The physical power of France and the threat of the transitions that Mbappé, Griezmann and Benzema could carry out led Luis Enrique to an unprecedented solution. For the first time, the Spanish coach decided to line up Sergio Busquets and Rodrigo Hernández from the start. In both his first and second stages, the Spanish coach had never denied that both could play together when he was questioned as to whether it would not be appropriate to create a more solid midfield against the big teams. Since Luis Enrique’s return, Spain has faced the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Croatia and Italy. In the eyes of the Asturian coach, none of these teams was worthy of testing with the midfielder of Barcelona and Manchester City. Luis Enrique did not give up 4-3-3. The solution to mix them was to place Rodrigo as a left inside. The idea had to haunt the Spanish coach’s head since September. “The coach asks me for more offensive vocation, not to think so much that I am a pivot, he asks me to be almost more of an insider and to join the attack more,” Rodrigo recounted at that time in an interview with this newspaper.
The brand new alternative took time to get greasy. Due to the high pressure with which France started off. Also because it was difficult for the Madrid midfielder to turn and play forward.
As the world champions were losing steam to overwhelm the departure of the ball from Spain, both grew. Busquets was overwhelmed by Griezmann, condemned by Deschamps to sacrifice himself so that the captain of La Roja could not build.
The solution designed by Luis Enrique gave Spain to compete against France a brave and cumbersome match in the center of the field. Sparks flew in each dispute and the Spanish footballers, led by rookie Gavi, resorted to tactical fouls whenever necessary. This facet has been one of those that Luis Enrique has tried to correct with respect to the September window.
It was at the start of the second half when the Busquets-Rodrigo formula worked better. The first found passes to break the line and the second escorted him well. Under the control they were able to exercise, Spain finally found what it was looking for with Oyarzabal playing a false nine. The realistic forward began to win the balls from below that they sent him when he went down to the center of the field to receive. Those were the moments when Spain played the best because it was able to come out more clearly. Oyarzabal was very smart to threaten to receive another of those passes from below, but he turned and broke into space to receive a filtered cross from Busquets that put him in a duel with Upamecano. The French center-back made one of those bulky errors that he usually makes in control and made it easier for Oyarzabal to beat Lloris with a dry and crossed left-footer.
With the advantage on the scoreboard, Spain could implement the other plan that facilitated the joint line-up of Busquets, chosen as the best player of the tournament, and Rodrigo. He could defend the result with more control of the ball with both of them on the grass. It happened that Benzema did not allow him with the goal he scored in the play that France made just off center.
You can follow EL PAÍS DEPORTES in Facebook and Twitter, or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.