Spain will look to maintain their top spot in Nations League Group A2 when they host relegation-threatened Switzerland for Saturday’s clash in Zaragoza.

When the Nations League was first introduced, the complicated system received backlash from football fans and media pundits across Europe. However, as the tournament approaches the conclusion of the league in the third edition of the game, there is almost a general consensus that it has benefited the European game and provides a better evaluation of national teams as well as cutting out the meaningless, stale friendlies.

For instance, both Switzerland and Spain will have everything to play for when they lock horns at Estadio La Romareda on Saturday night. The hosts will potentially look to book their ticket to the finals of the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League, while the Swiss are in real danger of getting relegated to League B. There is a lot at stake here, and the jeopardy of the encounter will make it an intriguing watch.

Spain currently sits atop Group A2 with eight points to their name. The 2021 runners-up are in control of their own Nations League destiny heading into matchday five, with Iberian neighbours Portugal breathing down their neck only one point adrift and boasting a better goal difference.

After a sluggish start to the campaign with two draws, Luis Enrique’s side bounced back by defeating both Switzerland and the Czech Republic to cement their position at the top of the Group. Another victory here would put them in a commanding position for Tuesday’s Iberian derby clash against Portugal.

Switzerland, meanwhile, are rooted at the bottom of Group A2 and will have a difficult task in order to retain their place in League A. They looked doomed for relegation after Spain’s 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture in Geneva on Matchday 3.

However, they head into the latest encounter off the back of a morale-boosting 1-0 victory over Portugal, reminding everyone of their understated quality. They reached the quarter-finals at the most recent Euros — deservedly knocking out France in the process — and will hope for a positive performance here to build their confidence as they prepare for Qatar.

Team News & Tactics

Spain

Spain manager Luis Enrique will have to make do without the services of Mikel Oyarzabal, Dani Olmo, Gerard Moreno, and Aymeric Laporte owing to respective injuries, while Thiago Alcantara, Ansu Fati, Iago Aspas, Sergio Ramos, and David de Gea have all been excluded from the squad.

On the flip side, the former Barcelona head coach has called up potential debutants Borja Iglesias and Nico Williams, as well as Valencia’s defensive midfielder Hugo Guillamon. The trio are likely to get their chance to impress, with this being considered as their World Cup audition.

As usual, Spain will be lining up in their trademark 4-3-3 formation in front of goalkeeper Unai Simon. Pau Torres and Eric Garcia ought to form the centre-back pairing for La Roja. Despite being relegated to the bench for their domestic clubs, both Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba should continue in their respective full-back slots for their national side.

Spain captain Sergio Busquets will sit at the base of the midfield and look to dictate the tempo of the game, as well as shut out turnovers and efficiently recycle the ball. He will have plenty of support from the robust Koke, while Gavi, who continues to go from strength to strength, will also add the creative edge from the middle of the park.

Alvaro Morata will lead the line for the hosts but will act as more of a false-9 facilitator, with Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia acting as auxiliary strikers on either side of him, making darting runs in behind or in between the opposition’s defenders. Enrique could also call upon one of the two uncapped strikers in Iglesias or Williams from the bench if he needs a physical and aerial focal point for his attack.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Azpilicueta, Garcia, P. Torres, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Gavi; F. Torres, Morata, Sarabia

Switzerland

Switzerland will be sweating over the fitness of defender Ricardo Rodriguez, with the Torino centre-back a doubt after falling ill, but he could still recover in time to start against Spain on Saturday. If he does not make the playing XI, Eray Comert or Kevin Mbabu may step in.

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Apart from that, boss Murat Yakin has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip to Zaragoza, with RB Salzburg forward Noah Okafor the only notable absentee due to a dental problem. The visitors are likely to line up in a 4-3-3 formation.

Yann Sommer has usually been the first choice for the Swiss national side in recent times, but Montpellier stopper Jonas Omlin could be handed another chance to impress in between the sticks after his bright display against Portugal last time out.

Newcastle United’s Fabian Schar will resume his centre-half partnership with Manuel Akanji at the heart of the Swiss defence as they hope to keep things solid at the back throughout the game, meaning centre-back Nico Elvedi will miss out here, while Ricardo Rodriguez and Kevin Mbabu should start as the full-backs on the left and right sides, respectively.

Denis Zakaria has been recalled to the squad and could start in Zaragoza alongside the usual candidates, Remo Freuler and Granit Xhaka, in midfield. Breel Embolo will focus on putting his pace to good use on the left flank. Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to retain his place on the right flank, with an out-of-form Haris Seferovic relied upon down the middle in the absence of Okafor.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Omlin; Mbabu, Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez; Zakaria, Freuler, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Seferovic, Embolo

Key Stats

  • Spain have a dominant record against Switzerland, having won 18 of the 24 meetings between the two sides.
  • The last four matches between these two sides have seen Spain come out on top three times, including a penalty shoot-out win at Euro 2020 (D1).
  • Spain are on an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions and have not suffered a defeat of any kind on home soil since October 2018.
  • Switzerland have lost 3 away matches in a row, conceding 8 goals in the process.
  • Luis Enrique’s side have scored at least one goal in 16 consecutive matches.

Player to Watch

Granit Xhaka

The Swiss international’s Arsenal career has mainly been up and down, but he has proven this season why he has been one of the club’s most consistent performers over the years. His excellent displays at the Emirates have been overshadowed by rash challenges and red cards at the worst possible moments, earning him loads of criticism from pundits and his own fans.

Now, though, the tune has changed dramatically. A calming presence in midfield, his accurate, progressive passing allows his team to set the tempo of the game. This season, the Arsenal skipper has received a licence from head coach Mikel Arteta to venture forward and contribute in the final third, which has increased his effectiveness.

This is akin to the role he plays for Switzerland. He is the heartbeat and the passing hub for the Nati, and every move goes through him. While pressing has never been his forte, his game intelligence and progressive passing attributes make him a vital cog. It is safe to say the Swiss captain is a big hope for Rossocrociati’s at the World Cup and will be looking to put his stamp on this game.

Prediction

Spain 1-1 Switzerland

Spain are heavy favourites heading into this game thanks to their superior quality in the middle of the park, which gives them the upper hand going into this encounter, at least in theory. They do not concede a lot in Luis Enrique’s possession-based style to control the games, while having options like Gavi, Busquets, and Sarabia, means they tend to create a plethora of high-quality chances.

However, Luis Enrique’s side does not seem to be blessed with the sharpest cutting edge in the final third. They have scored one goal or fewer in three of their last five Nations League home games. The most common result of matches between these two sides in recent times is 1-1, with three of the last four meetings ending with that scoreline after normal time.

The Hard Tackle expects that pattern to continue here, with the tenacious Swiss throwing a spanner in the works for Luis Enrique’s men and the battle for the top spot in Group A2 going right down to the wire to the Iberian derby on Matchday 6.

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