Llorente. A potential focal point for all the tika-taka.

by Liam McConville

The World and European champions pulled a surprise on Sunday as they lined up against Italy without a striker. Their new 4-6-0 formation saw Cesc Fabregas playing in a more advanced role with Andres Iniesta and David Silva out wide. The plan almost backfired as Spain came back from a goal down to salvage a point against Italy with Fabregas grabbing the vital goal. Spain certainly looked the better side following their equaliser as Jesus Navas and Fernando Torres were brought on in the pursuit of a winner.

Although Torres was wasteful in front of goal, his introduction showed why Spain needs an outlet. For all their domination, possession and brilliant midfield players, without a striker Spain lack the cutting edge that all successful teams need. The loss of David Villa was a huge blow as the Barcelona forward was their main goal threat. Villa scored five of Spain’s eight goals at the 2010 World Cup and without him they look a little toothless up front.

Torres’ complete loss of form means that there was always likely to be a large void in Spain’s forward line. Manager Vicente Del Bosque’s decision to go with no strikers is particularly strange when you consider the other forwards he has in reserve. Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo are talented and dangerous; both would surely do a good job should they be called upon.

Another big loss to Spain is the fact that Barcelona defender Carles Puyol was ruled out of the tournament through injury. Puyol was Spain’s main threat from set-pieces, without him their danger from corners and free kicks is significantly reduced. Puyol scored the key goal against Germany in the 2010 semi-final, not only will his aerial threat be missed but his leadership too, as Spain seek to be the first side to win three consecutive major tournaments.

Spain’s only other goal scorer from South Africa was Andres Iniesta, the man who scored the winner in the World Cup final is another who suffers from this new system, being deployed out wide surely doesn’t get the best out of the influential playmaker. Is there really a need to include both Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets alongside the dynamic duo of Xavi and Iniesta? Although Alonso and Busquets are both brilliant players and would walk into any other international side, Del Bosque must ask himself whether including all these brilliant midfielders is to the detriment of his side.

Almost every side that plays against Spain will set up looking to stifle and frustrate, once every now and then this tactic will pay off, as shown by England’s shock win against Spain last November. Without a focal point up front, surely Spain are more likely to fire a blank, giving the negative tactics of their opponents even more credence. Should Spain line up in a similar way against the Republic of Ireland as Del Bosque has hinted, who knows what could happen? Maybe Trapattoni’s stubborn side could produce the performance of a lifetime and spring a huge upset, it’s certainly not impossible.

Spain are a brilliant team, great to watch and packed full of phenomenal players. The problem is Del Bosque can’t find a way to fit them all in without affecting his side. The formation is not dissimilar to that of Barcelona but as Gordon Strachan pointed out, this 4-6-0 doesn’t work without the brilliance of Lionel Messi. Spain are still the side to beat but if they want to win this tournament they simply have to drop one of their star midfielders. None of them deserve to be dropped but it is necessary for them to play a striker.

Personally I would go with Llorente; he’s a great striker and will provide the aerial threat that is sorely missing from this team. With the talent that they have Spain should be tearing sides apart yet even in South Africa, they were only winning games 1-0. With a striker back in the side and the brilliance in midfield, they can re-discover their mojo and show why they’re the best side in the world.