News Live Scores
European Championship

'From the front page to eating all the sh*t in Spain' - Why Morata could be axed for key Poland clash

13:00 BST 18/06/2021
Alvaro Morata Spain Sweden Euro 2020
The Juventus striker's finishing ability is again under intense scrutiny after La Roja were held to a 0-0 draw by Sweden in their Euro 2020 opener

While Sweden pinching a point from Spain may count as the only shock result in the first round of matches at Euro 2020, it was no surprise Luis Enrique’s team fired blanks in front of goal.

For months, nay, years, Spain’s critics have pointed to the lack of a ‘killer’ in the box, a player like Raul, Fernando Torres, or David Villa. The latter two helped Spain dominate international football between 2008 and 2012, winning two European Championships and a World Cup, but it has been a barren spell since.

Diego Costa came and went, Leeds United forward Rodrigo was used for a while too, but nobody convinced. Luis Enrique has refused to call up Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas, and is instead relying on Alvaro Morata to lead the line.

In the goalless draw with Sweden, Morata missed a clear-cut chance, curling wide when he should have put Spain in front. Having already been jeered by supporters in the capital in the warm-up friendly against Portugal – also 0-0 – Morata faced further disdain from fans in Seville.

“Alvaro played a very good match, with the exception that we all wished, and him most of all, that we had capitalised on the chances we had,” Luis Enrique said.

“His team-mates also had their opportunities. But it’s fine. I think he is used to [jeers] already, but it’s not nice. It would be a lot nicer for everyone if he was being supported.”

The problem for Morata is that he’s not only suffering for his performance against Sweden, but Spain’s decade-long issues in attack. The same failings have resulted in La Roja falling off their pedestal and fans can feel them taking hold again.

“It’s a shame that a few centimetres can take you from being on the front page to eating all of the sh*t in Spain,” Morata complained ahead of the tournament and he was in the firing line again after the Sweden stalemate. He was given the lowest marks possible in the player ratings of Madrid newspapers AS and Marca.

Worst of all, Morata is not the type of player who takes these things on the chin. The Juventus forward is notoriously inconsistent, riding waves of confidence before then sinking into the sea-bed when the weather changes.

Spain supporters have clamoured for Villarreal forward Gerard Moreno to take Morata’s place on Saturday against Poland, at La Cartuja. Only six per cent of supporters who voted in a Marca poll wished to see Morata up front on his own, with 72 per cent preferring Gerard Moreno and 22 per cent suggesting they should play together.

“It’s curious to me that the best Spanish goalscorer and one of the best in Europe did not start in this game,” former Barcelona and Real Madrid player Bernd Schuster told Onda Cero after the Sweden draw.

“If you have the highest goalscorer and the game is goalless, well, you have to put him on. There are more options than Morata and especially in games as tight as this. Also, they can play together, because Gerard is a player that moves very well.”

Moreno hit 32 goals across all competitions last season for Villarreal and Spain combined, with only Lionel Messi netting more in La Liga last season. The forward powered Villarreal to a famous Europa League triumph over Manchester United and his playing style is suited to Spain’s game.

However, Moreno works best alongside another striker at club level, either Paco Alcacer or Carlos Bacca, so if Luis Enrique decides to start him, it may be in place of Ferran Torres on the right flank and not for Morata. The Villarreal man does not mind operating in wider areas at times before drifting inside to apply the finishing touch.

Brought on as a substitute against Sweden, he had Spain’s best effort, a header that was superbly repelled by Robin Olsen. It was one of only five shots on target by La Roja out of a total of 17.

On other days, some of those might have gone in; Pablo Sarabia was snoozing at the back post in the last minute when Jordi Alba’s excellent cross found him. If Spain maintain this volume of chances and increase their accuracy and composure, they will be able to find the net against Poland and Slovakia.

Luis Enrique believes it’s important to keep Morata’s morale high and has defended him against his critics, also noting that other players are not chipping in with goals. It’s true; Spain’s midfield trio – whichever combination you pick – are not good finishers.

Koke missed a good chance against Sweden, while teenager Pedri has shown on various occasions it’s the one aspect of his game which he needs to work on. Thiago Alcantara, Rodri; neither are goalscorers, without even mentioning Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, back after Covid-19.

Luis Enrique could move Marcos Llorente further forward; it was in the front line or attacking midfield where he shone for Atletico Madrid. Llorente started against Sweden at right-back and performed well, including making one important intervention to deny the rampaging Alexander Isak, but Cesar Azpilicueta could stand in for him there if needed.

Mikel Oyarzabal offers another attacking option from the bench, and he was one of the players to score in their stunning 6-0 victory over Germany in the Nations League last November, a night where everything clicked into place for Spain. That outstanding, dream-like result helped Luis Enrique brush the goals problem under the carpet, but now it has emerged again.

Between utilising the in-form Moreno, repositioning Llorente and continuing to create openings, Spain certainly should be able to score. But until they do, supporters in Seville will be casting covetous glances at Poland and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

With him, Spain may even be considered favourites for the tournament. But that is pure fantasy, and right now the focus is on avoiding an embarrassingly early exit, because, as Morata will testify, the Spanish press always has plenty more sh*t ready to be served up to those that disappoint them.