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Fabio's friendly foes

Spanish may start with no recognised stikers, says Guillem

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 8th November 2011 view comments

There is a question mark over which Spain side is going to turn up at Wembley on Saturday, and I'm not just talking about personnel.

While Fabio Capello prefers to lose with youngsters than to do it with the veterans and is approaching the game with this possibility at the forefront of his decisions, Vicente del Bosque will play his strongest side.

Silva: could he have a key role to play?

Silva: could he have a key role to play?

However, there's the competitive Spain side: the current world and European champions playing at a level above everyone else - perhaps a couple of levels above England? - who have recently equalled the world record by winning 14 consecutive competitive games at international level and since that glorious evening in Johannesburg last summer, have completely and ruthlessly dominated their European Championships qualifying group with a perfect eight wins from eight games.

Unfortunately, while this group of world champions, with nothing to prove, lacks a motivational edge in friendlies, their opponents are the opposite - raising their game to prove themselves against the champions.

Guillem Balague
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And then there's the Spain side that turns up for friendly games: essentially the same group of players, but a group that seems to drop a level when the result doesn't really matter.

Unfortunately, while this group of world champions, with nothing to prove, lacks a motivational edge in friendlies, their opponents are the opposite - raising their game to prove themselves against the champions.

Consequently, since last summer's World Cup, Spain have been hammered in friendlies by Argentina (4-1) and Portugal (4-0) - and held to a draw by Mexico. Their only win came against Chile - and that was after going 2-0 down (remember, at the World Cup, Spain lifted the trophy on the back of four consecutive 1-0 wins).

The Wembley friendly is one of those games that matters more to Spain's opponents than it does to the world champions. For England, a victory, almost regardless of performance, would be a massive morale boost for the squad and would go a long way in convincing a somewhat fickle support that Capello's side have a chance next summer.

We know that the England camp understands how important a win is; let's hope the Spanish players approach the game in a similar way and we can enjoy a fantastic game of football.

Mentality

And, while we may not be able to predict the mentality of the visiting side, there's bound to be a fair degree of familiarity about the line-up and style of play.

Del Bosque has remained faithful to the core of the side that brought success in the past two major tournaments and adheres to the same possession-based principles as before (if anything, the Spanish national team has become even more like Barcelona in the way that the side presses the opposition and plays a high defensive line - which begs the question: would a keeper like Victor Valdes or Pepe Reina not be better suited?)

The starting XI at Wembley will probably be as familiar to an English audience as it is possible for a visiting foreign side to be and I'm sure most could successfully predict at least seven or eight of the names on the team sheet before kick-off.

However, there have been some changes since South Africa and certain positions are there for a player to stake a claim upon: left back, back-up centre back, and one of the striking slots.

Joan Capdevila made the left back position his own at the European Championships in 2008 and the World Cup last year (doing a great job in a problem position that had previously been filled by the likes of Romero, Raul Bravo, and Juanfran without much success).

Unfortunately, since leaving Villarreal for Benfica last summer, Capedvila has suffered a massive drop in form. This has led Del Bosque to give opportunities to both Nacho Monreal of Malaga and Jordi Alba from Valencia - but omitting Jose Enrique from this week's 23 man squad.

Alba played at left back in Spain's last game, the 3-1 win against Scotland, and impressed with an assist and some terrific attacking play. Alba isn't the best defender, but Del Bosque likes him as someone who offers a genuine attacking threat from a full-back position - again, making the team more like Barcelona than before (Alba started out as an attacking midfielder at La Masia, before joining Valencia and being converted into a left back by Unai Emery).

Included

Elsewhere in defence, Carlos Marchena is no longer a regular and although Raul Albiol has made the squad, he's not been playing regularly for club or country.

Álvaro Arbeloa has been included and appeals to Del Bosque because he can play on either flank. With a long term replacement for Carles Puyol required, Del Bosque has been talking up Sergio Ramos' ability to play in the middle of the defence.

In attack, David Villa and Fernando Torres remain the mainstay of the strikers, with Fernando Llorente making the squad ahead of Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado.

Jesus Navas, recently at risk of losing his place, comes in to provide width in the absence of the injured Pedro. But perhaps the most interesting selection and tactical decision involves a player familiar to Premier League and La Liga fans: that of David Silva and his role in the side.

Overlooked for much of Del Bosque's time in charge, the Man City player has forced his way back into contention with some stunning performances in England.

Against Scotland, Silva played as a false number nine, a more central role than he plays for City - and was outstanding: scoring twice and creating the third.

With Torres and Villa suffering a temporary goal drought, will we see a Spain side start without a traditional forward at Wembley, with a nod toward another tactical trend perpetrated by Barcelona?

Comments (8)

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Luv Shukla (Chelsea fan) says...

A great read as always. Very introspective of the way Del Bosque's mind must be working. Some important points, Jordi Alba is the future for the LB position for Spain once he makes the position his own. Enrique was never a player suited to the Spanish style of playing. I don't think San Iker's positon can ever be brought under scrutiny. I don't think either Llorente or Torres really suit their style and a trident of Silva-Villa-Mata makes alot of sense. On that note, I wanted to ask, whom does Del Bosque rate higher? Mata or Navas?

Posted 21:02 10th November 2011

David Baxter (Kilmarnock fan) says...

Hi Guillem nice article, it seems, as you suggest, that the result of Spain vs England will depend largely on how the spanish players approach the game. I have a quick question about la liga, I fully agree that Real Madrid are close favourites for la liga title, and I've always thought that they would be more likely to win this simply because they don't have to beat Barcelona do win it. However, my question is this; do you not think that Real Madrid have had mainly easy opponents so far? The only big club they have played so far is Villareal, and everyone has beaten these days. Do you not think that their run of games between Valencia, Atletico, Barca, Sevilla will make or break their season? Bearing in mind they still have Bilbao to play as well.

Posted 15:31 10th November 2011

James Wardle (Barcelona fan) says...

who do you think barca will try to sign in january or the summer? iv heard they want players like alba, oscar, thiago silva and cahill. i think alba would be a quality signing and also who would they sell as kieta is getting abit old and liverpool have been linked with him, and are they going to end up trying to sign players like nolito, bojan, oriol, botia and jeffren as they have buy back clauses in there contracts? thanks guilem.

Posted 11:52 10th November 2011

Sachin Poduval (Manchester United fan) says...

Good column.I'm impressed by jordi alba.His style of play would be awesome for barcelona.Have they earmarked him as abidal's replacement since you said last year that pep guardiola would use him more as a centre back. Fullback is probably the area where barcelona do not have much strength(in numbers).How come?

Posted 08:02 10th November 2011

Louis Thomason (Manchester City fan) says...

Spain are winning games due to their otherworldly midfield ad attacking play; but they suffer from a real lack of pace in defence, which teams are beginning to exploit, eg. Portugal and Aregentina. Its time to look to the new generation of alba, victor ruiz, jose angel, natxo monreal, etc to partner pique at the back.

Posted 20:01 9th November 2011

Adam Webb (Sunderland fan) says...

Given Xavi and Puyol's now long-standing injury concerns do you not think both could be on the bench for the England game? (We can hope!) Also, Fabregas has played swapped positions quite a lot with Messi this season and that's resulted in a massive amount of goals, I'd be very interested to see Fabregas and Silva try this role. Whilst on the forwards in the squad I'm surprised Negredo has been selected over Soldado, I've never been a big Negredo fan but also is he not too similar to Llorente who will probably sit alongside him on the bench. If you need to get a late goal I'd back Soldado over the other sub's. Personally I can't look beyond a comfortable win for Spain.

Posted 16:14 9th November 2011

Miguel Cordero (Queens Park Rangers) (Queens Park Rangers fan) says...

Suggesting a #1 not named St. Iker? Iker's place on this team should never be a question. Captain of Euro & World champs peacekeeper between RM & FCB.

Posted 12:58 8th November 2011

Drew K (Liverpool fan) says...

Good read, why do you think Jose Enrique cannot get in the squad? He has been a good performer for Liverpool atthe start of this season and i believe with the lack of quality at Spains disposal at LB he would be ideal. Strong, Quick, good touch good tackler. Seems a bit strange to me.

Posted 12:42 8th November 2011

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