Right-back may be the most open spot in Spain’s starting line-up this summer as no player has truly stamped his authority on the position in recent games. But could a certain wildcard be the surprise selection of Vicente del Bosque’s 23-man squad? Enter yet another member of Spain’s highly vaunted European Championship-winning Under-21 side, Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal.
Brought back to the Spanish capital after spending last season in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen , the 22-year-old has made the right-back position his own, rivalling Alvaro Arbeloa long before the elder statesman succumbed to a devastating knee injury a couple of weeks ago.
The battle for position at club level looks set to spill over to the national side. Del Bosque usually relies on the tried and tested Arbeloa come tournament time but even at full fitness the former Liverpool man has his shortcomings. The 31-year-old has lost a bit pace and he’s never been terribly fast or skilful either.
Carvajal, on the other hand, provides Spain with a much more dynamic threat down the right side, especially important as Spain usually play very narrowly at times, relying on the full-backs and their overlapping runs for support. Carvajal’s attacking prowess culminated in his first ever goal for Los Merengues a couple of weeks ago in the derby against Rayo Vallecano.
Defensively he is no slouch either and is a lot stronger than his stature would suggest. Carvajal is rarely caught out of position and when he is, his pace gives him a great chance to recover.
Since Sergio Ramos was moved into the centre of defence the Spain team has worked to replace his marauding runs and attacking flair. Against Brazil last year in the Confederations Cup final, Arbeloa looked woefully short of ideas and had a torrid time against Neymar. This prompted some fears and Del Bosque has looked to rotate in that position, even giving an opportunity to the adaptable Koke on occasion.
But this tournament may be too much too soon for Carvajal, with Euro 2016 perhaps a more realistic goal. Despite Carvajal’s impressive season the question remains, is the usually cautious Del Bosque ready to shake up the squad? Or will he stay with the players who have made this current generation of Spaniards the most successful of all time?
Primarily Carvajal will be facing stiff competition from Atletico Madrid’s Juanfran, Arbeloa, who is set to return just before the World Cup, and Cesar Azpilicueta. Azpilicueta, who spends most of his time playing left-back for Chelsea, could revert to his natural position this summer and could be the likely starter
If Carvajal has any real shot of hopping on the plane to Brazil it could be as Azpilicueta’s backup. Even that would be an excellent opportunity for the youngster and he is surely Spain’s right-back of the future.