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Analyzing Spain’s Tactics – Plan A And Plan B

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Spain has got to be my favorites after years of suffering with England led me no closer to the dark tunnel’s end. The history-defying La Roja could be lining up in similar formations of what they are used to, but we just won’t be seeing the much-talked-about false nine anytime soon. Vicente de Bosque’s favored setup is the flexible 4-3-3; flexible because of the myriad options on his bench and their high-functionality.

4-3-3 with two holding midfielders in Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, Alonso being the more withdrawn one. The good form of Diego Costa means that we won’t see makeshift forwards who are essentially midfielders, but Costa’s injury problems have returned and the other forwards are either inept or lacking in form.

The above image shows how Spain could possibly line up. This is Del Bosque’s most favored setup, and on current form could see David Silva lining up alongside Iniesta and Costa/Villa up front. The full-backs Jordi Alba and Juanfran are known for their attacking forays, and will be tasked with doing what they do best. That leaves more defensive duties on Xabi Alonso and to an extent, Busquets. Both will be needed as destroyers in opposition transitions, which won’t be helped much by Sergio Ramos’ greater attacking instincts.

Ramos tends to sweep; so often we have seen him starting moves from the back and then getting on the end of it to finish it with a goal or in most cases, a near miss. He is one threat from deep-lying areas of the pitch, and could be a significant advantage for Spain over other teams.

Spain are also helped by the fact that they seldom get outnumbered in the midfield. This is mostly because of the two holders and the fact that Xavi is one of the least mobile midfielders on the planet. Xavi’s eye for a pass and ability to dictate the game at walking pace makes him unique; and this means that there are always three men behind the ball for Spain, even when they push relentlessly.

On to the wings and Spain look deceptively poor on the wings with both Iniesta and Silva not particularly known for hugging touchlines. Neither are proper wingers by trade, but they provide another dimension to Spain’s attack, albeit predictively. This is particularly helpful against teams that flood the midfield in hopes of outnumbering them; Spain sometimes end up with a five-man midfield progressing up-field with one-twos and passing triangles, which is their cup of tea.

Iniesta and Silva are those impish, nimble-footed playmakers who love to dribble and caress the ball infield. Their style of play means that Spain are almost always playing the same way: carrying the ball forward, passing it sideways, the wide-men dribble and one-two it towards the edge of the box, and hit a wall in case they come up against an organized, inspired defense.

This brings us to Del Bosque’s alternate plan. The Plan B.

Being Spain’s oldest player at the World Cup, it is expected that Xavi won’t be playing too many 90 minutes. No worries there, as Spain have more than adequate replacements for the Barcelona captain. On top of the queue would perhaps be Cesc Fabregas, who has had an average season for Barcelona. Another option is Koke, who is inexperienced enough to not usurp Cesc in the pecking order.

Andres Iniesta is trusted too much to be replaced, but the other flank is definitely due a change if Spain aren’t satisfied with the scoreline or the play. The playmaker-winger David Silva could be replaced with pure width by bringing in electric wingers in Pedro or Jesus Navas. This now changes the way Spain move forward, and instead of the crowded midfield in the default formation, they now have another outlet to create.

And this calls for a forward of the same ilk as Iniesta or Pedro, and who else but David Villa. The other forwards Costa, Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente aren’t the typical tiki-taka forwards; they are classic strikers who are strong technically, but good in the air too. And they offer little to nothing beyond the penalty box perimeters. And Villa is an exception, and he suits best in this setup.

Fabregas’ proficiency as a box-to-box midfielder has waned ever since he left Arsenal, but he is effective nonetheless. As the flanks get stretched, Fabregas gets ample time and room to ghost into dangerous areas in and around the box. Iniesta is expected to drift inside, perhaps he can be more direct as the game progresses. Villa, Pedro and Iniesta could even interchange at will; this is because all three seems to play at the same wavelength which could pose problems to defenders regarding whom to mark and whom to leave unattended.

This brings another welcome problem for Busquets as he loses his proverbial shield in Xavi, and has to frequently cancel out opposition counters with Iniesta and co pushing further up. Not too big a problem considering the fact that Spain rarely lose the ball.

Spain are the best and safest bet regarding potential champions for the simple fact that they have done it unlike most teams and have this habit of always finding a road to victory.