Football Features

Spain squad depth analysis: Fati, Garcia, Oyarzabal & other U23 talent

By Squawka News

Published: 18:00, 17 November 2020

Watch the video at the top of the article to see analysis of Spain’s sqaud depth ahead of Euro 2020 this summer.

From David Villa to Carles Puyol, to Sergio Ramos and Xavi Hernández, there’s no shortage of title-winning legends that have called the Ciudad del Fútbol home.

Thankfully for fans of Spanish football, that trend is not slowing any time soon and here we’ve selected a combined Spain XI using the Olympics age criteria set out by FIFA. 

That means all players born on or later than the 1st of January 1997 are available, so we’re going to present a talent-stacked shortlist for every position, make a few head-to-head comparisons and then narrow it down to a final competitive team.

Goalkeepers

Spain aren’t typically blessed with a deep pool of young goalkeeping talent at the moment, but there are a few diamonds in the rough.

Huesca’s Álvaro Fernández is the only goalkeeper in the list to have already lifted a league title. The 22-year-old saved the joint-most penalties during the 2019-20 Segunda season and kept the fourth-most clean sheets in the league.

Another former Segunda stopper on the shortlist is Josep Martínez. His standout performances for Las Palmas earned him a move to RB Leipzig in the summer, a club becoming famous for their ability to spot and develop young talent.

Our number one though has already established himself as one of the best in LaLiga. Unai Simón ranked first in Spain’s top-flight for Goals Prevented during the 2019-20 season, a key reason why Athletic Club avoided a relegation scrap.

His first senior call-up in August 2020 was announced the same day as a new five-year contract which did not include a set release clause. Potential suitors will have a tough time prying him away from the Bilbao club anytime soon – and there will be plenty of them.

Right-backs

No nation can rival England’s right-back depth, but Spain can still call on players from the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.

The departure of Achraf Hakimi has given Mateu Morey a clear path to be Dortmund’s future right-back. He’s already won the UEFA Youth League with his former club Barcelona, and was a standout player for Spain when they lifted the UEFA U17 European Championship in 2017 – beating Jadon Sancho’s England in the final.

From the least experienced in Morey, to the most experienced in Pablo Maffeo. A prototypical modern full-back with blistering pace, excellent on-the-ball control and mature defensive instincts, he fits a similar mould to the likes of Dani Carvajal and Jesús Navas.

For this Spain XI of the future, however, it’s 21-year-old Man City loanee Pedro Porro who shines the brightest. Playing in both midfield and defensive positions up and down the right since the 2018-19 season, he’s now establishing himself as a key cog in Sporting CP’s side.

Left-backs

Spain have an embarrassment of riches across the left side of the pitch. It’s the strongest area of the squad by some margin.

Valencia’s Toni Lato and Juan Miranda, on loan at Real Betis from Barcelona, both have big seasons ahead of them and will be desperate to throw their names in the ring for a chance in Spain’s left-back spot.

But it is RB Leipzig’s Angeliño and Getafe’s Marc Cucurella that look set to contest the legendary left-back position for a long, long time.

Cucurella announced himself as a dynamic pressing machine during the 2019-20. He ranked in the top 10 for open-play crosses, tackles made, possession won in the final third and minutes played – availability is perhaps the most important stat of them all.

However, for this squad, it’s once again the Man City loanee that gets the nod. Under Julian Nagelsmann, Angeliño is developing into an unstoppable attacking wing-back, sending a barrage of crosses into the box and even turning up to score himself.

Centre-backs

At centre-back, we’ve already seen a changing of the guard since Luis Enrique’s return to the Spain dugout. Valencia’s anchor Hugo Guillamón is bizarrely one of five players in this six-man shortlist born in the first month of the year, so it’s no surprise the first-choice pairing is made up of two more supreme January talents.

The never-ending tug-of-war between Man City and Barcelona for Eric García is indicative of his undeniable talent. The true heir to Gerard Piqué already has an U17 and U19 European Championship title to his name.

Partnering him on the left is Villarreal’s highly-coveted Pau Torres, who moved into the starting line-up and never looked back. The towering defender was dribbled past just eight times in 34 appearances during the 2019-20 LaLiga season.

With a perfect ying and yang of ball-playing elegance, defensive power and that left-foot-right- foot combo, Torres and García look to be the Piqué and Sergio Ramos of Spain’s national team future.

Centre-midfielders

If there’s one thing Spain know how to do, it’s produce quality central midfielders. Most expected Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig to be the future of Barcelona’s playing philosophy. 

Both are fantastic with the ball at their feet, Puig boasting a near-flawless 92% take-on success rate. Both incredibly intelligent passers, as most La Masia products are, and both positionally diverse.

Carlos Soler has struggled to really nail down a position with Valencia, being used as both a wide player and through the middle of the pitch, but for the sake of this squad, we feel his creativity is best served next to Puig as part of the midfield trio. After a hat-trick from the spot against Real Madrid, we might stick him on penalties too.

No.10s

The more advanced positions are where Spain’s quality really starts to show. Manu Morlanes is more of a composed facilitator rather than an immediate goal threat, but the Villarreal youngster has lacked game time in recent seasons so still has plenty of growing to do.

And with Dani Olmo playing for Champions League semi-finalists RB Leipzig, and Óscar Rodríguez moving to recently crowned Europa League champions Sevilla, Spain don’t have to look much further for their potential No.10.

Óscar is already one of the best set-piece takers in the world, with four of his nine goals last season coming from a direct free-kick.

As for his direct competition, Olmo is already an established member of the main squad, scoring on his debut and following up with an assist in his next game, whilst playing for one of the most exciting sides in Europe. Top scorer for Spain during the 2019 U-21 Euros triumph, expect him to make an impact at a senior tournament soon.

Wingers

Spain’s wide positions are absolutely crammed full of potent runners. The left-wing role has to go to Barcelona’s megastar-in-the-making Ansu Fati, perhaps the brightest young Spaniard of them all.

Already having broken multiple records both in LaLiga and the Champions League, Ansu is already being hyped as the heir to Messi’s throne at the Camp Nou. For more in-depth analysis on him, we’ve linked our Squawka Scout in the comments below.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Real Sociedad have become one of the best producers of talent in all of Spain over the past few seasons, which leads us to young Ander Barrenetxea.

The Basque youngster broke into La Real’s first-team at 16 and bagged his first LaLiga goal in style against a rampant Real Madrid. He then followed it up with an assist for Alexander Isak in last year’s 4-3 Copa Del Rey quarter-final win over Los Blancos.

A relentless presser and prolific dribbler, if not for a certain Ferran Torres, he might be starting in our Olympic-eligible XI. The now-Manchester City winger is a cerebral creative force, averaging a pass into the box every tenth touch last season.

A replacement for “El Mago” David Silva, Ferran has already proven why Pep Guardiola was willing to splash the cash for his signature, becoming the first Man City player to score in each of his first Champions League appearances for the club.

Centre-forwards

Spain’s centre-forward options aren’t what they once were with the likes of David Villa, Fernando Torres and Raúl González – there are big, golden boots to fill. Athletic Club’s Villalibre is a good all-rounder, just like his predecessor in Aritz Aduriz.

He brings a different kind of threat to the others in the squad: an added element of physicality to go with his rugged Basque facial hair, if not the same technical flair we usually associate with Spanish players.

Roma’s Real Madrid loanee in Borja Mayoral is a very different kind of striker. A more precise shot-taker, he’s maintained an impressive 54% shot accuracy since the start of the 2017-18 campaign. 

But it’s all-action Basque forward Mikel Oyarzabal who’ll be leading Spain into the future.

The 23-year-old captain already has an U21 European Championship under his belt – and still has the 2019-20 Copa Del Rey final to play. 

With 10 goals, 11 assists and so much more packed into 37 league games in 2019-20, Lionel Messi was the only other player that could match his LaLiga Double-Double. Similar to the False 9 iteration of Cesc Fabregas at Euro 2012, Oyarzabal has all the attributes needed to help Spain conquer Europe once again. And given his fascinating penalty-taking technique, Carlos Soler might not be the spot-kick specialist after all.

There you have it. 33 Spanish players born after the 1st January 1997 all trying to live up to a squad that won two Euros and a World Cup in the space of four years. No pressure, chicos.

Video script written by Andrew Miller in partnership with La Liga Lowdown, your home for Spanish football in English with reporters based in Spain. Find them on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown

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