They are one of the favourites to win the World Cup this summer, and so Spain’s squad was always likely to be a high-quality collection of players. But few would have expected a key Chelsea trio to miss out on Julen Lopetegui’s 23-man selection.
But Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas and Marcos Alonso have paid for Chelsea’s low key campaign, Saturday’s FA Cup triumph apart, by failing to make the grade in what is an outstanding Spanish set-up.
Morata has scored just eleven goals for the Blues in a campaign that started well but ended with him losing his place to Olivier Giroud in the starting eleven, while Alonso faced stiff competition for the left back berth from the likes of Barcelona veteran Jordi Alba, Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal and the versatile Nacho Fernandez. And Fabregas could not find his way into a midfield that is overstocked with world class talent.
They will now have a watching brief from the sofa, with Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin also missing out on selection after a so-so campaign for the Gunners.
La Roja Ready to Regain Trophy
— AS English (@English_AS) May 21, 2018
It was always likely to be a tough decision for Lopetegui to trim down his preliminary shortlist into a concrete 23-man squad to embark to Russia, but the results of his labour reveal an outfit that will surely go close at the summer spectacle.
You may as well start off with the best goalkeeper in the planet on whose shoulders you can rely, and so David de Gea will step into the limelight as number one ahead of Pepe Reina and Kepa.
In defence, Lopetegui may opt for three at the back or he may play a flat four, but either way he has plenty of options at his disposal. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique offer a wealth of big tournament experience, with Daniel Carvajal and Alba likely to get the nod at full back. Cesar Azpilicueta may have to watch on from the bench with Monreal, Nacho and Alvaro Odriozola.
One look at the options in midfield and you can see why even a class act like Fabregas can’t force his way into the reckoning. Take your pick from Sergio Busquets, Isco, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Saul Niguez and Andres Iniesta, who has recently announced his decision to leave Barcelona. The outstanding David Silva could be pressed into service as a ‘false nine’ in attack.
Alternatively, La Rojo could opt for Diego Costa through the middle – a bit of a snub for Morata, the man who replaced him at Stamford Bridge – with the Real Madrid pair Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio in wide areas.
It really is a mouth-watering squad, and you can see why the Spanish have been inserted as a strong 13/2 chance behind Brazil and Germany to lift the Jules Rimet trophy in July. A group that contains Portugal, Morocco and Iran should offer little in the way of resistance to their hopes.
Turmoil for Key England Opponent
To rather less fanfare, Belgium announced their World Cup squad on Monday, and one player was notable by his absence.
Radja Nainggolan, the brilliant midfielder who helped guide AS Roma to the Champions League semi-finals, has been bizarrely omitted from his country’s squad by head coach Roberto Martinez.
“The reason that Radja’s not in the squad is purely a tactical decision. I don’t think he is a player to be used in a small role,” was Martinez’s explanation in what must go down as one of the most underhand backhanded compliments in football.
Nainggolan has since announced his international retirement in an act of hasty petulance, but even his teammates must surely be confused as to why such a class act failed to make the grade in a midfield in which Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj are given the nod.
There will be a healthy Premier League presence in the Belgium team, with Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi battling it out for the number nine shirt ahead of a truly mesmerising midfield that will surely include Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembele and Dries Mertens.
At the back Tottenham pair Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld – although how much longer he will be at the club remains to be seen – will team up on the international stage, although it remains to be seen whether the fitness of Vincent Kompany will hold out for a full tournament.
In goal, Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois is likely to get the nod over the ousted Liverpool shot stopper Simon Mignolet.