Spain: Subtle Changes Needed

As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil.  These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  This is Part 3 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites. ICYMI, here’s Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, and Belgium 

Spain always tend to get written off for one reason or the other, but this current generation is one of the most successful of all time.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest team I’ve ever seen (I’m only 21 but what’s your point?).  What’s more interesting is how they’ll defend their World Cup title.  They have most of the same players from 4 years ago, but will need a slightly different approach.

Where they were in 2010

They won.  Simple.  End of story

Okay, it’s not really that simple.  A shock defeat to Switzerland, who had done an amazing defensive, threatened to derail their bid. But they recovered and won their group through a mix of possession and clinical finishes from David Villa.

In terms of tactical variety, Vicente del Bosque generally stuck with the same passing and possession oriented approach but was able to use his substitutions well as his opponents were worn down.  A very narrow 4-2-3-1 with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets sitting deep as holding midfielders, Xavi and Iniesta played higher up the pitch. Fernando Torres and David Villa were the out and out strikers, but eventually del Bosque dropped Torres who had been in poor form throughout the World Cup.  Depending on the game, del Bosque would opt for Pedro to provide supporting runs Cesc Fabregas as a number 10, or Jesus Navas to provide width.

2014 differences and improvements

Without a doubt, Spain have the hardest task in defending their World Cup crown.  They were manhandled by Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup showing just how intimidating it is to face them in the Maracana.  Their midfield was physically dominated and after going 2-0 down they realized the game was beyond them.

One of many systems Spain could use.
One of many systems Spain could use.
  • Spain is still unrivaled when it comes to top quality playmakers.  Thiago Alcantara, David Silva, Juan Mata, Isco, and others could play in Spain’s midfield.  Xabi Alonso might also have a place too.  Javi Martinez would offer some much needed strength in midfield and his passing is quite decent.  He could play as a CB too but he hasn’t thrived in that role.
  • del Bosque’s striker choice will dictate how Spain play in a particular game. If Fabregas plays as a false 9, Spain will have a lot of the ball, but not a lot of chances.  If Costa plays, he can bully the CBs aerially and scrap for balls, but he doesn’t yet have the same level of understanding with the rest of the team. He’s also in a race for fitness.  If Negredo plays, he can be a poacher but could get isolated up front.
  • Jordi Alba plays like a winger and Cesar Azpilicueta  will probably move to right back and is very disciplined and hard working.
  • Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique will be the preferred CB partnership with Iker Casillas in goal still.

One thing Spain don’t do as well is that they’ve stopped pressing as vigorously as 4 years ago and that needs to be a thing if they want to dominate in later rounds.

World Cup Chances

The wrong conclusion to take from the 3-0 defeat to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final is that tiki-taka is dead.  Spain are still miles better than most sides in the world and can still wear down weaker teams and carve them open. The only difference will be that this approach might not work as well in later rounds. Unfortunately they are in the hardest group of them all in Group B.  The one bright side is that none of the teams they’re playing are very solid defensively and this could play into their hands.

They open with a match against the Netherlands in a rematch of the Final who have plenty of creativity.  Chile will show no fear as they press intensely and look to win the ball in the final third, but are often let down by their finishing.  I’d back Spain to take 4 points out of 6 from these games and beat Australia comfortably to win the group.

From there, things might briefly get easier in the Round of 16 as they’d likely play Croatia or Mexico, who have some good players but not enough to nullify Spain.  But from the quarterfinals on, Spain have a difficult road ahead of them as they look to retain the Cup. I think Spain will go out in the semifinals to Argentina due to burnout rather than Argentina’s tactical superiority.

 

 

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