Spain Euro 2012 Focus – Striker needed, regardless of pitch conditions

Spain’s 1-1 draw with Italy was the battle of the unusual tactics, which Cesare Prandelli arguably won as his side matched the holders for long periods. Since the game, what seems like half the Spanish line-up has complained about the pitch conditions not being suitable for their passing game. There was not a word from Italy in that respect.

Sergio Busquets was arguably the most outspoken, suggesting pitches should be set up to suit Spain’s quick-passing game. “Hopefully, for the next match the pitch will favour us a bit more. It’s the same for both teams but clearly it affects us more,” the midfielder told reporters. All well and good, and pitches should probably not be left to dry out, but it all highlights a lack of a plan B for coach Vicente del Bosque.

Del Bosque’s decision to start without a recognised striker against the Italians smacked of trying to crowbar as many of his best players into the XI as possible. It is understandable, considering the depth in his midfield, however the manager’s job is to field a balanced team, picking the best players for their position. Or it is repositioning players when the squad is littered with absentees – as Prandelli managed. Playing no strikers when there are the three del Bosque has to pick from is inexcusable, even if Cesc Fabregas played as well as could be expected.

Even if the coach has confidence in Fabregas as a forward, as he told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser: “We have three fantastic forwards but Cesc is also a good forward,” the Italian defence was comfortable until Fernando Torres came on. The Chelsea striker did miss a couple of chances – although these can go down as good goalkeeping from Gianluigi Buffon – but he immediately brought a new dimension to La Roja’s attack, providing an outlet for the glut of midfielders to find.

Against Ireland, del Bosque must be looking to play Torres after witnessing what an organised defence can do to suppress six midfielders. Although the Irish did not show it against Croatia, an organised defence has been their strongest asset throughout Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign. A midfielder as a forward could well struggle to break down a well-drilled bank of defenders so a touch of pace and direct running could and should unsettle the Irish back line.

Barcelona were recently found out in the Champions League for a lack of a plan B, namely their sheer refusal to aim even slightly more direct. And now teams are aware of the threat they will start building walls to stop it. While Italy did not do this, they in fact had a successful passing game of their own, other, less glamorous nations will, so del Bosque needs to get his strikers firing. Or even playing. Whether he will set up with six midfielders or his usual five is to be seen, but if six goes wrong again against the Irish it could be too late to change his mind.

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