Saturday, 23 June 2012

How to inflict pain on Spain

by Ben Willcocks

Spain, which has won the last two major tournaments that it has entered, is recognised by many to be comfortably the best national football team in the world. I, however, would completely disagree, especially after their performance in the group stage.
I have put together a team below, including European players, which I believe could beat the Spanish. My ultimate game-plan would be to put many crosses into the box and stretch the Spaniards by using offensive full-backs.
For my goalkeeper, I would select Joe Hart, because of Spain’s playing style. After watching Joe Hart at Manchester City this season, I have noticed that he is more comfortable at saving shots or headers from short distances rather than from range. He would be facing the attacking midfielders of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Silva, who enjoy breaking apart the defence with short passes. Therefore, the majority of the shots on goal would call upon Hart’s close reflexes and instincts, as 93% of all Spanish shots are inside the penalty area. Additionally, Hart explained at the press conference on Wednesday that he researched all the penalty traits of the Spaniards, as he was certain we would play them in the quarter-finals.
’s right back Ignazio Abate should really be a winger, with his pace, stamina and consistent crossing. I chose Abate because I believe that he would attack down the right hand side, supporting the winger with overlapping runs. In my opinion, Spain’s weakest player is their left-back Jordi Alba, so this is an area I want to exploit, especially as Iniesta doesn’t offer Alba a lot of defensive support. With Abate bursting onto the scene with pace and desire to get forward, he would add a lot of width to my team.
Personally, I dislike John Terry, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an outstanding player. I was inspired after his performance against Ukraine, due to his relentless blocking and sliding tackles. He even had the desire to sprint back and (just about) keep the ball out of the goal. In my opinion every team needs a centre back like John Terry: he is strong, powerful and can open the opponents’ defence with cutting, diagonal passes. He would also suit defending against Spain, because their players would be completely out-muscled by Terry, which is bound to be an advantage, unless he knees one of them in the calf and receives a red card!
Portuguese Pepe is a very experienced defender for Real Madrid, which is obviously in the Spanish League. He is used to stopping the pace of the Spanish, such as Jesus Navas who plays for Athletico Madrid or Iniesta and Fabregas who play for Barcelona. Where many players would slip up when these midfielders charge at them, Pepe has the ability to stay on his feet and see out the danger calmly and effectively. He is also an aerial threat, especially from corners, creating havoc for the small Spanish centre backs.  

Ashley Cole is another defender who can add width to the team’s offense. As Arsene Wenger states, he is “a defender who loves to attack”, and this trait is extremely important against Spain, who are a team that are very vulnerable from counter-attacks. As the right midfielder David Silva plays better in a more central position, Cole would spend the majority of the game bursting down the left hand side to support the offense.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t have chosen Andreas Dzagoev in right midfield if he didn’t make such a dynamic impact at the start of the Euros. I believe that wingers should be versatile, especially against a team like Spain. Therefore I picked Dzagoev, as he can cross, score goals and most importantly cut inside and make more space for the overlapping runs of Abate. If the central strikers were not performing and scoring goals, I would look to Dzagoev to make runs into the box and poach goals, like he did in his opening Euro game against the Czech Republic.
Rather than selecting an attacking midfielder such as Nasri or Krohn-Dehli, I decided to pick Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger because of his ability to mark the likes of Iniesta and Xavi. Another reason why Schweinsteiger would be perfect in this role is because of his stamina. In my opinion, this is essential, because against Spain it is likely one would be chasing the game for large periods.

Steven Gerrard is just about the best passer of the ball outside of the Spain, especially since he’s adopted a more defensive role in the England team. His main job in the side would be to defend and hold out the Spaniards, until he receives the ball in midfield and I would expect him to deliver a cross or pass like he did to Andy Carroll against Sweden.

In front of the two midfielders, I would place Mesut Ozil. He would be positioned in an area behind Xabi Alonso, yet in front of the two central defenders. This would allow him enough space to make a pass into the box, or to shoot from distance. Gerard Piqué, knowing he’s a dangerous player, may push up to mark Ozil, which would leave gaps in the defence for Ronaldo to exploit. He is also very comfortable in wide areas, and I would expect him to swap positions with Ronaldo and deliver some crosses into the box from a left wing position. 
 I would expect that Cristiano Ronaldo would be in everybody’s team because his all-round ability to beat defenders, score goals and produce moments of magic. Although Arbeloa is an adequate right back, he would struggle against Ronaldo’s sublime skill, power and athleticism. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the world, even better than Messi.

Zlatlan Ibrahimovic would be a perfect centre forward to face Spain. Firstly, he is one of the most technically gifted footballers in the world, which is reinforced by video clip below. He has the flair to beat players with ease, and give Spain a taste of their own medicine. Additionally Gerrard, Dzagoev and Ozil are all brilliant crossers of the ball. Therefore, it is important to have an aerial threat upfront also: the 6ft 5 giant of Ibrahimovic would have little contest in the air against Puyol, who is only 5ft 7.

1 comment:

  1. George Kimber-Sweatman24 June 2012 at 14:16

    I think they've just been coasting so far - another couple of gears left if needed...


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