MADRID — After only two matches, Luis Enrique already knows the key to his early success as coach of Spain’s national team.
Enrique said the team’s approach in the impressive wins over England and Croatia in the UEFA Nations League is what made the difference for a revamped squad since he took over.
“What I liked the most in these 10 days was the players’ attitude on and off the field,” the former Barcelona coach said. “In only a few training sessions they were able to put our ideas into practice.”
Enrique spoke after Spain’s 6-0 rout of World Cup runner-up Croatia in the Nations League on Tuesday. Three days earlier, La Roja had come from behind to defeat England 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.
“It was a spectacular day. I couldn’t have imagined it,” Enrique said after the team overpowered Croatia. “But regardless of the score, what I saw in the players’ attitude was what was important. With this level of efficiency and with this quality that we have in front of the goal, it will be very difficult to stop us.”
Fans loudly chanted the coach’s name during Tuesday’s game in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche.
“I was a little embarrassed. It surprised me,” Enrique said. “I’m thankful, but I prefer that they cheer the players, they are the real protagonists.”
Enrique was announced as Spain’s coach in July following the team’s World Cup debacle, when the soccer federation fired Julen Lopetegui two days before the tournament and the team eventually was eliminated by host Russia in the round of 16.
His first contact with players came less than two weeks ago in training camp. He immediately imposed his energetic style in the practice sessions, and it translated onto the field in the first two matches.
Enrique had already taken action to bring the players together and build greater camaraderie within the group, including banning cellphones during meals so players could spend more time talking to each other. He also took the squad to an “escape room,” where players had to work together to solve puzzles and try to break out.
“I liked what I saw from the players the whole week,” Enrique said.
On the field, the coach also implemented important changes, making the team apply more pressure without the ball and playing a more direct game in attack, relinquishing the endless short passes that used to be a characteristic of Spain’s national team.
“Luis Enrique asks us to be very aggressive up front, to pressure and try to dominate, not giving the opponent any breathing room,” said Marco Asensio, who scored a goal and set up three others against Croatia on Tuesday. “We needed to get this sort of feeling back. We’ve put in two great performances.”
Asensio was the man of the match against Croatia but he didn’t even start against England. Iago Aspas played at Wembley and also performed well. Saul Niguez, who has become an undisputable starter for Enrique in midfield thanks to his versatility, also scored on Tuesday, as did Sergio Ramos, Rodrigo and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon.
Spain’s next match is a friendly against Wales on Oct. 11 in Cardiff. Four days later it will host England in Seville in the Nations League.
“Now we have time to analyze everything in more detail,” Enrique said. “There are things to improve despite these first two matches.”
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press