By Iain Rogers
With an unprecedented number of Spain internationals plying their trade in the Premier League, coach Vicente del Bosque will be relying more than ever on players based outside La Liga in Saturday’s Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Slovakia.
Pedro became the latest to cross the English Channel when he signed for Chelsea from Barcelona last month, joining fellow forward Diego Costa, midfielders Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, defender Cesar Azpilicueta and goalkeeper David De Gea in the world’s richest league.
Of those, only Costa and Silva are likely to start the game in Oviedo, when a home victory would put Spain level with the surprise Group C leaders, who beat them 2-1 in Zilina in October, on 18 points from seven matches.
However, Del Bosque will almost certainly deploy at least one of Pedro, Fabregas or Mata off the bench, especially if things are not going Spain’s way, as all three are capable of breaking through the kind of stubborn defences the 2010 world champions typically face.
Spain have so far been unconvincing in qualifying for next year’s tournament in France, when they will be chasing a third straight European triumph after successes in 2008 and 2012.
They still appear to be recovering from their woeful title defence at the World Cup in Brazil last year, after which stalwarts like Xavi and Xabi Alonso stepped down.
“What happened in Brazil remains a thorn in the side for those of us who were there,” Mata told a news conference.
“This generation has the ability to achieve things,” added the Manchester United midfielder.
“We can do things very well and we want to continue the national team’s good run at the European level.”
Slovakia will be missing several players through injury or suspension, including defender and captain Martin Skrtel, who is unavailable after picking up a yellow card in June’s 2-1 win against Macedonia.
Spain have not been beaten at home in qualifying for a major tournament in 30 matches spanning more than a decade, their last reverse coming against Greece in June 2003.
Coach Jan Kozak nonetheless believes his team is capable of getting at least a point from the trip to the Asturian capital.
“We’re going to put out a competitive side against Spain, a side that will fight for a result,” he said this week.