by Nathan Edwards (7/7/22)
Above: Alexia Putellas’ loss is huge for Spain, but offers a golden opportunity to others. Photo: Jose Luis Contreras/DAX Images/NurPhoto.
As Jorge Vilda readied his Spanish side for the Women’s Euros, it all looked positive. La Roja’s first outing in preparation for the Championships quickly squashed the worries about goal scoring, after questions rose due to Jennifer Hermoso’s injury ruled her out of the Euros.
They thwacked seven goals past an inexperienced Australian side that struggled to deal with the European’s obstreperous midfield and they built on that impressive performance, with a draw against Italy.
Alexia Putellas burst in front of her defender to drag Spain level, 23 minutes from time, a scenario we have seen so often for club and country, but Vilda’s star has been snatched out of his summer plans.
The World Player of the Year had her Euro dream shattered by an ACL injury, on the eve of the tournament. On Wednesday Putellas vowed “to finish what she started” but Vilda and his side will need to conjure up a plan to replace one of the world’s best.
She is key. She personifies the way Spain wants to play, the way they should play. She can pick the ball up in the tightest of spaces and once she has escaped through the smallest gap, she can flex her array of passes. She has it all from deadly set pieces to intelligent movement to double up against a defender, she is irreplaceable.
But if anyone has the resources to replace her rare talents, it is Spain.
The Iberian country are fortunate enough to have one of the best squads in the tournament, which is flooded with Putellas’ Barcelona teammates and Vilda isn’t short of options when it comes to picking replacements.
Two of her colleagues are Patri Guijarro and Aitana Bonmati, who play alongside her in the midfield. The two stabilisers in the trio allowed Putellas to be at her creative best and whoever comes in will also have that security of two of the best to rely on.
One option for Vilda is Mariona Caldentey. The 26-year-old normally operates in the front three but has shown the ability to pick up Putellas’ position in midfield. In the Primera Division, she has 13 goal involvements in 15 appearances, showing that she is able to hold up Putellas’ immense output, and if Vilda does opt to move the forward further back, then he has a myriad of options to fill that newly vacant left-wing spot, such as Claudia Pina or Lucia Garcia.
That may be a risk and the ready-made replacement would be Irene Guerrero who made the most of her audition, scoring two late on against the Matildas. Despite the brace, she doesn’t have the threat in front of goal that Putellas or Caldentey possess, but she is an intelligent football who given the chance would add a different dimension to Spain’s style, offering more stability in their defensive structure.
Along with Putellas’ undoubted quality on the pitch, the 28-year-old was a leader and had experienced it all, which is invaluable for a Spain side that has struggled when the pressure starts to build. The lack of experience within this squad had already weakened by Hermoso’s absence, and they will now look to the likes of Irene Paredes, Guijarro and Esther Gonzalez to help guide this youthful Spanish side to La Roja history.
Spain were one of the favourites for the Euros, with their golden generation starting to shine, headed by Putellas but as Vilda celebrates his birthday on the eve of their opening game, the present on the top of his list is an injury-free win against Finland in Milton Keynes.
And after that, he will then be able to assess how he can keep the mood positive in his squad even without the mercurial Alexia Putellas.