In recent years, Spain’s left-back position has been nailed down, polished and trademarked by Barcelona star Jordi Alba. Barring injury, he will undoubtedly be Spain’s starter in France this summer. The question remains, however, as to who will provide the cover.
Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal, who has 16 caps for Spain, certainly has a lot going for him. He’s been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers in a season dogged with irregularities. He ranks as his side’s sixth best performer by WhoScored, ahead of fellow Spanish defender Hector Bellerin and Welsh midfield creator Aaron Ramsey.
Statistically, it’s been another sound season for the 30-year-old, who’s played the most minutes of any player in the Arsenal squad. He’s provided two assists, as many as England winger Theo Walcott, and has averaged 2.2 tackles a game, the highest for any Arsenal defender.
Whilst he may not be as adventurous going forward as Jordi Alba, he is strong in the tackle and has proven himself to be one of the best defensive full-backs in the Premier League. The style of play at Arsenal also matches that of Spain, with possession key, and remarkably Monreal had the highest pass-success rate in the whole of the Champions League last season.
A major problem for Monreal, however, happens to be the versatility of his friend Cesar Azpilicueta. The two played together in their early careers for Osasuna and continue to be close, Azpilicueta naming Monreal in his ideal five-a-side team alongside four Chelsea players.
In major tournaments, having to narrow a squad down to 23 players is a difficult task for any Coach. Players able to feature in numerous positions thus become a more attractive proposition as it frees up space in other areas. The fact that Azpilicueta can play at both left and right-back, therefore gives him an edge over Monreal.
That was the case at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Vicente Del Bosque opted to take only seven defenders, including the equally-adept midfielder Javi Martinez and Azpilicueta. For recent friendlies, he has also overlooked Monreal in favour of the Chelsea stopper. Similarly, Nacho Fernandez, capable of playing at both right and left-back, was included in those friendlies.
Another unfortunate problem for the Pamplona-born defender is his age, given he is now the wrong side of 30. Spain are in a period of transition, with Del Bosque increasingly looking to his younger players to step up, and as Jordi Alba is likely to start for Spain, it’s more likely that Del Bosque will call on youth for backup so that they can experience major tournaments.
Monreal, therefore, is unlikely to be chosen to be Alba’s back up this time, but he at least experienced a major tournament with Spain at the 2013 Confederations Cup.