Spain’s goalscoring issues were again laid bare in their 1-1 draw with Switzerland last week – a game that saw them dominate in terms of possession and chances without managing to claim the win.
Luis Enrique’s side needed a late goal from substitute Gerard Moreno to rescue them a point, having earlier seen captain Sergio Ramos miss twice from the penalty spot on his record-breaking 177th international appearance.
That profligate display was far from a one-off, though, Spain having now scored just three times in their past five matches overall.
In the Nations League, meanwhile, they have seven goals in five Group A4 outings – a tally bolstered by a 4-0 win over Ukraine in September.
So, why are Spain struggling so badly in front of goal, and is Luis Enrique doing anything to rectify the problem?
A GAME OF CHANCE
Twelve teams have scored more goals in this year’s Nations League than Spain, yet no team has created more chances than their 74, Portugal being the next highest with 72.
Quite clearly, then, the problem is not just a matter of creativity, but more to do with an inability to convert opportunities.
Take the Switzerland match on Saturday, for instance. Spain created 16 chances – not including Ramos’ two spot-kicks – but put away just one of them.
Gerard’s shot was one of 20 La Roja attempted at St. Jakob-Park, seven of which were on target, and arrived nine minutes after he was brought off the bench.
The Villarreal man got in front of his marker and converted Sergio Reguilon’s left-sided cross on the edge of the six-yard box – a classic forward’s finish, you could say.
Interestingly, Reguilon is Spain’s top chance creator (nine), with the likes of Ferran Torres (eight), Ansu Fati (seven), Jesus Navas and Dani Olmo (both six) also contributing.
Spreading the chances throughout the side is one thing but Spain could perhaps do with a key creator in the mould of Bruno Fernandes.
He has laid on 17 chances for team-mates in five Nations League games, while Portugal team-mates Raphael Guerreiro and Bernardo Silva (both 11) are also into double figures.
Three of Spain’s seven goals in the Nations League have been scored by defenders, one of those being a Ramos penalty.
The other four have been spread out between Gerard, Fati, Mikel Oyarzabal and Ferran, none of whom can be classed as pure strikers.
That is perhaps reflected in the conversion stats, with worst culprit Ferran scoring from one of his 10 shots, Fati from one of eight and Oyarzabal one of five.
To put that into some context, prolific Norway striker Erling Haaland has netted from six of his 14 efforts – a conversion rate of nearly 43 per cent – albeit against lesser opposition.
Perhaps a better example would be Timo Werner, striker for Group A4 opponents Germany, who has four goals from 14 shots against an identical level of opponent.
LUIS ENRIQUE – A MAN WITH A PLAN?
Luis Enrique’s options may be limited in terms of out-and-out strikers, but he has inevitably been repeatedly asked about his commitment to using a false nine-style system.
“It is easy to say after the game that Alvaro Morata had to play, or Gerard should have played,” he said after the Switzerland draw.
“But we felt that a number nine was not going to be necessary in the first half. We lacked when it came to the most difficult thing: scoring.”
The cries for Morata to start through the middle may well grow louder should Spain once again fail to fire in Tuesday’s decisive Nations League clash with Germany.
The Juventus striker laid on a lovely assist for Sergio Canales in last week’s 1-1 friendly draw with the Netherlands, making it nine goal involvements in 10 outings this term.
Luis Enrique has insisted throughout all this that he should not be judged until after next year’s rearranged Euro 2020 finals.
Having become the first Spain boss this century to go three games without a win, though, and with his side facing the prospect of once again missing out on the Nations League finals, a rethink may well be required while there is still time.