BRIAN LAUDRUP: Scotland will need to be at their best to nullify Balde

BRIAN LAUDRUP : Alejandro Balde is one of the most exciting left-backs in the world right now… Scotland will need almost flawless concentration to nullify the Barcelona star in their Euro qualifier with Spain

  • Scotland will have to be switched on to deal with Spain’s Alejandro Balde 
  • Highly rated 19-year-old Barcelona left-back Balde looks a phenomenal talent 
  • New Spain boss Luis de la Fuente is in charge of a team that is in transition

As a footballing nation, Spain continues to reap the benefits of Barcelona’s remarkable ability to produce outstanding young talents.

The first players who jump to mind for most people are probably midfielders Pedri and Gavi. But Pedri is currently injured, while Gavi was replaced before the hour-mark in Spain’s win over Norway on Saturday as a result of not hitting his best form.

Good news for Scotland, right? Well, only to an extent. As it happens, there is yet another Nou Camp prodigy who could pose a huge threat to Steve Clarke’s side in Tuesday night’s Euro 2024 qualifier at Hampden.

Going forward, Alejandro Balde is one of the most exciting left-backs you will see anywhere in world football right now. It might seem strange to highlight a supposed defender from this squad of gifted players, but Balde’s dynamism played a big role in a revamped Spain team getting off to a winning start at the weekend.

The 19-year-old is really starting to emerge for both club and country. He’s got tremendous acceleration, excellent close control and the belief to take players on. If he gets space, he can whip in a terrific cross. Against Norway, he worked space to supply a cutback for Dani Olmo to score the opener.

Scotland will have to be fully focused to restrict the threat of Spain defender Alejandro Balde

Scotland must be so alert to him. If it’s Aaron Hickey playing on that side, he can’t switch off for a second and there must be good communication and structure within the players around him to make sure all the runs are tracked.

Balde looks a phenomenal talent. Someone who will have a big part to play at the very highest level over the next decade or more. Obviously, something similar can be said about his Barcelona team-mate Gavi.

As I mentioned, the 18-year-old didn’t have his best game on Saturday. But if he turns up at Hampden and plays the way he can, he will present an immense danger to Scotland. He’s such a clever player, with wonderful vision.

That left-hand side for Spain —with Balde and Gavi potentially working in tandem — could be really tough to lock down if they click into gear.

There are plenty of other ways this team can hurt Scotland. Everyone can see it will be a real test for Clarke’s side. In saying that, though, I actually think this isn’t the worst time to be meeting Spain. With new national coach Luis de la Fuente taking charge of just his second fixture, their squad is going through a huge transition after the disappointment of the World Cup.

There’s every chance they will become stronger as the section goes on.

Barcelona youngster Balde is one of the standout young left-backs in world football at present

Looking at them right now, I would say this is a good Spanish team but not a great one like some from the past. Scotland will have to be at their very best on Tuesday evening, with almost flawless concentration, but they can get something from the match. I really don’t see it as an impossible task.

Spain deserved to beat Norway but I have to say I felt the 3-0 scoreline maybe flattered them a little bit. Norway created chances in Malaga and could have scored one or two. Alexander Sorloth missed a huge opportunity at 1-0.

Joselu scored twice on his debut and provides Spain with another option in attack

New Spain boss Luis de la Fuente is in charge of a squad that is going through a huge transition

De la Fuente then brought on Joselu up front and the 32-year-old debutant delivered in style by getting two goals to seal the game.

Joselu now gives De la Fuente another good striker option in competition with Alvaro Morata. He’s been a regular scorer for Espanyol this season and his confidence could hardly be higher after the weekend.

Joselu won’t link play the way Morata does, but he’s very good in the air and brings a kind of poacher’s instinct. Whether he starts or not, he will feel ready to make an impact.

Dani Ceballos was the other substitute who made a difference against Norway. The Real Madrid midfielder brought some lovely touches and control. If I was De la Fuente, I’d be tempted to start him in Glasgow.

Dani Ceballos impressed as a substitute against Norway and deserves a starting berth

While Spain were on top for the most part on Saturday, they did look a little bit vulnerable on the counter-attack.

This is where the flip side of Balde’s attacking menace can be seen. He can leave a lot of space behind him and there were a couple of times on Saturday when Norway exploited those gaps quite well through their right flank.

The question is whether Spain might be a little more cautious at Hampden. I think De la Fuente is aware of the strengths of his squad, but I also believe he is more pragmatic than some of his predecessors.

He’s willing to change the system and how it operates, so it’ll be interesting to see precisely how they approach it.

It’s not like Spain of the ‘tiki-taka’ peak years when you felt they could keep the ball for 90 minutes and just strangle the game completely. That’s not the impression I got at the weekend. It’s different now.

This game will provide an examination of just how far Steve Clarke’s Scotland have come

They will play to win on Tuesday, no question about that, but I don’t think it would be a disaster for them to come away with a draw. Four points from two games against the next two best teams in the group would be an acceptable start.

From Scotland’s perspective, this is another examination of just how far Clarke’s men have come.

If you want to keep momentum and become a regular qualifier for major tournaments, these are the games where you need to show something. You can’t just write off a home fixture against the top seeds.

Scotland will draw inspiration from their impressive 2-0 win over Denmark in November 2021

Scotland shouldn’t be overawed, but they obviously need to ask the right questions of Spain and play in a strong tactical framework with everyone fulfilling their jobs. Under Clarke, they have shown they can do that.

Personally, I think back to the 2-0 win over Denmark in November 2021. Okay, we Danes had one or two players missing that night and had already qualified for the World Cup, but we were motivated to finish with a perfect record in the group.

Clarke and his players got everything spot on and deservedly won 2-0. If they can find a similar standard on Tuesday evening — and maintain it for 90 minutes — then a famous result against Spain might just be theirs to grasp.

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