Hierro’s Spain have work to do

KALININGRAD, RUSSIA - JUNE 25 : Head coach of Spain Fernando Hierro looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group B match between Spain and Morocco at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia on June 25, 2018. (Photo by Andrey Bogunov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KALININGRAD, RUSSIA - JUNE 25 : Head coach of Spain Fernando Hierro looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Group B match between Spain and Morocco at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia on June 25, 2018. (Photo by Andrey Bogunov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

Spain have finished top of Group B after a mixed start and despite the hands approach of Fernando Hierro, La Roja still leave more questions than answers.

A mere day and a half before he succeeds Julen Lopetegui as national team manager, Hierro was asked did he have any ambition to manage the national team. The 50-year-old responded with a no. “If you look at my resume, it’s hard to see anything that would make me a candidate for the national team,” he admitted to press soon after taking the job, “I am a coach because of the circumstances. I came here in a suit and I will leave in a tracksuit.”

Early into his Spain tenure, also known as 24 hours before the opening game against fellow group favorites Portugal, Hierro insisted that he wouldn’t be changing anything that Lopetegui had started. This is not a surprise, the selected 23 were already in Russia when Lopetegui was sacked and even the most foolish of managers would know that ripping up the floorboards and starting afresh just before the start of a major tournament would only end in tears.

However, for all the talk Hierro has done about keeping the system and not changing anything, he has change things. The former Madrid man has brought in elements of his back room staff, namely a new assistant manager and a new fitness coach.

At the conclusion of the group stages, Hierro has now tried three different midfield combinations with Thiago double pivoting with Busquets the latest change the manager has implemented. His team aren’t as willing to give up possession, happier to rotate the ball around the back four and await the opening in comparison to Lopetegui’s side who were content to play direct when called upon.

In some ways, perhaps these changes had to be made, although it is rather useless to try and guess how Lopetegui would have lined up his teams in these last three group encounters, one feels that the now Real Madrid coach was still wasn’t 100 percent certain of his full starting XI.

There is also the unexpected tightness of Spain’s group could of all forced Hierro hand to make changes. There has also been a noted change in his press conferences, talking more openly about style and approach and explaining his lineups, its not something one expected to hear from Hierro when he took the job.

Nonetheless, it has been interesting the differences of what Hierro has said and what Hierro has done particularly in the tactical side of the game when he was a coach expected to use his personality over his coaching expertise.

Whether it be the tournament itself forcing his hand or perhaps a hunger for management that even the Spaniard himself doesn’t realize, the group stages have been a mixed bag. His team don’t look nearly as flexible as Lopetegui and lack the dynamism in attack. It has been even more concerning at the back, with five goals conceded so far.

David DeGea has lacked the confidence he has shown in Manchester and the Spanish press aren’t making it any easier for him. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique are displaying the same inconsistency that haunted both their club seasons, not to mention Hierro still hasn’t founded a well balanced midfield, with both Iran and Morocco enjoying acres of space on the break as the Spanish midfield is caught high up the field.

The back line should be a chief concern for Hierro if he has ambitions of leading Spain to World Cup glory. Six of the last seven world champions finished the tournament with best defense, incidentally the highest number of goals conceded by any of the last seven World Cup winners was West Germany during the 1990 World Cup with five goals.

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Having said all that, there is plenty to praise about Hierro aswell. Spain are still very new to winning and it could be said that heading into a tournament as favorites before a late disaster sees them crash out early would be a return to character for the Iberians. Instead, they have topped a very difficult group and despite two extremely scrappy and unconvincing wins against Iran and Morocco, they still boast one of the most impressive results so far in their opening day draw with Portugal.

Hierro can also take credit for getting Diego Costa firing, the Atletico Madrid forward has always looked like an odd fit in the Spanish setup, but Hierro has managed to use Costa lethal finishing effectively, with the 29-year-old scoring three goals in two games so far.

A round of 16 clash with the hosts await and there seems to be more questions around Spain than answers, especially for their caretaker coach. Hired as a motivator, he has shown more of analytical skills if anything during the group phase. He promised not to change too much, yet he has changed plenty in his opening three games and there seems to be promise for more as the tournament continues.  Spain are in many ways, experiencing the growing pains that come with hiring a new coach, yet for some bizarre reason, no one expected it.