Spain and Italy have undergone managerial changes since Antonio Conte handed Vicente del Bosque a tactical masterclass at Euro 2016, but Spain go into Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Turin in better shape than their Group G rivals.
Veteran Serie A coach Giampiero Ventura took over from Conte in July while Del Bosque, who resigned after the 2-0 defeat by Italy in the European Championship last 16, was succeeded by former Spain Under-21 coach Julen Lopetegui.
He led the side to an impressive 2-0 friendly win in Belgium and an 8-0 mauling of Liechtenstein in Spain’s first World Cup qualifier.
The dominant victory in Brussels bore many hallmarks of the Spain teams who won successive European Championships and the World Cup between 2008 and 2012.
Even taking into account the limited qualities of the opposition, Spain’s rampant display against Liechtenstein also revealed a renewed hunger in a team that had started to look stale under Del Bosque.
One of the most striking moments in the game was David Silva’s reaction to having an 89th-minute goal harshly ruled out for offside when Spain were seven goals ahead.
The Manchester City midfielder became even more determined to grab one last goal and duly did in stoppage time.
As well as sparking the team into life on the pitch, Lopetegui has made bold political decisions, sidelining former captain and record appearance maker Iker Casillas as well as mainstays like Pedro and Cesc Fabregas.
“This coach (Lopetegui), who I greatly admire, has given them adrenaline, conviction and made them a completely different team. It’s a different Spain to the past,” Ventura said.
Ventura, who has been in management for 35 years but never won a major trophy, has struggled to have the same impact, overseeing a 3-1 home friendly defeat by France in his first game in charge.
His side earned a 3-1 win in Israel in his first competitive game, although they struggled in the second half after key defender Giorgio Chiellini sent off.
The Juventus veteran is suspended for Thursday’s meeting between the two giants of international football, who have won a combined five World Cups and four European Championships.
His absence, coupled with the contrasting starts for the two coaches, adds to a sense that Spain may have the edge this time.