Just four Barcelona players feature in the most recent Spain squad announced by Julen Lopetegui for the upcoming friendlies. In recent years, Spain would be made up of seven or eight Barcelona players and perhaps what is most interesting is the age of the Barça players that have made the cut.
At 28 years of age, Jordi Alba is the youngest Barça player to feature behind Sergio Busquets (29), Gerard Piqué (30) and Andrés Iniesta (33). The shift would suggest a difficult role given to the Barça players. In previous tournaments players like Pedro and David Villa would provide a youthful attacking spark but in this current squad, the Barça players are all experienced veterans. Iniesta has 121 caps, Busquets 100, Piqué 92 and Alba 56.
Like many Spain squads of the past, the future looks bright due to the young talents coming through. Real Madrid stars Isco and Marco Asensio have many Spain fans confident the team will continue to compete at the highest level but you can not overestimate the importance of mixing the relative youth of the Madrid midfielders with the experience of Barça’s players.
This is a line of thinking that Lopetegui seems to follow. At 33 years of age, Iniesta is unlikely to be able to play every game but the coach keeps picking him. The role that Iniesta plays off the field is also a very important one and to have players such as Iniesta, Busquets, Piqué and Alba who have played in and won major tournaments before is a great benefit to the squad.
With the retirement of Carles Puyol then later Xavi and Xabi Alonso, many where ready to write-off Spain’s chances at continuing their dominance after Euro 2012. This largely came true as Spain crashed out of the 2014 World Cup before stumbling against Italy in the 2016 Euros but they are very much a team on the rise again.
Their September 3-0 dismantling of Group G rivals Italy at the Bernabéu was a statement game. Isco was in devastating form as he continued his stellar 2017 and the result all but confirmed Spain’s topping of the qualifying group. However, there remains a desire to class Spain as a team on the decline, not a real contender for the trophy.
At this moment in time, Spain are fourth favourites to win next summer’s tournament behind Germany, France and Brazil. This seems puzzling given the respective form of the teams in their qualifying groups. Only Germany could better Spain’s qualifying record having won 100% of their games while Spain drew just one away in Italy.
If you lost the experience of the Barça players as well as others such as Sergio Ramos then you could understand the doubt. It would have been an as of yet untested Spain squad but the fact that Spain are blessed with players who have been there and done it before, surely solidifies their position as one of the favourites for the tournament.
Tournament football is an endurance test. High pressure games every three days can be taxing both physically and mentally on players. It will be the last tournament for Piqué and presumably Iniesta and it is unreasonable to expect them to play every minute of every game but they can be crucial. Youthful players provide energy to a team but can sometimes struggle to manage situations effectively.
If Spain are to succeed next summer, the Barça players going will have a huge role to play.