La Roja drew 1-1 with Iberian rivals Portugal at the Benito Villamarin on Thursday evening. Alvaro Morata opened the scoring for the Spain in the 25th minute only for Ricardo Horta to equalise for the visitors eight from time.
It was the first match out of six in Spain’s Nations League group phase, a competition they made it to the final to last season only to lose to world champions France in Milan. Portugal won it outright back in 2019 so were always going to be a stern test.
And so it proved. Spain played well for the most part, dominating proceedings and moving the ball nicely. Their goal came at a moment their play deserved it, with Morata earning the honour but Barcelona teenager Gavi being its true architect.
The 17-year-old broke with intensity, aggression and drive before displaying the intelligence and guile to play Morata in at just the right moment. Morata, to his credit, finished coolly.
Spain continued to operate on the front foot – as is expected of a team coached by a man as complete and impressive as Luis Enrique – but they lost concentration in the final minutes of the game and allowed Portugal back into it.
Unsurprisingly, their equaliser came after Gavi had been taken off. He was born and raised in Los Palacios y Villafranca in the province of Seville and was poached from Real Betis by Barcelona as a mere child. To have the crowd chanting his name Lionel Messi-style as he was taken off in a full international must have been an absolutely incredible, spine-tingling experience.
And it was completely deserved. Gavi’s numbers on the night speak for themselves – the Andalusian recorded a passing accuracy of 94%, touched the ball 73 times, created two chances. Much is made of his personality and aggression – so rare in player so young – but the level of his quality is often under-appreciated.
Maybe that is because he has the misfortune of being compared to club and international teammate Pedri, who at two years older is already one of the finest midfielders in European football. But there can be no mistaking that Gavi is a special player in his own right. Luis Enrique knows it and so does Xavi Hernandez.
Still just 17, Gavi arguably has 15 years left at the top of his game and Barcelona would be wise to lock him down on a long-term contract as soon as possible. His current deal at Camp Nou expires next summer and several of Europe’s elite are circling.
And for good reason. Gavi ranks in at least the 90th percentile compared to positional peers across Europe’s top five leagues in pressures, progressive carries, dribbles completed, touches in the attacking penalty area and progressive passes received.
Gavi played north of 3,000 minutes for a dysfunctional Barcelona team last season, playing 47 club games across all competitions to go with his six caps for the Spanish national team. Logic dictates that a full campaign under Xavi, coupled with a proper pre-season, could help him truly explode in 2022/23.
Gavi's game by numbers vs. Portugal:
100% long ball accuracy
94% pass accuracy
54 passes attempted
51 passes completed
5 duels won
2 chances created
2 fouls won
As soon as he went off Spain conceded. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/OmSOTDd2i8
— Squawka (@Squawka) June 2, 2022