Diego Costa, David De Gea & David Silva – three Spain stars facing very different Premier League challenges
While De Gea is expected to return for Man United, Costa continues to toil in attack for club and country
Spain’s (ultimately, fairly pointless) game away to Macedonia was everything you would have expected from one of Europe’s smaller nations coming up against a team full of superstars.
Macedonia sat deep and tried to make La Roja play through them, largely forcing the visiting Spaniards to ping it around the edge of the penalty area waiting for a gap to open up. And they were successful too, right up until Juan Mata’s mishit cross looped in at the far post.
But they carried on anyway, because they were coping with Spain pretty well, and came away from the game with a respectable 1-0 defeat.
The feeling is, though, that this is what watching Spain has been like for a couple of years now. They were like this as they crashed out of the World Cup in humiliating fashion, enjoying sterile dominance, which was something that they thought they might solve when they did what very few international sides can do and effectively transferred in a top striker.
Diego Costa nationalised, to much controversy, and donned the red shirt, but his displays since turning Spanish have left a lot to be desired. The Chelsea man has one goal in eight games for his new country, and looked every bit as sluggish last night and against Slovakia as he has for the Blues in the opening weeks of the Premier League season.
A striker, a ‘9’ as they refer to in Spain, who can find space effectively in these packed areas and be razor-sharp in the finish is arguably the only thing that Vicente del Bosque’s side is missing - and they’ve gone through a lot of players without finding it.
Since David Villa there has been Alvaro Morata, Juanmi, Rodrigo, Munir, Diego Costa and many more, but nobody has clicked in the role. The feeling now is that it might be a player of less outright individual talent who makes the position his own, and although he has only managed three goals in Euro 2016 qualifying, Valencia’s Paco Alcacer is Spain’s top scorer and could be playing himself into a starting place with Costa’s continued struggles at club and international level.
If the furrowed brow and slouched shoulders hadn’t already told us that Costa knows he’s not playing well, the Brazil-born striker admitted as much to the cameras after the win over Slovakia in Oviedo. He’s not said the same about his league form but he continues to seem like a player who performs at well below 100 per cent if he’s not in absolutely optimum condition. Chelsea will hope that fitness is his only issue.
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Fitness hopefully won’t be a problem for David De Gea, who made his first appearance of the season for Spain in Skopje and had, unsurprisingly, a pretty light workload. Having been frozen out by Louis van Gaal until now, the Dutchman has decided that a game against archrivals Liverpool this weekend is too risky to trust the error-prone Sergio Romero.
It represents a concession from Van Gaal, which will hurt, and it also helps De Gea on the way to playing for his country at Euro 2016 next summer - something Del Bosque had assured him wouldn’t be possible if he wasn’t back in the first-team picture at Old Trafford.
Across Manchester they will have been watching these two games with a smile. Brilliant so far this season in sky blue, David Silva continued his impressive start to the campaign with another pair of masterclass performances in red. Playing more centrally than his usual role with Manuel Pellegrini’s side, his performance against Slovakia was “incredible,” according to one teammate, “on a different level to the rest of us.”
There have been glimpses of that on English shores this season, and with Pellegrini now experimenting with players either side of him, Silva could take a(nother) step up this season as a number 10. If he can, arguably the most talented player in the Premier League could finally become the absolute superstar he’s always threatened to be.