Vicente del Bosque had a difficult choice in selecting his 23 for the Spain National Team. The likes of quality players such as Dani Carvajal, Jesus Navas, and Alvaro Negredo were discarded from the selection from a squad.
Now del Bosque must decide his starting XI with a team full of talent in midfield, questions in the striker position, and the right-back position up for grabs.
In the past, del Bosque has played with both a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3. During last year’s Confederations Cup, Spain played a 4-3-3 due to Xabi Alonso’s injury. So del Bosque opted a Barcelona midfield trio with Sergio Busquets playing the holding role alone. However, with the Xabi Alonso back and in form, we can be sure that the Spanish tactician will return to his trusted 4-2-3-1.
At the goal keeper position, Iker Casillas is the only player that can be assured of his starting role. Coming off a Champions League winning season, Casillas’ confidence is high, and Pepe Reina nor David de Gea are at a high enough level to dethrone the captain of Spain.
Sergio Ramos has established himself as a reliable center-back with an extraordinary season in the Champions League, Copa del Rey, and La Liga. And with the retirement of Carles Puyol, Ramos is the perfect partner for Gerard Pique—who is coming off a decent season with F.C. Barcelona. This leaves the right-back position needing coverage. Juanfran Torres and Cesar Azpilicueta have proven more than capable of covering the right side of the Spanish defense.
Juanfran had a terrific season under Diego Simeone. For the majority of all tournaments, Juanfran was solid in attack and defense. More recently, in the Champions League semifinal against Chelsea, Juanfran demonstrated he can be effective on the right flank moving past Hazard twice to aid in the first and third goal for Atletico Madrid. However, in the last 15 minutes of the Champions League final versus Real Madrid, Juanfran was unable to hold on against Angel Di Maria. Di Maria was creating havoc on the Atletico Madrid defender which creates questions on how he will hold up against players of such quality.
Against Bosnia this past Friday, Cesar Azpilicueta showed that he is on form and ready to defend for his country. Although he plays on the left for his club, Azplicueta looked more than comfortable playing in del Bosque’s system. I think Azpilicueta gets the nod at right-back.
There is no question that Jordi Alba will continue to start at left-back. His speed not only helps when attacking the opposition, it also helps when defending. Alba is quickly becoming one of the best interceptors in world football.
As mentioned earlier, the return of Alonso to the national team signals a team up with Busquets in the holding midfield. Sergio Busquets did not have his best season with Barcelona. Because of his intelligent positioning and tactical awareness, it is difficult to say he will be dropped to the bench. Javi Martinez did not play a large amount of minutes for Bayern Munich. The minutes he did play were spent primarily as a center-back under Pep Guardiola. We can be sure that del Bosque will play an Alonso/Busquets duo.
The difficulty in choosing the three attacking midfielders is a joyous problem for del Bosque. Other than Germany, many teams have limited players to deploy in the field. That’s not the case in Spain. The depth in the creative midfield for Spain is of the highest level. In the left attacking midfield, Andres Iniesta will surely get the start. On the right, David Silva is the best option. Silva has an eye for finding pockets of space and punching in through-balls behind defenses.
Finally, who will play in the center of the midfield: Juan Mata or Xavi Hernandez? Both players did not have their best seasons for their respective clubs. Jose Mourinho kept Mata on the bench for the first half of the Premier League. In the second half of the season, Mata was transferred to Manchester United. Even with more minutes of the field, Mata maintained a low form for the Red Devils. This opens the door for Xavi to remain in the starting line-up for Spain. Xavi is the prime example of tiki-taka football. His patience and short passing dictates the passing the game that Spain’s system exemplifies.
Assuming that Diego Costa will be healthy by Spain’s first game on June 13, Fernando Torres and David Villa will be sitting on the bench waiting to come on as substitutes. Torres continues to hide his former self of his Liverpool days. And Villa is not the goal scorer he was at his prime. We will see how Costa will cope with a possession-oriented system. Under Diego Simeone, Costa played in a system that allowed him to find channels between the center-backs and left/right-backs on the counter. He was able to explore the space behind the defenses. Now he will most likely play a static role where he must wait for crosses in the box or drop deep to help keep the play going. Diego Costa wants to prove he is the answer to Spain’s striker issue. His first opportunity will be next Friday, June 13 against Netherlands.