Things are moving very quickly for Pedri.

This time last year he was 17 years old and preparing for a Copa del Rey clash against Badajoz with Las Palmas, now he is playing for Barcelona and his coach is fielding questions about the possibility of him representing Spain at the delayed Euro 2020.

Calls for him to be considered by Luis Enrique intensified after he produced a fine display in Barca's 3-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, becoming the youngest player in LaLiga history to score and assist in a single game.

At 18 years and 42 days old he headed home an equaliser after Inaki Williams' opener at San Mames and then produced a lovely backheel that Messi steered home to put the Blaugrana on the path to a 3-2 win.

Asked on Friday if Pedri is deserving of a first call-up to the senior Spain squad, Barca boss Ronald Koeman said: "It's not my decision.

"We can say a lot of positive things about Pedri's career so far. Nobody expected a boy of his age to play almost every game. He deserves it.

"It seems like he's been at the club for years, but young players always have ups and downs, you have to see how he continues to evolve, but I have no doubts that he will continue to improve.

"He has to show this level for a longer time, but you don't have to rush."

But how does Pedri stack up against the other options available to Luis Enrique?

A FINE PLAYMAKER

Among Spanish midfielders and attackers playing in the top five European leagues to have featured in at least 10 games in all competitions this season, Pedri ranks sixth in terms of chances created with 26 – 11 shy of Iago Aspas at the top of the list.

Only Isco (31.4) and Cesc Fabregas (30.9) have attempted more passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes than Pedri (30.6), though the Barca star averages more successful ones (24.6) than Fabregas (21.2). Isco leads the way with 25.6 successful passes ending in the final third each game.

AT THE HEART OF THINGS

When looking at the performances of Spanish midfielders in the top five European leagues, only Napoli's Fabian Ruiz (93) has been involved in more unique open play sequences ending with a shot than Pedri (79). Nine of the sequences featuring Pedri have ended in a goal, a tally that only Denis Suarez (10) and Marcos Llorente (13) can better.

The overall expected goals value of the open play sequences ending with a shot or goal that Pedri has been involved in is 10.5, putting him top of the list. It means that not only is the 18-year-old involved in a many passages of play compared to his contemporaries, he is involved in dangerous ones.

Pedri has initiated 16 open play sequences that ended with a shot this season, enough for joint-fourth alongside Dani Parejo. Rodri is top on 22 but his role at Manchester City means he is relied upon to regain possession and start moves from there. Barca would not expect breaking up the opposition's play to be a huge part of Pedri's game, but he is still able to get them moving forward.

Of the shot-ending sequences in open play that Pedri has been involved in, he created the chance and was also involved in the build-up on eight occasions. Luis Alberto (9) of Lazio is the only player with more multi chance involvements.

VERDICT

Spain have an abundance of attacking midfield options, but Pedri is already showing a level of involvement in Barca's build-up play that must surely put him in Luis Enrique's thinking. He has also proved versatile, with Koeman using him out wide, behind the striker and also in a deeper midfield role at times this season. Regardless of where he plays, Pedri is regularly involved in sequences that lead to goalscoring opportunities and looks set to continue doing so for years to come.

Lionel Messi has highlighted Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique as the best coaches he has worked under at Barcelona.

Guardiola coached Messi between 2008 and 2012, with Barca winning 14 trophies during his tenure at Camp Nou.

Tito Vilanova took over when Guardiola left and guided Barca to a LaLiga title in 2012-13, though he left the post due to ill health and subsequently died of cancer within a year.

After Gerardo Martino's brief spell in charge, former Barca attacker Luis Enrique took charge in 2014 and enjoyed three trophy-laden years as Blaugrana boss.

Luis Enrique guided Barca to two LaLiga titles, three successive Copa del Rey triumphs and the 2014-15 Champions League.

In 105 league appearances under Luis Enrique, Messi netted 106 goals – scoring every 84.29 minutes on average – provided 43 assists and created a total of 251 chances.

Now boss of Spain, Luis Enrique left Barca when his contract expired after three years, and Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien both failed to achieve the same level of success, while Ronald Koeman has endured a difficult start.

In an interview with Sexta which is to be broadcast on December 27, Messi claimed Guardiola and Luis Enrique are the very best he has worked with.

"Pep has something special, he makes you see things in a way," six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi said.

"How he prepared the matches, defensively, how to attack, he told you exactly where the game was, how you had to attack to win.

"I was lucky that I had a lot of time with Guardiola and Luis Enrique, the two best. Having them [for so long] made me grow a lot in football and in the tactical wisdom that they taught me."

Messi led Barca to a 3-0 victory over Real Valladolid on Tuesday, surpassing Pele's record of 643 goals for one club side in the process.

Roberto Mancini sees similarities between his Italy side and Spain after they were drawn to face each other in the Nations League semi-finals.

Italy were confirmed as hosts for the finals of the tournament in October 2021, Milan and Turin selected as the venues to stage fixtures.

The Azzurri qualified from Group A1 ahead of the Netherlands and are on a 22-game unbeaten run, though they will have to get past Spain if they are to play in the final at San Siro.

Luis Enrique's side progressed from Group A4 at the expense of Germany, who they sensationally thrashed 6-0 last month in the final round of qualifying games.

Belgium will face France in the other half of the draw, but Mancini believes, like his own squad, Spain are starting to see the benefits following a period of change.

"I think Spain are in a similar position to ours," the former Inter coach said after the draw. "They changed many players but they still have some strong and experienced players like Sergio Ramos.

"They have built a strong team, playing slightly more vertical than previously but still with a midfield so technical. Their style of play, it's not completely different.

"Maybe they added some fast wings that make their play more unpredictable. It will be a very interesting game."

Ramos remains one of the old guard still around for Spain and Mancini sees no signs of the centre-back losing a step, despite now being 34.

While his club future remains unclear – Ramos' contract with Real Madrid runs out at the end of this season – Italy's boss insists the defender still remains one of best in the world at his position.

"I'm not Real Madrid president but I think Sergio Ramos is one of the best defenders in the world for many years," Mancini said.

"He is a great player, he has unique technical skills and he is a very charismatic player. For sure he is the most important player for Real Madrid, but also for Spain.

"He is able to transmit that determination that is very important for a captain."

Both Italy and Spain will compete in Euro 2020 – delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – prior to the conclusion of the Nations League, though Luis Enrique is a fan of the tournament.

"It is far on the calendar but it is like that because there are no other dates," the Spain boss told the media.

"That it is far away does not mean that we do not have much desire and great enthusiasm to lift this title, which would be wonderful. I consider the Nations League to be a great success and I am delighted to be able to participate in it."

Luis Enrique said his Spain team delivered a perfect display as they thrashed Germany 6-0 to secure their Nations League progression, while also revealing that Sergio Ramos' injury appears to be minor. 

Ferran Torres scored a hat-trick while Alvaro Morata, Rodri and Mikel Oyarzabal also grabbed goals in a remarkable match on Tuesday, meaning Spain top Group A4 ahead of their opponents. 

It was Spain's first win in four matches, Luis Enrique's side having drawn successive matches against Switzerland and the Netherlands on the back of a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine. 

However, victory in Seville was never in doubt as they dominated from start to finish, amassing 23 attempts to Germany's two and controlling 69.7 per cent of the possession. 

Neither of Germany's efforts were on target, with Spain the first side since France in November 2015 to prevent Joachim Low's side from hitting the target at all in a match. 

"Well, the game went perfectly. Everyone plugged in and hit the mark," former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique told reporters. 

"Germany has brought out its best team and I think that from the beginning we have played very well, and it is one of the best and most complete matches of the national team. 

"In the previous matches we were superior, but we had no prize. It will be nice to play in the final four.

"These players can represent Spain well. We have a group of 30 players who perform very well. Our forwards have a lot of quality, and I wish we had a player who scored a lot of goals, but today we have seen several players score." 

The only disappointment for Spain was first-half injuries sustained by Sergio Canales and Ramos, both suffering hamstring problems. 

Though unable to confirm a definite timeframe on Ramos' return, Luis Enrique offered hope that the Real Madrid defender will not be out for too long. 

"The injuries are minor and I hope they are out for a short time," he added. 

"It is what I feel the most, because I have been a club coach and I put myself in their place."

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.


STRIKER-LESS SYSTEM

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.

Sergio Ramos can handle talk over his future at Real Madrid and has not allowed his contract situation to affect him while playing for Spain, according to Luis Enrique. 

Defender Ramos is in the final year of his deal with Madrid and negotiations between the two parties have reportedly stalled, leading to speculation he could be set to depart the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with the 34-year-old, who pulled out of the scheduled national team news conference on Monday, Manchester City midfielder Rodri stepping in to replace his captain.

Ramos is preparing for Spain's pivotal Nations League clash with Germany on Tuesday, a game they must win if they are to leapfrog their rivals and qualify for the finals of the tournament. 

Head coach Luis Enrique has backed the centre-back to cope amid the growing pressure, something he has become accustomed to during his distinguished career for club and country. 

"Everything that is generated around Ramos is neither new, nor old, nor is it anything," the Spain boss told the media.  

"It is what it is and what it means to have a player of this level. It is normal that there is pressure around and you have to live with that. 

"If there is someone with enough experience to handle this personal situation it is Sergio Ramos.  

"He is well prepared, and I see him the same as the first day we arrived at the national team, his enthusiasm, his leadership. His face does not change at all and this is part of the things that a footballer should know how to carry."

Spain were only able to draw 1-1 away in Switzerland last time out, not helped by the usually reliable Ramos missing two penalties. 

Luis Enrique defended the player – who had scored his previous 25 attempts from the spot for club and country – in his post-match media conference, though it was again a topic of debate in Monday's preview session for the game in Seville. 

"I don't know if Sergio Ramos is the best penalty taker in the world," he replied when asked about Ramos' spot-kick role.  

"What I did defending Sergio after the game is what any coach would do of course. You have to know how to accept both versions of the story and nothing happens."

Ramos has played the most number of games (16) during Luis Enrique's time in charge, during which he is the leading scorer with nine goals.

He is also top of the charts across the same period when it comes to shots attempted (37), passes attempted (1,328) and also duels won (64), showing his all-round value to the team.

Luis Enrique defended his decision to start without a recognised striker after Spain required a last-minute goal to snatch a 1-1 draw in Saturday's Nations League clash with Switzerland.

Spain were heading for successive Group A4 defeats before substitute Gerard Moreno struck to cancel out Remo Freuler's first-half opener in a game that saw Sergio Ramos miss two penalties.

Having started with Gerard and Alvaro Morata in Wednesday's 1-1 friendly draw with the Netherlands, Luis Enrique reverted back to his striker-less system at St Jakob-Park by recalling Dani Olmo to lead the line.

It was ultimately Villarreal striker Gerard who made the difference for Spain as he got on the end of Sergio Reguilon's left-sided cross and clinically converted from seven yards out – one of 20 shots the visitors attempted.

Luis Enrique's side have scored three goals in their past five games but the coach has stood by his decision to leave out the likes of Morata and Gerard in Basel until the second half.

"Soccer can be like this," he said. "It is a wonderful game but sometimes it does not do justice. A lot of things happened and we tried to play our style. 

"We felt that a number nine was not going to be necessary in the first half. We lacked a bit of freshness but I think Switzerland were good.

"We lacked when it came to the most difficult thing – scoring. On the basis of the first half we deserved to win, and on the basis of the second as well. It is easy to say after the game that Morata had to play or Gerard should have played."

Spain have taken one point from their past two Group A4 matches, having lost 1-0 to Ukraine last month, and now face Germany – one point better off after beating Ukraine 3-1 on Saturday – in a final-game shootout for top spot on Tuesday.

"I already have a plan for the Germany game," Luis Enrique added. "We will have to see how the players recover and take that into account.

"But we now know that we need to win or be out, as if it was a knockout game in the European Championship."

Arguably the biggest selection call of all, however, was Luis Enrique's decision to bring in Unai Simon over benched pair David de Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal for the second match running.

Simon made two saves but was well beaten for Freuler's opener and was caught out in the second half when racing way off his line and failing to get the ball, with Ramos getting back to block Haris Seferovic's shot on the line.

Asked to explain his goalkeeping pecking order, Luis Enrique said: "I have always declared that I am happy with all three of them.

"I will keep calling on them. Unai has been very good."

Gerard's late goal was his fourth for Spain, each being scored in the month of November, and was of particular relief to Ramos following his remarkable double penalty miss.

The Spain skipper was making his 177th international appearance, seeing him overtake Italy great Gianluigi Buffon as the most-capped European male player.

Yann Sommer was equal to both spot-kicks but Luis Enrique is keeping faith with Ramos, who had scored his previous 25 for club and country.

"There is a list of shooters and Ramos is first," he said. "He would take every penalty that was in the game. 

"He had been on a good run but football has these moments. We are not going to criticise him now."

Spain are now unbeaten in 10 away games against Switzerland, which is their best such run against any opponent.

Sergio Ramos has become the most capped European footballer of all time, surpassing the record set by Italy legend Gianluigi Buffon.

Real Madrid centre-back Ramos earned a 177th appearance for Spain in Saturday's Nations League match against Switzerland, having pulled level with Buffon when coming off the bench against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

It means Ramos, a World Cup winner with Spain, is now just eight short of the overall record held by Egypt's Ahmed Hassan.

As well as his triumph in South Africa in 2010, Ramos has won two European Championships with Spain and scored 23 goals for his country – putting him joint eighth on the list with Alfredo Di Stefano.

Indeed, no player has won more games for his country than Ramos (129 prior to kick-off against Switzerland).

Coincidentally, Ramos has played against Italy 10 times – more than any other nation – and faced Buffon on each occasion, winning four of those matches while losing just one.

The 34-year-old has played in 17 World Cup games and 15 in the European Championship, while 97 of his caps came under the leadership of Vicente Del Bosque, winning 76.2 per cent of those matches under the ex-Madrid coach.

Ramos' international career began in 2005 against Chile and by the age of 26 he had already racked up a century of appearances.

Buffon's last Italy outing came against Argentina in March 2018, some 7,450 days after making his Azzurri bow against Russia in October 1997.

The Juventus great, also a World Cup winner, kept 68 sheets and clocked up 15,243 minutes played for his country.

 

Luis Enrique hailed "unique" Sergio Ramos after the Spain captain equalled Italy great Gianluigi Buffon's European caps record in Wednesday's 1-1 draw with the Netherlands.

Ramos was brought on five minutes from time at the Johan Cruijff ArenA for his 176th international appearance, some 15 years after making his senior debut.

The Real Madrid centre-back can overtake Buffon as Europe's most-capped international footballer should he feature against Switzerland in Basel on Saturday.

He is also within eight appearances of the worldwide caps record, which is currently held by former Egypt midfielder Ahmed Hassan.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique praised Ramos for matching Buffon's tally.

"Sergio is unique. He is on a different level," he said after the match. "The appearance record is only within the reach of those who are very gifted."

Luis Enrique fielded an experimental XI that included debutant goalkeeper Unai Simon, plus returning quartet Koke, Alvaro Morata, Hector Bellerin and Marco Asensio.

Morata set up Sergio Canales for Spain's 18th-minute opener - the ninth goal the Juventus striker has been directly involved in in nine games for club and country this term.

"Alvaro has been very good but it is the same as we have seen these months at Juve," Luis Enrique said. "We caused problems for them with him in attack."

Koke also impressed in Amsterdam as he attempted more passes in the opposition half (29) and produced more tackles (four) than any other player on the field.

Asked about the Atletico Madrid midfielder's display, Luis Enrique said: "He is a player who gives us total guarantee that he will perform at a very high level. He did very well, exactly what I asked of him, and has the personality to play there."

Spain have won only two of their six matches this calendar year but Luis Enrique insisted he is happy with where his side are at ahead of key Nations League games with Switzerland and Germany over the next week.

"I have a good feeling because this was a complicated game for us," he said. "We had some good phases, although in the second half we became a little bit more disorganised.

"But in general I am satisfied with my side, who showed a good attitude. We had a plan in place to bring in some fresh player ahead of the two competitive matches. I am more than satisfied with what I have seen."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique backed Barcelona sensation Ansu Fati to pick up from where he left off once he has recovered from a knee injury.

Fati will spend four months on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on a tear to the internal meniscus of his left knee – an injury sustained in Saturday's 5-2 LaLiga win over Real Betis

The 18-year-old has been in great form for Barca this term, scoring five goals and assisting two more in 10 appearances in all competitions.

Among a number of other records, he became the youngest ever scorer for Spain with his goal against Ukraine in September.

That was one of four caps earned under Luis Enrique and the former Barcelona coach is confident the teenage attacker will find his best form once he returns to action.

"Regardless of how old you are, injuries are part of football," Luis Enrique said at a news conference ahead of Wednesday's friendly with the Netherlands. 

"It is a sad moment but he will overcome it. He will be the old Ansu again."

Fati's absence could give the likes of Alvaro Morata and Marcos Llorente a chance to shine in attack against the Netherlands.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke is back involved for the first time in over two years, while team-mate Llorente is in line for his maiden cap this international window.

"Morata is here because he has the confidence of his coach. He has a strong profile," Luis Enrique said.

"Llorente is almost already playing as a forward at Atletico now as the second striker. 

"The normal thing is to change your position, becoming deeper in your role, but with Llorente it is the other way around."

Spain enter the midweek friendly in Amsterdam on the back of a surprise 1-0 Nations League loss to Ukraine last month.

La Roja have won only two of their five matches this calendar year but Luis Enrique insisted all that matters is that his side peak in time for next year's rescheduled Euro 2020 finals.

"These games will help us to see all the players," he said. "But after playing these three games we still won't know what we have for the European Championships. 

"That will be seen in the tournament itself, where we can do very well. We'll see. I like what I see. You have to be optimistic and positive. Spain's real level will be seen at the Euros."

Spain defender Hector Bellerin struggled to accept being out of international football for such a long time.

The Arsenal right-back was called up to Spain's squad for the first time in four years after Sevilla's Jesus Navas was ruled out through injury.

He won the last of his three caps for La Roja in a friendly against Georgia in July 2016 and, although he made Spain's squad for Euro 2016, he did not feature at the tournament.

Bellerin, however, was given a recall by coach Luis Enrique for his side's friendly with the Netherlands plus the Nations League fixtures against Switzerland and Germany.

The 25-year-old has been one of Arsenal's most consistent performers this season and played every minute of their eight Premier League games.

He has made 12 interceptions and eight tackles with a success rate of 88 per cent in those matches, helping the Gunners to keep two clean sheets.

"Yes, I am so happy getting back home. It has been almost five years since the last time, so I am very happy," Bellerin said in an interview with the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

"They have been tough years, and they always are when you cannot join the national team, but I am very proud and happy now. I can't wait to start."

Another player thrilled to be recalled by Luis Enrique after a break is Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke, who last featured for Spain just over two years ago.

Koke, 28, has not featured for Spain since a 4-1 friendly defeat of Wales in October 2018.

"I am very happy to be here again with the national team," Koke explained.

"It has been a long time, but I do have the same excitement that I had on my first day and I am looking forward to helping the team win the games."

Spain are top of Nations League Group A4 with seven points but saw their 13-game unbeaten run (W10 D3) in competitive matches ended last time out with a surprise 1-0 loss to Ukraine.

Left-back Jose Luis Gaya has warned his team-mates not to let any complacency seep into their forthcoming performances.

"It is true we are still first, and that gives us a little advantage. But we know how football is and everything can happen," added the Valencia defender.

"We need to try on winning all the games, that's what this jersey demands.

"Therefore, we cannot get relaxed and we have to face two official games plus the friendly one as they were finals."

Hector Bellerin and Marco Asensio have been called into Spain's squad for this month's international fixtures as injury replacements.

Arsenal right-back Bellerin earns a first call-up for four years after Sevilla captain Jesus Navas was substituted due to an injury at half-time during his club's 1-0 win over Osasuna.

Luis Enrique's side face a friendly against the Netherlands before Nations League matches against Switzerland and Germany.

Real Madrid attacker Asensio comes into the reckoning in place of Barcelona teenager Ansu Fati.

Like Navas, Fati only managed the first 45 matches of a LaLiga match at the weekend, making way for Lionel Messi in Barcelona's 5-2 triumph over Real Betis.

The Catalan giants later confirmed the forward has suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee, with a decision over treatment options to be made over the coming days.

Diego Simeone claimed Spain will benefit from Marcos Llorente's versatility as much as his Atletico Madrid side do.

The midfielder was given a first senior call-up by Spain coach Luis Enrique for a friendly against the Netherlands and Nations League clashes with Switzerland and Germany.

Simeone has used the 25-year-old in a variety of positions since he signed him in June 2019 from LaLiga rivals Real Madrid.

"We are happy with the arrival of Marcos to the national team," the Atletico head coach told a media conference on Friday.

"He is an all-round player, he can play anywhere on the pitch. He can play on the wing, as a second striker.

"He has height, speed and goals. Luis Enrique is going to meet a footballer who will offer him many resources.

"The team has a coach who will always look for what he sees is best for the team, along with the ideas he has and the way the footballers are.

"Marcos is going through a spectacular moment."

Atleti host Cadiz in LaLiga on Saturday having not lost in 12 meetings with the Andalusian side on home turf, with only one draw during this streak – a 0-0 back in May 1991.

Simeone's side are also unbeaten in their last 22 LaLiga matches (W13 D9), their best unbeaten run in the history of the competition and the longest currently of any team in the top five European leagues.

However, Cadiz have made a fine start to the current season and are behind fourth-placed Atletico on goal difference with 14 points, albeit having played two extra games.

With his side having battled to a 1-1 draw against Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League during the week, Simeone is wary of the threat posed by Cadiz.

And he is especially concerned that his players will not have a crowd at the Wanda Metropolitano to encourage their tired legs towards the end of the game following a hectic period.

"Cadiz are a very strong away team that have won all four away games, very compact. I like their form and their collective work," Simeone added.

"At the end of the matches the absence of the public is noticeable because they cannot push in the final stages when the scores are tight. We miss our fans a lot."

Spain coach Luis Enrique had no hesitations in handing Alvaro Morata an international recall after claiming the forward has turned himself into a different player at Juventus.

Morata last played for Spain in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Romania last November, seemingly falling out of favour since.

But the 28-year-old re-joined Juventus on loan from Atletico Madrid in September, and an upturn in form has brought him six goals in seven games for the Bianconeri.

Morata has scored 17 times in 33 appearances for Spain since making his debut in November 2014, but his consistency at club level has been questioned in the past.

However, Luis Enrique has closely monitored Morata's performances at Juve and seen enough to warrant his return to the squad.

Spain face the Netherlands in a friendly on Wednesday, before Nations League clashes with Switzerland and Germany.

"I call on Morata because since he returned to Juventus, he is confident and his numbers indicate that," Luis Enrique told a media conference on Friday.

"You can see a different player with many aspects improved in attack and defence. It is always a pleasure to have Alvaro again.

"Those of us who are outside can appreciate that, in terms of confidence and performance, Morata in attack is better than previously."

Luis Enrique also named Atletico midfielder Koke in his squad after an international exile of just over two years.

Koke, 28, last played for Spain in a 4-1 friendly defeat of Wales in October 2018.

The coach continued: "I have always liked Koke, he is of a high level and as a person he's 10 out of 10. The midfield is my weakness and there is a lot of competition. We will ask him for other things."

With Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara absent due to injury, there was also a first senior call-up for Koke's Atletico team-mate Marcos Llorente, and Luis Enrique backed him to make an impact.

He added: "Llorente is a very complete player, I will ask him where he is most comfortable. He is very versatile.

"He has scored goals, [got] assists, is powerful, well-equipped technically. He is eager to see what he can offer us.

"There are players who are not included due to injury, but it opens up the opportunity to see others. It is an interesting situation for me, to prepare for three very interesting games."

Ronald Koeman gets his first taste of El Clasico from the dugout on Saturday, when Barcelona host Real Madrid.

A favourite of Johan Cruyff's mighty 'Dream Team' of the early 1990s, the pressure is on Koeman the coach to get Barca back to winning trophies at home and in Europe after last season's miserable ending.

He will have a chance to earn some sizeable brownie points against a Madrid side who are reeling from back-to-back defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk, results that have placed much of the pre-game scrutiny on Koeman's opposite number, Zinedine Zidane.

As the former Netherlands boss looks to end a two-game winless run for Barca in Spain's grandest fixture, we look at how his predecessors fared in their first Clasicos in LaLiga...

 

PEP GUARDIOLA. BARCELONA 2-0 REAL MADRID. DECEMBER 13, 2008.

Both dugouts featured coaches taking charge of teams in a Clasico for the first time and it was Guardiola who got the better of Madrid's Juande Ramos.

Late goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi earned Barcelona the victory as they moved 12 points clear of Madrid in the table too.

That victory occurred during a 10-game winning streak in LaLiga and it was no surprise that Barca, who beat Madrid 6-2 later in the season, went on to win the title.

TITO VILANOVA. BARCELONA 2-2 REAL MADRID. OCTOBER 7, 2012.

The two clubs had already met in the Supercopa de Espana at the start of the season, Madrid winning on away goals after both teams had won a leg apiece.

Their first league meeting of 2012-13 was all about Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi as both men scored twice in a 2-2 draw.

Ronaldo scored for a record sixth successive Clasico to put Madrid ahead and, after Messi had netted a brace, Los Blancos' Portuguese star took his tally to 160 goals in 155 games since his 2009 move from Manchester United with an equaliser.

 

GERARDO MARTINO. BARCELONA 2-1 REAL MADRID. OCTOBER 23, 2013.

All eyes were on new recruits Neymar and Gareth Bale and it was the former who scored first to set Barca on their way.

Alexis Sanchez would double that lead and though Jese Rodriguez pulled one back, Madrid fell to a defeat that left them six points behind Barcelona after just 10 league games.

Both teams would finish the campaign on 87 points, a total not good enough to win the league as Atletico Madrid claimed 90 to be crowned champions.

LUIS ENRIQUE. REAL MADRID 3-1 BARCELONA. OCTOBER 25, 2014.

The Blaugrana had claimed 22 points from the first 24 available but they suffered defeat at Santiago Bernabeu in October 2014.

Barca debutant Luis Suarez, back after a four-month ban for biting, set up Neymar for a fourth-minute opener but the home side stormed back.

An in-form Ronaldo levelled from the spot with his 21st goal of the season before Pepe and Karim Benzema scored in the second half.

 

ERNESTO VALVERDE. REAL MADRID 0-3 BARCELONA. DECEMBER 23, 2017.

Los Blancos' awful start to the 2017-18 campaign continued as Barcelona moved 14 points clear of the defending champions with a comfortable win at the Bernabeu.

Suarez, Messi and Arturo Vidal all scored while Madrid, who had beaten Barca in both Supercopa de Espana legs at the beginning of the campaign, had Dani Carvajal dismissed for handball.

It was the first time Barcelona had won three successive league matches at the Bernabeu in Clasico history, and they went into the last match in our list with four straight victories at the ground.

 

QUIQUE SETIEN, REAL MADRID 2-0 BARCELONA, MARCH 1, 2020.

Setien, who took over from Valverde in January this year, had Barca on a four-game winning streak in LaLiga ahead of their trip to the capital.

What followed was a miserable outing for the Catalans, as second-half goals from Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz – in his first league appearance of the season – secured the win for the hosts.

The result lifted Madrid to the top of the table and set them on course to win the title after the coronavirus-enforced break to the season. Setien was sacked in August, his final game in charge that humiliating 8-2 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich.

Page 1 of 4
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.