Spain vs Sweden result: Alvaro Morata misfires as Luis Enrique’s new-look side frustrated in Euro 2020 opener

Luis Enrique’s attempt to revolutionise Spainish football revolves around “verticality”, a plan to swap patience for penetration, to equip his players with the boldness in their minds to pass forwards when their natural inclination – perhaps more than any other nation – is to pass to their nearest teammate.

It explains why his young squad’s most notable traits are speed, imagination and a little audacity: Barcelona’s teenage Pedri encapsulates all of these qualities in one nimble package. Sergio Busquets, sidelined with coronavirus, is the only survivor from the 2010 World Cup, Jordi Alba the only other who helped win Euro 2012. Most of this team watched Spain’s trophy-laden era as wide-eyed children.

But verticality is simpler to achieve against some opposition than others. Sweden’s passive 4-4-2 is far from in vogue, but it has served Janne Andersson well over the years, reaching a World Cup quarter-final in 2018, and on an evening of resistance it served its purpose here insofar as pushing Spain’s young verve wide, not through.

The result was a Spain that looked an awful lot like the teams of old. They completed more passes than any side in the tournament so far, and created plenty of chances too. But where once there was the dogged figure of David Villa leading the line, Alvaro Morata toiled. Morata’s final involvement came in the 65th minute when he rolled his studs over the ball along the Swedish byline, lost control and watched it bobble off the pitch. By this point a Swedish goal-kick had become a common outcome of his involvements and Luis Enrique had evidently seen enough. His new-look Spain comprehensively dominated the game but they require a cutting edge to go with the control if they are to win this tournament for a fourth time.

Morata missed two notable chances, in the first half a straight-forward one-on-one which he guided expertly wide, in the second a trickier chance which sat up on the edge of the box invitingly, an invitation met with a slash off target. Winger Dani Olmo had Spain’s best other chance but his well-directed header was matched by Robin Olsen’s save.

Morata was whistled by fans in Spain’s final warm-up game against Portugal, his finishing mocked from the stands. His record of 19 goals in 40 caps is really quite respectable, similar to his ratio of goals for Juventus this season with 20 in 44 appearances, very few of which lasted 90 minutes. But if goals don’t begin to flow it will become difficult for Luis Enrique to keep leaving out Gerard Moreno, the Villarreal striker who scored 30 times this term.

It was tempting to wonder how Spain might have fared had they had Sweden’s striker instead. The 21-year-old Alexander Isak won La Liga’s young player of the year award scoring goals for Real Sociedad this season and he displayed glimpses of his talent in Sweden’s extremely rare forays into the Spanish box. His shot moments before half-time was cleared off the line, and later he showed wonderful feet to dance between three defenders in the box before squaring for Marcus Berg who missed at the back post from close range.

Sweden are going through their own evolution of sorts right now of course. Just as Spain are without Sergio Ramos, Sweden are without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who suffered a knee injury at the end of the season having announced his return to international in January by declaring: “The return of the god.”

There remains debate over the merits of Ibrahimovic, the country’s greatest ever player who continues to bother scoring charts at the highest level but who’s narcissism knows no bounds. The team may lack a little fear factor on paper and a direct outlet on the pitch, but there is something to be said for the spirit of unity which Andersson has carefully nurtured over his five-year tenure.

Sweden will need more than spirit if they are to leave their mark on another major tournament, but perhaps against the sheer quality of Spain the result and a valuable point is all that matters. And if Sweden were relieved, Luis Enrique would have been left frustrated by a game which simultaneously showed forward-thinking Spain are moving in the right direction and still have a significant forward problem to solve.

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