Sunday, 30 June 2013

Spain's striking solution

Spain are the current World and European champions at senior level, they are also the reigning U21 and U20 champions.  The country is currently going through as rich a purple patch as any in football terms - better than Holland in the mid-1970s dominated by the greatest team never to win the World Cup and the continental dominance of Ajax.

Spain's beauty is in the rich conveyor belt of talent they have had in midfield led by Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez along with the contemporaries, Xavi Alonso, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata.  What an illustrious list of players. In defence they have had the central threesome of Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos - do not forget that Puyol is ageing and it appears that Pique and Ramos will be the starting central pair for the World Cup, whereas Puyol can do a job his legs are giving up on him.

And how lucky for a side to have one of three goalkeepers to pick from; imagine having at your disposal the trifecta of Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina.  All three are exceptional goalkeepers in their own right, but this is akin to the dilemma Ron Greenwood must have had when deciding between Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence.  Victor Del Bosque appears to stick with Casillas in spite of his lack of first team action at Real Madrid, as both shot blocker and captain; yet Valdes (who is choosing to leave Barcelona this year) and Reina (who must fight for his place now against Simon Mignolet at Liverpool) would get into many other countries sides on merit.

However, it is up front that Spain seem to be suffering with a stagnant approach to goalscoring. This has been highlighted by the loss of form in their strikers, injuries being suffered and a victim of their formation.

When they won the European championship for the first time in 2008 and then the World Cup in 2010, Spain were thrust into the spotlight by the brilliant play of Iniesta, solid defence of Puyol but the conversion chances of both Fernando Torres and David Villa who seemed to play in such synchronisation that it was alarming how good they were.

Unfortunately, Torres has suffered a crisis of confidence for some time ever since his transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea eighteen months ago, Villa suffered a terrible broken leg during Barcelona's successful World Club championship roughly the same time ago.  Villa returned to the Barcelona side most definitely in the shadow of Lionel Messi - Messi gets the ball, he scores. Villa gets the ball and he struggles; is it any surprise he might be shipped out and transferred during this transfer window.

Other options like Fernando Llorente and Michu (Swansea) whilst regular scorers at club level are not getting enough of a chance at international level; partly out of loyalty towards Torres/Villa, partly because of the formation Spain more than likely play with the midfield dominated by Xavi/Iniesta with the runners off the wings of Silva and Mata. Even Alonso cannot sometimes get into the starting XI, when you have a bombing left wing back like Jordi Alba (who scored twice against Nigeria) there are options everywhere.

Del Bosque will state we will win, because someone will score, yet they have looked weak especially against a side like Italy who can match them in terms of possession under the leadership of Andrea Pirlo; the possession stats showed Spain only had 54% and they seemed to suffer in the final third as balls were played into the box with no-one ensuring to get a chance on target to trouble Buffon in the Italy goal.

The answer to Spain's troubles might be appearing again on their famed conveyor belt of talent, as showed in the recent European U21 championship in Israel where they successfully retained their title with a 4-2 victory over Italy in the final.  This was punctuated by the first half hat-trick by Thiago Alcantara, and the wing play of Cristian Tello and Isco.  Thiago plays for Barcelona along with Tello, whilst Isco has recently become Carlo Ancelloti's first signing for Real Madrid from Malaga.

In goal for Spain was David de Gea, who for all his troubles at Manchester United is now a young man who is used to winning.  A lot of these players are used to winning at an early age, something lacking in other European players, who struggle to get first team football yet alone a chance to impress.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

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