5 Spanish players who need stellar seasons to ensure World Cup spots

REUTERS/Eloy Alonso

The 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off in a little more than eight months, and a handful of Spanish internationals with caps under their belts face missing out on the quadrennial contest because of their domestic standings.

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Here's a look at five Spain hopefuls who need cracking campaigns with their clubs to cement inclusion in Julen Lopetegui's 23-man squad:

Diego Costa

Temperamental Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa will have to wait until January to sport Los Rojiblancos' strip in a competitive match, and considering the wealth of attacking options at Lopetegui's disposal, that could jeopardise the Brazilian-born goal-machine's place in Russia.

With Chelsea duo Alvaro Morata and Pedro certainties to make the squad, the gaffer will be faced with a tough decision as Costa vies for a place alongside Jose Callejon, Aritz Aduriz, Iago Aspas, Gerard Deulofeu, Lucas Vazquez, and MLS MVP and national goal-scoring pacesetter David Villa. If Lopetegui is looking for a match-winner, the former Porto manager would be wise to bank on the incalculable Costa.

Gerard Deulofeu

On the topic of forwards on the fringe of La Roja's stacked squad, Barcelona summer signing Gerard Deulofeu is going to need a dazzling campaign with the Catalans to engross the Spanish brass.

Ousmane Dembele's injury may prove to be the factor that favours Deulofeu the most, with the former Everton outcast slotted into Ernesto Valverde's starting XI on four occasions on the right of a three-man attack with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, and also in a deeper role when La Blaugrana ran out a 4-4-2 in the 5-0 drubbing of Espanyol. Still just 23 years old, the four-time capped Deulofeu may have to wait until 2022 for his debut on football's biggest stage.

Ander Herrera

With arguably Europe's deepest midfield (France, we see you), Spain has the luxury of leaving players at home that would otherwise walk into most squads. Tireless Manchester United two-way expert Ander Herrera may very well be one of those watching the festivities in Russia on television.

Herrera's plight isn't helped by his role at United, either, and after a brilliant campaign last season doing Jose Mourinho's dirty work, the 28-year-old can't get a game with summer signing Nemanja Matic performing the ball-stopping duties. With Lopetegui likely to bring no fewer than eight midfielders to Russia, Herrera has to contend with the likes of Isco, Thiago, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Marco Asensio, Juan Mata, David Silva, Koke, et al.

Hector Bellerin

Imagine being one of Europe's best young full-backs and still not being able to get a match for your country. Such is Arsenal star Hector Bellerin's struggle, and with Dani Carvajal and Cesar Azpilicueta set to take the two right-back gigs barring injuries, the top-knotted speed demon may be out of luck.

The 22-year-old is starring again in the Premier League after an elbow from Chelsea's Marcos Alonso - another Spaniard who can't get a sniff for La Roja - saw Bellerin suffer a concussion which marred the entire 2016-17 season. His case may be a little late, however, and the Gunners' pace merchant might fancy targeting Qatar instead.

Marc Bartra

Borussia Dortmund centre-half Marc Bartra has always been on the cusp. He's the guy on the edges of every group photo, the one in every locker-room picture whose trackies have the pleats of one wear while his half-dressed teammates look glazed and knackered.

The 26-year-old is a tidy footballer who plays with a charming tranquility befitting a sharp-passing defensive midfielder, but that might not be enough to nab one of four spots in Russia. Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and Javi Martinez are locks, and Lopetegui might fancy packing some Nachos - the Real or Arsenal one will do - if he has an eye on versatility.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)