The club connection between Sergio Busquets and Gavi was clear as Spain suffocated Italy through their use of the ball in their UEFA Nations League victory at San Siro this week. The midfield pair were on the same wavelength. While one offered protection and structure, the other pressed high and provided guile. Busquets and Gavi gave Spain balance.
It is therefore puzzling that Barcelona have yet to see this sort of harmony from the duo. Gavi has only made a handful of senior appearances for the Camp Nou club, but he started alongside Busquets in the 2-0 defeat away to Atletico Madrid before the international break and showed scant sign of any partnership.
This, among other things, makes Ronald Koeman look bad. As Spain manager, Luis Enrique has been charged with a similar task to the Barca boss. After a decade of dominance, the Euro 2008 and 2012 and 2010 World Cup winners are now in the midst of a generational transition.
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Unlike Barcelona, though, Spain are transitioning gracefully. Their squad is younger than it has been in a long time, but Enrique has kept them competitive at the top of the international game. While Koeman has so far failed to impose a style of play on a club desperately lacking direction right now, Spain have a clear approach.
Spain didn’t have the cutting edge to go all the way at Euro 2020, but they still managed to come within a penalty shootout of making the final. Enrique’s team have seemingly continued their development since then, demonstrated by the manner of their performance against Italy in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals.

Ronald Koeman (Barcelona)

Image credit: Getty Images

Enrique is showing Koeman how it’s done. At a time when Barcelona are having serious doubts about their current manager, with Koeman reportedly fighting for his job, there are surely some at the Camp Nou who view their former head coach as the sort of figure they could use right now.
Just like Barca, Spain currently lack a dependable goalscorer to lead the line. Enrique, however, is maximising the talent at his disposal with Ferran Torres deployed as a number nine to great effect against Italy. Mikel Oyarzabal has also proved himself as a useful figure in a fluid front three while Pablo Sarabia offers width to balance things out.
Then there’s the aforementioned Gavi, who has given Spain another dimension in midfield. “It's not normal that he plays like that [at 17],” Enrique said after Gavi’s performance against Italy this week. “He's a player with personality, enviable physical conditions and he plays our style of football. He plays like he's at school or in his garden at home.”
Even without Pedri, who is currently sidelined through injury, Spain played with verve and creativity in the UEFA Nations League semi-final. Barcelona, on the other hand, have been desperately passive in almost every match they have played so far this season. The high intensity play Barca were once renowned for is gone.
Pedri provides the greatest contrast between Enrique and Koeman. While Enrique has built a system to harness the teenager, Koeman frequently asks him to conjure something from nothing all on his own. This is counterproductive for Barcelona. As impressive as Pedri has been for Koeman’s Barca, he has played his best football under Enrique at international level - see his performances at Euro 2020.
This is a common theme. There is an overlap between the current Barcelona crop and the Spanish national team in a number of areas, Enrique is getting that bit more out of the same players. While circumstances have been difficult for Koeman, Enrique is showing Barca that better can still be achieved.
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