For some, tiki-taka is dead, while for others, it is merely evolving. Whichever side of that argument you lay, there is no denying that Vicente Del Bosque has questions to answer coming into the World Cup. The world champions and double European champions are in a state of transition. Some players are ageing, some new ones are showing promise and in between is a period where the sheer surprise and awe of that passing philosophy is no more. It means that the previous aura of invincibility is gone — and vulnerability has crept in.
There is though no denying that it still is a team of great individuals. The core of it — from Barcelona — may be nearing their end, but a season that was largely disappointing brought about second place in La Liga, losing finalists in Copa del Rey and Champions League quarter-finalists. Alternatively, a group of Real Madrid players finally clinched la decima and conquered the Spanish King’s Cup. Adding onto all this is a group of players from England’s Premier League and there is even Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich. It means that should their be need for diversity of play, it can be acquired.
However, in a team where the defence and midfield almost picks itself, the main question will be whether to play a recognised striker — or persist with the false 9 strategy that brought about Euro 2012.
For that, the answers will lie in whether Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa or David Villa starts, or whether Cesc Fabregas will continue upfront. The differences are clear. With Fabregas, Spain will possess the ball more and better — sometimes to the points of possession for possession’s sake. In that regard, Fabregas acts as a target man but not one for whom long balls are thrown at, but one to whom ground passes coming into him are knocked on to oncoming midfielders. The problem with that is that when a team is tight and relentless in being compact, then space in behind becomes rare.
As evidenced against Italy at the Confederations Cup last year when Javi Martinez was brought on so as to be a target man for whom crosses could be pumped at, Spain do at times need a plan B. That plan B could become plan A if the tireless and hard working Diego Costa is given a start. Indeed, even at Euro 2012 where the false 9 worked so well, Spain looked more dangerous whenever a recognised striker (Fernando Torres) was on the pitch. With Torres, Spain looked more likely to open up Italy in the first game, scored four against Ireland and scored a further two in the final which was at 2-0 already won. Considering then that Torres was not on form, what difference would it make if an in form Diego Costa starts?
The main drawback may be that at a relatively short time, Costa has yet blended into the Spain fabric as well as Torres — or say David Villa has.
The other question also lies at the back of midfield. In previous tournaments, Del Bosque’s ploy of starting Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets in a 4-2-3-1 was deemed to be too defensive. Thus with Alonso missing for the Confederations Cup, Spain went with a Barca like 4-3-3. For this, Spain looked vulnerable to attacks against Nigeria and Italy, and were ruthlessly battered by Brazil. Del Bosque should return to the two holders now that Alonso is available. But the Real Madrid man could face the complexity of isolation as he picked Jose Mourinho’s side when the Portuguese man got into conflicts with all things Spanish. Could that be a hindrance to their progress?
Either way, Spain still boast the best team in the world, in terms of identity, philosophy and familiarity. Whether these will be enough to win them one more major international tournament remains to be seen. Whatever happens though, a generation of players will come to an end at Brazil 2014. Will it be with a bang, or with a whimper?