There is a growing malaise within the Spanish team as the European Championship draws ever closer. Sergio Busquets, his current player with more experience, has contracted Covid-19, as has central Diego Llorente, frustrating the team’s preparations.
Now there is a sense of paranoia that other members of the first team, currently in self-isolation, could be added to the unavailable list. In case the virus spreads, a “parallel” group has formed.
Six reserve players met first: soccer’s most expensive cap Kepa Arrizabalaga, defender Raúl Albiol, midfielders Pablo Fornals, Brais Méndez, Carlos Soler and competent forward Rodrigo Moreno. That number has since increased, with U21 players added as a precaution.
The original group has been returning negative tests, so the chances of a first team outbreak are pretty slim. If the virus spreads before Spain’s opening match against Poland, there will be a problem. If only a few are lost, Spain is better placed than most to manage.
The integrity of Euro 2020 would have been significantly weakened if a wave of coronavirus had hit another participant before the show. North Macedonia and Finland, for example, are competing in their first major competition and need all of their quality players to be ready to compete. Meanwhile, the performances of Austria and Ukraine in the last championship were quite bad and they await a response.
Spain, however, has been blessed with many capable options, with some selected players with Premier League or La Liga experience. Luis Enrique has shown faith in many faces during competitive matches this past year, both in the Nations League competition and in the tournament playoffs. Many of them could have formed their starting squad, but they didn’t.
The U21 setup also contains reliable players who made it to the semi-final of their main Euro tournament. Among the best are the bright spark of Getafe, Marc Cucurella, who would not look out of place in the senior team, and Oscar Mingueza, now Barcelona’s starter. The under-21s intervened for Spain’s preparatory friendly against Lithuania, which they won 4-0.
However, they are unlikely to bring them. The UEFA cap on Euro teams is 26 players, and Enrique only selected 24 initially because I didn’t want to choose anyone without a real chance to participate. If there were more problems, Spain would have a hard time replacing most of the unusable players. Instead, the team would break down, which could lead to postponements of matches, and if no one was left available, lost matches.
But this is highly unlikely. What is likely is that the difficult situation of Busquets and Llorente allows others to shine. Rodri, now looking comfortable at England’s Manchester City, is arguably a better option than Busquets at the defensive midfield position. The willingness of his teammate Aymeric Laporte, along with Pau Torres, now a Europa League winner, means that there are also reinforcements behind.
One possible setback is the domino effect of interruptions. The changes are unsettling and any nation wants to know the starting lineup. Understanding the game of others is also crucial for a group of players.
However, as long as the majority stay in shape and trust the manager’s system, Spain will, as usual, be hard to beat.