Football Features

“The quicksilver winger with the killer instinct” – Five things learned as Spain smash Germany 6-0 with their new blueprint

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:13, 17 November 2020 | Updated: 9:36, 30 March 2021

In a devastating night of football, Spain eviscerated Germany 6-0 in the Nations League.

The win puts Spain into the final four next year and condemned Germany to their biggest defeat for literally decades. What did we learn?

1. Ferran Torres is a killer

It’s quite amusing that Manchester City gave Ferran Torres the shirt number 21, because obviously it makes everyone think of David Silva, a classy and elegant playmaker. That’s funny because Ferran is nothing like David Silva as a player. The young Valencian is a wing-forward with pace, skill and an eye for goal that has seen Pep Guardiola use him as a false nine.

Tonight he played off Alvaro Morata but repeatedly showed that he had the cutting edge to devastate Germany. With Timo Werner and Serge Gnabry up the other end looking like traffic cones, Ferran Torres was hell on wheels, running Die Mannschaft over.

Everything Ferran did was with the intent to score. His every touch, move and drive was towards goal, away from defenders. He let fly with 7 shots, more than anyone else on the pitch, and the emphatic nature of his goals showed his incredible range of finishes. The first goal a devastating but controlled volley, the second a clean finish at the back-post, and his hat-trick came courtesy of a sumptuous first-time strike low from the edge of the area that would make David Villa stand up and applaud.

Ever since David Villa fell off, Spain have been searching for their next main goalscoring presence. Many strikers have tried, even done fairly well, but no one has looked as likely to be Spain’s next great goalscorer as Ferran Torres. Tonight we saw an example of why as he tore Germany limb from limb. The quicksilver winger with the killer instinct.

2. Germany looking Low

Joachim “Jogi” Low has struggled a bit lately. As good as Germany are, and as much as they came into tonight’s game unbeaten in 12 and needing just a point to make the Nations League final four, things weren’t exactly going well.

The recent 3-3 draws against Turkey and Switzerland betrayed that this was a German side that wasn’t quite as solid as it often appeared to be. And given that their best player Joshua Kimmich won’t play until at least January, there was a sense of worry that some weaknesses could be exposed against Spain – but that the attack would have enough to get the win.

But what Spain did was expose the huge weakness in Germany’s side. Jogi Low’s side look dangerous in a 3-4-3, but when in a 4-3-3 as they were tonight the midfield is simply too vulnerable to being pressed. Leon Goretzka, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan were terrible, completely devoured by the Spanish mid-block press and Low waited until the hour mark to make changes when it was obviously 30 minutes in that things were not working.

Losing is bad, but losing in the way Germany lost, looking devoid of ideas, intention and intensity, is very troubling. Obviously Kimmich will return, and a switch to 3-4-3 should help restore some sort of intensity and order, but Low has been in charge of the side for 14 years now. Maybe he’s just finally run out of ideas? Maybe now Germany should move on?

3. Fabian Ruiz is the key to everything

No one likes to see anyone get injured, especially if that player has had fitness concerns dog them their whole career. So when Sergio Canales left the field with a hamstring problem before the 10 minute mark, Spain would have been crestfallen as well as worried.

However much as we extend sympathies to Canales, the injury was a blessing in disguise because it meant that Spain brought Fabian Ruiz onto the field. And once the 24-year-old came onto the field, the performance kicked up several gears.

Fabian is, like most Spanish midfielders, an exemplary technician blessed with a silky touch and lovely range of passing. However what he also has is an incredible engine, a physical capacity to hurtle up and down the field.

With Fabian on the field, Spain’s midfield was full of energy and that was the core of the pressing game that suffocated Germany. Fabian’s driving runs with and without the ball also added a verticality that Spain have too often lacked. These runs nearly always led to shots, and also Spain’s fifth goal when he surged forward and laid the ball off for Ferran’s finish.

And then there’s his corners, ferocious bending arcs whose trajectory left the German defence with no chance. Spain scored two of their four goals directly from Fabian’s corners, scoring with an almost insulting ease against a gigantic German side.

It’s true that everyone in Spain red played well against Germany, but no one played as well as Fabian Ruiz. Passing and penetration and pace as well? This man is a different kind of Spanish midfield maestro.

4. Madrid and Betis will be anxious

Spain were sublime but the night wasn’t without its downsides, namely the two injuries to Sergio Canales and Sergio Ramos. Both men left the field in the first-half with apparent hamstring problems, having done the damage when making big swings at the ball.

Luis Enrique will be frustrated by the injuries, but Zinedine Zidane and Manuel Pellegrini will be even more worried. As managers of Real Madrid and Real Betis respectively, they know that their teams rely heavily on the Sergios, and their absence will be an issue.

Canales is Betis’ best playmaker and one of the brightest in La Liga. Meanwhile Ramos is the heart and soul of a Real Madrid side that is at least 80% heart and soul. Los Blancos rely so much on the unshakeable belief that Ramos has and transmits to others, and in this last week he’s missed two penalties and now gotten injured. Zinedine Zidane will be praying it’s not a serious problem, or Real Madrid could suffer.

5. Luis Enrique has his blueprint

It wouldn’t be cruel to say that Spain haven’t been the same for a long, long while. The squad have looked a shadow of their former selves (which is an admittedly high bar to clear given that their former selves were one of the three greatest international sides of all-time) and what has been most damning is that they haven’t really known how to play.

Players like Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Thiago have remained from the glory days, but the version of Spain’s classic passing game they were able to install never felt the same. It felt like a bad tribute act. Spain needed a new identity.

Well tonight Luis Enrique and his players gave it to them.

Spain were shorn of their two finest midfield passers in Thiago and Busquets, and Canales (the next best passer) went off after 10 minutes. Spain became a hurricane of pressing and pace and energy and effort. Yes the slick passing was there, but it was now just a tool for the side to use rather than the central focus of their play.

This wasn’t the Spain of Barcelona, this wasn’t even the Spain of Real Madrid, this was the Spain of Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao – just relentless attacking of the ball. Germany had absolutely no answer to Spain and it took until the 77th minute to have just their second shot of the game. 77th minute! This Germany’s second-highest ever defeat; their highest in a professional, competitive game.

Now is the time to bid farewell to the likes of Thiago and Busquets, to the old ways of doing things. “Tiki-Taka” is gone and it’s never coming back, but it doesn’t have to. Not with this new blueprint. Play fast, play hard, fill the squad with young and hungry players (tonight’s starters, Ramos aside, had 50 caps combined). Bring the likes of Ansu Fati through when you can, but whoeever plays has to play this way.

Now is not the time to regress, to try and recapture the past. Now is the time to play hurricane football, to be relentless and give opponents no space to breath or play. Now is the time to dominate again. First Europe, and then, the world?