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Luis Enrique on Spain's Nations League semi-final encounter with Italy and his coaching principles

"This is a competition that we would love to win," Spain's coach tells UEFA.com ahead of a rematch with the European champions.

Luis Enrique after Spain's UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final loss to Italy
Luis Enrique after Spain's UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final loss to Italy POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Spain start their UEFA Nations League finals campaign against hosts and European champions Italy; a tough call for any side, with La Roja having the additional burden of having lost to the Azzurri on penalties in the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2020.

It could be a nerve-wracking occasion in Milan, but coach Luis Enrique was his usual composed self as he looked ahead to the tournament, encouraging his team to stick to their guns on Wednesday night. The 51-year-old talked UEFA.com through his coaching philosophy and how he invites his players to take risks.

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EURO 2020 highlights: Italy 1-1 Spain (4-2 pens)
EURO 2020 highlights: Italy 1-1 Spain (4-2 pens)

On the semi-final rematch with Italy

It was already an attractive proposition before the EUROs took place: to play Italy in Italy in the final four [of the UEFA Nations League]. This is a competition that we would love to win, and strangely we will play against the reigning European champions in their country.

It will be a very interesting match, to see what kind of performance we are capable of producing in front of an Italian-majority crowd and against the reigning European champions. You don’t need any more motivation than that. I can’t wait for the game. Without doubt, Italy’s style of football is one of the best around, and I’m sure it will be very interesting to see how each team counters the other.

On his coaching philosophy

Luis Enrique on Spain's Italy test
Luis Enrique on Spain's Italy test

If I had to choose just three words to define what our coaching staff are after in terms of how Spain should play, the first word would be ‘attack’, the second ‘pressure’ and the third ‘ambition’. The most important word is ‘attack’. Why? When we sit down to pick a team, the first thing we look at is what they can offer in attack. Every player will have the ability to defend to balance this out, but the type of player that our midfielders, centre-backs and full backs must be is an attacking type. They’ve got to have good technique as we try to play the ball out from the back so it reaches our attackers in the best way possible. This is the first word.

The second is ‘pressure’. We attack in a really specific way: if we’re capable of occupying certain spaces on the pitch, when we lose the ball we’ll be in a position to put pressure on our opponent, and that’s what we do. The third word is ‘ambition’. You’ll hear that and think: “Well, that’s what every national team has.” No. When we refer to ambition, we mean playing the same in every game, regardless of who we’re facing. We attack like we do regardless of the scoreline. If we’re winning 3-0, we’re not just going to sit back and defend. We attack and defend the same in every game.

On encouraging risk-taking

Italy v Spain down the years
Italy v Spain down the years

We always try to tell the players, especially the attacking ones, to look at it as making attempts – not as right or wrong decisions. Evidently, football is a game about mistakes, where the players are those most aware about avoiding errors, but they have to get used to making them and trying again. You have to make an attempt and it doesn’t matter if it ends up as a mistake. Making mistakes is part of top-level sport.

On sticking to his coaching principles

I don’t have many doubts when it comes to how I want my team to play because I’m convinced it’s the best way to achieve victory. It’s not merely about me taking a stance or posturing so as to look good. No, I believe and I’m convinced that by having more of the ball we will be able to attack the opposition half better, which will bring us closer to achieving victory.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case and many times you can win by playing other styles of football. But this is the style that I know and like, so this is the one I’m going to use. I’ve been doing it since I was the Barcelona B manager. I’m always open to improving it, you have to try to make it more effective, but the core idea won’t change.