Pedri and Gavi combination marks out Spain’s strength as World Cup challengers

A fired volley wide by Dani Olmo. Another chance over the top of the defence with Ferran Torres in attendance. Marco Asensio scuffing wide and then Olmo, again, finally beating the ‘keeper after a magical first touch over the final centre-back.

This was all Spain, all one-way football and all through the incredibly talented creative duo of Gavi and Pedri in midfield. And all inside the opening 10 minutes, too.

The young Barcelona pair were utterly dominant and relentless in the first half-hour of the match, creating openings and shooting chances at will and contributing in very direct ways to Luis Enrique’s side going three goals up in that time.

Above perhaps all other games so far at the World Cup 2022, this scoreline, this performance, will be discounted by the quality - or lack thereof - of opposition. Costa Rica offered nothing: no aggression high upfield, no capacity to get close in midfield and nowhere near enough of a compact defence to stop the red waves coming. The eventual 7-0 scoreline was justice, entirely.

And yet, even if this was a glorified training session after Asensio’s finish and Ferran from the spot, it highlighted exactly what Spain will try to do against all opponents, in all situations.

Rotation of positions, recycling of possession, relentless attempts to pass beyond and between the scurrying and increasingly desperate shirts of defenders.

And almost all of it filters through these two in the middle of the pitch.

There is, even at this stage, an almost cliche aspect to referring to both Pedri and Gavi together; their age group, their club, their role in the team and their relative strengths all mark them out as being naturally twinned, the modern Spain’s version of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

And yet there’s still truth in pointing out how well they work in tandem, just as there’s truth in highlighting their differences.

Pedri is the metronome, the constant recipient in tight spaces, able to pass first time and spread play in every direction.

He is irrepressible in possession, with the vision and execution of any elite playmaker, yet also tenacious, diligent and selfless off the ball.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Gavi is more possessed of, or perhaps only more inclined to show, the close control of a born dribbler, evading tackles with twists, turns and stepovers before his inevitably accurate pass to a teammate in space.

This appearance makes him Spain’s youngest-ever player at the World Cup; his controlled and inch-perfect volley with 15 minutes to play further writes him into the record books as their youngest-ever scorer.

Picking a favourite between the two is as pointless as any of Costa Rica’s defensive intentions on the day; Spain have them both, Spain play them both the manager trusts both implicitly.

On this occasion Pedri was afforded a mere 56 minutes, with the job more than done by that point. It was naturally a sub made with other games in mind rather than performance level. Greater challenges, and more important matches, lie ahead.

It should also be noted that, in this game at least, they benefited from the lack of defensive burden placed on Sergio Busquets, himself still a master of the pass through the lines with the ball at his feet. Tracking runners is the more difficult aspect of his job these days and both Germany and Japan will surely look to make him do that far more often, but Costa Rica offered nothing in this regard.

All of this only serves to underline that while Spain were levels above their opponents on the day, far more will be required in their remaining group games and beyond, if they are to go as deep in the tournament as many expect.

With Pedri and Gavi pulling the strings, there’s no reason to suspect anything other than that is exactly what this team will be capable of doing - especially if they can retain the clinical edge showed in this one-sided encounter.