Wednesday night’s 4-1 victory will no doubt have pleased Spain Coach Vicente del Bosque, as his team swept aside a Ji-Sung Park-less South Korean side. Goals from the returning Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Santi Cazorla and Alvaro Negredo ensured that preparations for this summer’s European Championship remain firmly on track. With little over a week remaining until the defending champions’ opening game against Italy, we ask: how certain is Del Bosque of his selection, and who is likely to lead the Spanish fight on June 10?
The most talked about issue in Spain has been the striking dilemma. With David Villa’s absence confirmed, Del Bosque was faced with a problem – the main one being that Villa, as the boss said himself, is ‘irreplaceable’. And it’s true. How do you go about replace a man with 51 goals in 82 games?
Although technically a striker, Del Bosque has mostly employed Villa in a high attacking left forward role. Against Serbia it was Cazorla who took up the position on the left, although in a 4-4-2 system as opposed to the usual 4-3-3. Last night against Korea, Juan Mata was given the role. However, the position will most likely be taken up by either Andres Iniesta, David Silva or Pedro Rodriguez. Iniesta is certain to start, so it all comes down to whether Del Bosque prefers Silva or Pedro on the opposite side.
In terms of qualities, the closest thing Spain have to Villa is Pedro. A somewhat controversial inclusion, the Barcelona man has been well below his best this season, suffering a loss of form due to more than one injury. However, in his case, form becomes somewhat irrelevant when you weigh it up against what he can potentially bring.
Like Villa, he is clinical in front of goal, intelligent, and not afraid of taking a shot. As well as his more obvious talents, he is someone who is capable of scoring a goal at any time in a game of any magnitude, and that is something Spain will need. Amongst a sea of passes, of ‘tiki-taka’, they need someone who isn’t afraid of having a crack at goal. Someone who is willing to take a chance. Someone deadly.
The other thing that Del Bosque has to decide is who the main striker is going to be – the traditional No 9. On merit, it’s hard to look beyond Fernando Llorente. He is arguably the best striker in Spain at the moment, and for my money the undisputed first choice. Although after a long season with Athletic, with a grueling Europa League and domestic campaign, there are a few doubts over his fitness.
In contention with him is Torres. Despite having a poor season at Chelsea overall, he has found his way into Del Bosque’s plans once again after a small resurgence in form. But there is something of a long-term loyalty shared between Torres and Del Bosque, and the relationship between the two is an important one. His goal last night will only have helped his cause.
The other striking option in the squad is Alvaro Negredo – another of Del Bosque’s so-called favourites. He is similar to Llorente in terms of physicality, but generally not as good. But it seems the physical approach upfront is something that the manager prefers this time. Two of La Liga’s most in form strikers, Roberto Soldado and Adrian Lopez, have been cut from the squad, a decision that didn’t go down all too well with the Spanish public. They may be of slighter stature, but with a combined total 46 goals between them in all competitions, it’s easy to see why people are upset.
Replacing Villa was never going to be easy, but Spain are lucky to have so many options available. Will Llorente finally get what he deserves after years of hard work and goals for Athletic, or will Del Bosque stick with ‘his’ man Torres once again? It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Chelsea man take his place out on the pitch in Gdansk on Sunday June 10.