After his side fell to Slovakia by two goals to one, Vicente Del Bosque said that he believed his team ‘were not in a downward trend,’ yet recent results and the shocking exit in Brazil show that they certainly are.
On Thursday night in Zilina, La Roja looked more like its recent self rather than world and European champions. The late Luis Aragones established an era and made a team out of an underachieving group of players by sticking to his philosophy despite the criticism he received. Now, after players have retired and times have changed, it is time for Del Bosque to make a team out of players overshadowed by club and political problems.
Perhaps after the World Cup would have been an ideal time for Del Bosque to leave his post and allow the start of a new era with a new generation. Nevertheless, he is still in charge. But changes are needed, starting against Luxembourg. The goalkeeper dispute has to be settled with the dropping of Iker Casillas for the in-form David De Gea.
Casillas is not being judged on this sole match but his form from when Jose Mourinho first left him out, while De Gea has shown his worth with his recent displays for Manchester United.
The centre of defence is creaking too. Raul Albiol lacks the quality to play for the national team and questions can be asked over Gerard Pique’s commitment. It may be time for Sergio Ramos and Marc Barta to develop a partnership, just as Pique and Carles Puyol did in their day.
Midfield could stand a few changes as well. Koke is an option further up the pitch, where he has put in stunning performances for Atletico Madrid. He should also be allowed to take set-pieces – just ask Diego Godin and Miranda about his delivery.
Cesc Fabregas’ good understanding with Diego Costa has been seen at Chelsea and more needs to be made of it in the international team. On the other hand, Costa hasn’t fitted in so far and while he has goals in him, Paco Alcacer’s time could be at hand. Or perhaps utilise Rodrigo Moreno, maybe as one of two strikers.
Santi Cazorla ended playing at right-back on Thursday, not the first time Del Bosque’s substitutions have put a player out of position. A year ago it was Koke while this time Spain ended up with only two defenders at the final whistle. It’s another area that needs to improve.
The very nature of Del Bosque’s squad selection could be better too. There are players left at home or in the Under-21s who should be considered – Iker Muniain, Alberto Moreno and Isco are all of senior quality and in better form than, for example, Pedro Rodriguez.
Gabi, the Atletico Madrid captain, is a special case. Regarded as among the best midfielders in La Liga last season, he has yet to be called-up by Del Bosque. He’s a player who would bring determination and leave his heart out on the pitch.
Changes need to be made and made quickly. The options are there, but it’s up to Del Bosque to use them.