As new coaching regimes start, whether it be in international or club football, players that have never really been given much of a chance can suddenly become vital parts of the team. That is exactly what is happening with Vitolo and Spain. The 26-year-old has started all four of Julen Lopetegui’s first games in charge after only making three substitute appearances during Vicente del Bosque’s eight-year spell as Coach of La Roja.
The Canary Islander has probably deserved more in his international career to date, but he is a little different to the type of midfielder that you would have normally associated with Del Bosque’s time in charge. More nimble, technically gifted players were preferred in wider positions, such as Andres Iniesta, David Silva or Pedro Rodriguez, which certainly worked for the majority of the 65-year-old’s reign.
Nevertheless, it is peculiar how one of the most consistent Spanish performers in La Liga has never been given much of a look in on the international scene until now. A prolific goalscorer he isn’t, but Vitolo’s work-rate and ability to make things happen as part of the Sevilla team that have won three consecutive Europa Leagues has been impressive. Moreover, he is not a traditional winger in the sense that crossing is not a forte, especially in a team that relies so heavily on attacking full-backs.
In recent years, La Roja have been missing pace and direct running in behind when teams sit back in their own half and allow Spain to have the ball. Based on the past two games against Italy and Albania, that is definitely still a problem that needs resolving, but Vitolo has given Lopetegui’s attack a new dimension, to the point where he is now crucial to the new Coach’s plans.
A strong physique to go with the excellent eye for a pass is something fresh that has added more to Spain’s game. He has also shown his versatility playing under Jorge Sampaoli this season as a wing-back, and even though this was detrimental to his attacking threat, it means that he is familiar with the system when Lopetegui has tried it out.
Perhaps fittingly, the first goal of the new era under the former Porto Coach against Belgium came from a run in behind by Vitolo, who rounded the goalkeeper and pulled it back for David Silva to score. In the same game, he also won the penalty for the second goal, forcing Jordan Lukaku into a tackle after a pacy run into the box.
“I’m happy that I have the trust of Julen Lopetegui," he said after that first match. “I’ll continue to work hard because I want to be picked as many times as possible by the national team and do well.”
After another goal against Italy, albeit a tad fortuitous, it is clear that Vitolo’s name will be a common theme on La Roja’s team sheets whilst Lopetegui is in charge. The Sevilla player is a breath of fresh for Spain, and their new Coach knows it.