The Curious Case of Spain

The Curious Case of Spain

In what promised to be a closely contested rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final, it was a tale of two drastically different halves. For the first half, it was like watching the continuation of the Final four years ago, with Spain having the majority of the possession while the Dutch continuously foul the Spanish side. Indeed, it even threatened to be a Spanish comfortable victory when David Silva’s attempt was narrowly saved after Xabi Alonso dispatched a penalty won by newcomer Spanish forward Diego Costa. However, it was Robin Van Persie’s fantastic diving header in the 44th minute that brought the match to a 1-1 draw, leaving the game on equal footing heading into half time.
What followed in the second half was a spectacular self-destruction of the World Champions, where Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben contributed three of the four goals scored by the Dutch in the second half. It was a game that had sharp comparisons with Bayern Munich’s demise at the hands of Real Madrid in last year’s champions league, as well as Barcelona’s destruction to Bayern Munich the season before.

Where did it go wrong?
Possession based football fell spectacularly to the lightning fast counter attacking style, and it has been a pattern at football’s highest level for a while now. However, there seems to be a recurring theme here, the lack of pressing by the possession-oriented side. One of the things that made earlier Barcelona and Spain sides successful was the incisive passing, but also off the ball pressing, which didn’t allow the opposition any time and space to pick runners up with through or over-the-top balls. Spain failed to press Netherlands in the second half especially. Daley Blind was given the freedom to deliver incisive passes to Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben on two occasions. On either case, Spain failed to restrict his passing range. Spain should have realized this with the first goal, where it was Blind’s fantastic ball that allowed RVP to score the crucial equalizer. Del Bosque failed here tactically, as he should have allowed a Spanish player to harass the Dutch LWB. Unfortunately, David Silva, the player who was positionally closest to deal with Blind, naturally drifts inward as wide midfielder. Leaving Blind, in times of transition the space to work with the ball. Cesar Azpilucuelta, Spain’s right back, was simply too far away to force any significant pressure on Daley Blind. The lack of such suffocation allowed Blind to deliver the type of service Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie needed to deal fatal blows to the World Champions.

The selection of Diego Costa felt forced for the Spanish side. He, of course, won the penalty for Spain, and was able to run onto a couple of passes provided by Iniesta, but he wasn’t able to bully the Dutch defense as his viewers are accustomed to doing last season with Atletico Madrid. And this is exactly the problem. The Spanish side that faced the Dutch played a completely different style that the one Diego Costa thrived with while playing for the current La Liga champions. The inclusion of Diego Costa, in theory, would have given Spain a plan B, a player that thrives when given the correct service. However, the possession style he had to adapt to was very different to the high pressure, counterattacking style employed at Atletico Madrid. Often times, the inclusion of Raul Garcia in the La Liga side made sure that the goalscoring burden was split between the two prolific players. Suffice it to say, he was the only dedicated goal scorer on Spain’s opening match. There wasn’t a counterattacking style that allowed Diego Costa to run into space and harass the back line. The lack of width also proved to further limit his influence in the game. An inclusion of David Villa and/or Pedro would have given the Spanish hitman further space to showcase his quality. Simply to say, his style didn’t match the one employed by Del Bosque in the 1-5 drubbing.

BARCELONA - APRIL 17: Diego Costa of Atletico Madrid in action d

The selection of Diego Costa felt forced for the Spanish side… Fot. Maxisports / Bigstock

As big as any other factor, it was the lack of balance in the lineup that perhaps sealed Spain its fate. In a midfield consisting of an aged Xabi Alonso, a reserved Sergio Busquets, and a lightweight Xavi, there simply was a lack of energy or combativeness to compete with the energetic De Jong and De Guzman. The lack of an energetic source made it even more difficult to apply pressure to Dutch side. The likes of Koke and Javi Martinez would perhaps offer a more secure, energetic platform to work with, while still maintaining a dominant possession – oriented style. Further up the pitch, the lack of width and pace also further limited the Spanish side. Having David Silva and Iniesta operating as wide midfielders doesn’t provide the width Spain could have used to further exploit the 5-3-2/3-5-2 employed by the Dutch side. Defensively, the lack of a true ball winner also proved fatal for the reigning champions.

What next for Spain?
Spanish fans can take comfort that Spain lost their opening match day as well against Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup. However, Chile offers a stern test for the world champions with players like Vidal and Sanchez in very good form coming into the competition. Vincente Del Bosque will have to look further than his trusted Barca/Madrid core to ensure a victory against the South American outfit. They will look to harass the Spanish maestros to follow the Dutch blueprint. The inclusion of Koke and Javi Martinez will ensure Spain will have a combative foundation, without sacrificing much of the technical ability. Also, starting Pedro and/or David Villa will ensure Spain have a forward that is accustomed to the style of play. Whatever happens, diversifying the lineup will only serve Spain well from here on out.

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