It may have been only a friendly but concerns have arisen from Spain’s engaging tussle with Chile in Geneva, most of which are concerning the defence.
Chile’s blistering start to the game left Spain distraught with several members of the defence caught badly out of position and a midfield looking decidedly narrow.
Claudio Borghi set his Chilean side up in such a way that they played expansively all across the field, as his 3-5-2 allowed full-backs like Mauricio Isla to gallop forward without little restriction. Isla was in fact the most advanced player on several occasions during the game, and it was the Udinese man who opened the scoring with a superbly taken volley after being afforded acres of space in behind Álvaro Arbeloa.
Arbeloa you say? Yes, the Real Madrid man has looked uncomfortable for sometime in that left-back position and it’s clear Spain would benefit from a more natural player in that role. These two games, Chile and Liechtenstein provided a perfect opportunity for Vicente Del Bosque to implement for the first time a new era of left-backs. Joan Capdevila has moved on to Benfica and been omitted from their Champions League squad albeit for reasons unclear, though his star was clearly descending after a year at Villarreal in which he looked extremely fatigued for the first time. In fact the stance taken at his former club could be taken on board here, as Villarreal looked at Capdevila as a player on the wane by whom it made sense to move on at this juncture in his career – the same could’ve been done by Del Bosque in terms of integrating the likes of José Enrique and Nacho Monreal into the squad. Both of which have made real progress over the last 18 months, and given their big moves to Liverpool and Malága respectively will no doubt only continue to do so as they play at a higher level.
Then, we move to the central positions. Injuries have depleted Spain of their first choice centre back pairing in the form of Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol, but such an occurrence was seemingly covered by the justified call-ups of Alberto Botía and Álvaro Domínguez. The pair was prolific in their consistency and solidarity at the triumphant European Under 21 Championships – Botía is your physically empowering, committed character while Domínguez offers more in the way of composure and intelligence. Both two, have played regular football – Botía is a rock upon which the Sporting Gijón defence is based and rarely missed a game while Domínguez though filtered out of the Atlético Madrid team on occasion has been a key fixture for the most part.
This then brings a degree of bemusement over the selection of Raúl Albiol. Slow, indecisive and short on confidence Albiol’s selection against Chile made little sense. Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas took advantage of his ineptitude with clever runs in tandem across he and Javi Martínez. Sanchez’s dropping deep left Spain in a quandary as to who should pick him up as he floated between midfield and attack intelligently, while Vargas’ sharp runs created further problems for the two centre backs that were under siege. They were left isolated for large parts with the full backs pushing on, while the screening in midfield was under severe pressure from an energetic Chilean midfield and the aforementioned aggressive full back play from Isla. Albiol’s been out of the first team picture at Real Madrid for some time, and with the arrival of Raphael Varane it may push the ex-Valencia man further down the pecking order thus seemingly having the same effect at International level.
Martínez has been asked at club level to move into midfield from defence while in possession, and while on International duty too (in particular against Lithuania) he operated deeper than ever in midfield. Del Bosque’s use of the Basque player in defence is understandable given the absence of Piqué as the need for a ball playing centre back is a necessity in such a system. For the most part against Chile, he was assured and looked every inch the centre back – considerably more so when paired alongside Albiol. In training ahead of the Liechtenstein game Martínez has been ushered out of the team in favour of Sergio Busquets, though the Barcelona man has excelled while playing centre back under Pep Guardiola.
It’s a necessity that Spain have a third choice centre back for the next tournament that can integrate into the first XI immediately, especially given the volume of games Puyol and Piqué tolerate at Barcelona, plus the fact the former has already been hindered by an assortment of injuries and will only deteriorate further as he ages. There is of course too a long term viewpoint, with a partner for Piqué in future tournaments a serious requirement.
Therein lies plenty of food for thought and a refusal to acknowledge what Spain has on their plate could see all the hard work of Del Bosque, and Luis Aragonés before him, undone.