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Spain ran out as dominant 4-1 winners against Wales at the Principality Stadium on Thursday evening, where Paco Alcacer scored twice to lead Luis Enrique’s men to their third successive victory.
Alcacer picked up his international scoring form where he left it at club level and netted either side of a Sergio Ramos header to send visitors Spain into a three-goal lead by half-time in Cardiff. Marc Bartra came on to add a fourth for Spain, while Burnley striker Sam Vokes headed in a late consolation for Wales.
Injured Gareth Bale was missed by Ryan Giggs’ men as they slumped to a one-sided defeat at home to superior opposition, while Spain’s post-2018 FIFA World Cup return to form continues.
Alcacer Deserves Spot Ahead of Morata in Spain Pecking Order
Alcacer’s decision to leave Barcelona for Borussia Dortmund on loan continued to pay dividends to the forward on Thursday as he showed signs that his rejuvenated club form is impacting his play in Spain colours, too.
It wasn’t long ago the former Valencia star was part of the furniture at the Camp Nou, but the opportunity for first-team minutes in Germany have him on course to ruffle a few feathers in Spain’s forward line, per Squawka:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Paco Alcácer has had eight shots on target for club & country since joining Borussia Dortmund:
He’s scored with all of them. https://t.co/x3KF2ebOJ7
His form has soared while team-mate Alvaro Morata’s has slid this year, and the Chelsea forward’s record of two goals in seven Premier League appearances this season is far inferior to Alcacer’s at Dortmund.
While there’s a certain hunger lacking in Morata’s play—not to mention he’s arguably the far less dynamic asset—Alcacer’s first strike against Wales showed his thirst for goals, via Sky Sports (UK only):
Sky Sports Football @SkyFootball
He’s been on 🔥 for @BVB and now Paco Alcacer is firing for his country!
Spain lead @Cymru early on in Cardiff. 🏟
Watch @Cymru take on Spain at the Principality Stadium live on Sky Sports Football or follow: https://t.co/XOn2wtIT7A https://t.co/eJNLdXBlzf
Both players are 25, and if you were asked which would go further in his career up until this year, Morata would have likely won the vast majority of votes. But their trajectories now look to be heading in different directions.
There was little chance of Alcacer breaking into a forward line that contains the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele at Barcelona, but Copa90’s A West noted how he’s thriving since moving to Germany:
A West @ayyy_west
paco alcacer got some freedom to play regularly and now that man refuses to stop scoring again
Sportswriter Alexandra Jonson praised Alcacer as one of numerous strikers who are enjoying wildly prolific form in 2018-19:
Alexandra Jonson @AlexandraJonson
What have these guys eaten and how do I get some?
In contrast, Morata struggled to test Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, and it wasn’t as though he didn’t have his opportunities. It’s been the story for much of his 2018 at Chelsea, where he just hasn’t looked at his confident best in front of goal.
Diego Costa will likely keep his place as Enrique’s leading frontman of choice for some time, but the agile Alcacer has added a scoring streak to his game that should move him ahead of Morata in Spain’s pecking order.
Saul Emerges as Spain’s Midfield Saviour
As if Spanish supporters needed any reminding as to who holds the future keys to their midfield, Saul Niguez again took the game by the horns to lead the visitors in their first-half assault.
Despite being withdrawn for Atletico Madrid team-mate Koke at half-time, Saul made important touches throughout, not least of which was the reflexive pat down for Alcacer to smash home their first.
The 23-year-old was particularly effective teaming up with in-form Alcacer down Spain’s left side, and it was likely partly down to his half-time withdrawal that Spain’s progress slowed in the second period.
Sportswriter Ben Hayward highlighted the overall quality of Spain’s young three-man midfield, which had an average age of only 22:
Ben Hayward @bghayward
Spain’s midfield is so good, even without Busquets. Rodri is such a talent, Saúl is already a mainstay for Luis Enrique and Ceballos is important now for club and country after a difficult debut season at Real Madrid. The sky is the limit for this team.
Saul has been heavily discussed as one of those players who could succeed Andres Iniesta as the technical master in Spain’s core. While any one player would struggle with such expectations, it’s clear in Saul’s play—his ball retention and ability to keep things ticking under great pressure—where the comparisons emerge.
Squawka’s Muhammad Butt also noticed one superstition that could be a good omen for Spanish fans:
Muhammad Butt @muhammadbutt
half-time analysis: I’m a big fan of Saúl and Koke mirroring Xavi and Iniesta’s 6-to-8 shirt number swap between club and country. #ESP
In a sea of talented Spanish midfielders, Saul nevertheless stands a cut above the rest, combing composed play with injections of pace when they’re needed, akin to a certain Furia Roja legend.
Both teams will be in UEFA Nations League action next time they’re back on the field, with Spain set to host England in Seville on Monday before Wales travel to face the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday.