrid style is no easy task, but it is a necessary task. Although Vilda has found times when he could call up younger players and almost choose to play against a ‘Spain B’ team, there is still a fondness for the in-form Barca players – but their understanding with their peers the capital is missing.

Instead of rotating his favorite midfield of Putellas, Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro, seeing how he can integrate others and finding a much-needed plan B in case of injury, a nightmare came true this summer when Putellas recovered the night before tore a cruciate ligament during the tournament — Vilda held up. Admittedly, the midfield trio is one of, if not the best in the world, but they’re players who spend the whole year in each other’s pockets, so there’s not much to learn from every game.

When casual fans tuned in to the Arnold Clark Cup – a four-nation friendly tournament played in February – expecting to see Barcelona take on Germany, England and Canada, there was confusion: where was the fluency? Where was the distinct Barca feeling? Even with the favored Catalan midfield three, the team looked confused and disoriented.

Eager to lean towards the Barcelona style, Vilda has maintained continuity with players from the club’s acclaimed side, but they have never been able to replicate their domestic form for their country. All the more Vilda tried to lean into it Blaugrana Style, the more lost the team seemed.

Then, in February, it was Real Madrid and Real Sociedad representatives who came off the bench and bid La Roja was missing the whole time.



Marta Cardona scores in the 90th minute in Spain’s 1-0 win over Denmark.

Stylistic diversity is required

It’s no surprise that three of the five goals Spain have scored at Euro 2022 have come from dead balls (two set pieces and a penalty, all in the 4-1 win over Finland) given the team’s inability to score cleanly away by the stubborn defenses they faced. Although many would be surprised to learn that four of those goals were headers – two of which were scored by players 5ft 4 or under – it makes sense given the team’s inability to get the ball down and sensibly playing connections so they choose to move to the box instead.

When the fast lanes are closed for Barcelona, ​​players still connect to find a way; If the same thing happens with Spain, the team will be paralyzed.

The need for players outside of Barcelona’s core is clearly vital and cannot be highlighted any easier than by looking at Spain’s 1-0 win over Denmark. Olga Carmona, who had replaced Leila Ouahabi, offered more attack from the left and whipped in a cross that was received by former Real Madrid team-mate Marta Cardona, who headed in the goal in the last minute.

It’s too easy to cite Ouahabi’s 12 years at Barcelona in relation to Olga’s homeland in Andalusia or Cardona’s roots in Zaragoza, but it shows a need for players outside of the Barca bubble. For players who approach problems differently than those trained at La Masia. Just as Barcelona need players like Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen, Switzerland’s Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic or Sweden’s Fridolina Rolfo to add footballing diversity to strengthen the whole team, Spain need to move away from just trying to be Barcelona , and adopt different footballing identities across the country.

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But what now?

Of course, there is no quick fix for Vilda or the Spanish Football Federation; The team will not suddenly switch to a foreign style of play just because they reached the knockout stages of Euro 2022. The team is likely to carry on as before, although Vilda may try to find a better balance on the pitch, as he did in the crucial group game against Denmark when he changed some of his usual starting XI.

The 41-year-old coach, who was criticized for making changes late in the 2-0 defeat by Germany, got on the bench much quicker against Denmark and should Spain still be in the game against England at half-time he can do the same do again.

However, the manager is not one to have a huge bag of tricks to rummage through and if something needs to be changed it is the responsibility of the players to make the decision on the pitch. Which, again, doesn’t seem all that likely, especially when a figurehead like Putellas is sidelined.

Against England, Spain must do something they have never done before: win a knockout game. The tournament hosts are feeling very confident after two morale-boosting defeats and 14 goals in three games and are cheered on by around 30,000 England fans. But Spain must try to find something that has so routinely eluded them on the biggest stages.

After the defeat against Germany, Ouahabi said: “We have to go our own way, believe in ourselves, be strong.” But playing like that makes Spain weaker. That’s too much like an inspired Barcelona downplaying the strengths of many of the footballers available for the national team.

There’s no question that Barcelona have an enormous pool of talent, most of whom hail from their own country, but Spain can never be Barcelona, ​​just like Barcelona can never be Spain. The sooner Spain find a way to play like Spain, the sooner this generation of talent can finally start to shine. Spain need to be Spain, not Barcelona, if they are to succeed at Euro 2022 and beyond

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