Small Steps for Spain Whilst Italy Experiment During International Friendly

As the last two World Cup winners faced off in Madrid last night, there was very little learnt about the respective teams’ prospects ahead of this summer in Brazil although Spain showed slight glimpses of the direction in which Vicente del Bosque wants to take the team through the ninety minute use of Spanish debutant Diego Costa.

Cesare Prandelli’s Italy team that started the match last evening was very much a team of experimentation. Very few of the names who will start against England in Manaus in June were picked for the starting line-up last night with the exceptions being Buffon, Barzagli and probably Marchisio. It was a team set up to show Prandelli his options, to see how individuals fared in the experienced coach’s system and the performance reflected this.

Spain on the other hand played what could be considered a first choice team, although it is rather hard not to when you consider the absolute wealth of talent at del Bosque’s disposal. However one thing which was evident was how the World Cup winning coach has introduced the in-form Diego Costa to the team. There was a lot of heated debate prior to his call-up about his history having played for Brazil though it now looks as if he will go to the World Cup in the country of his birth as a Spaniard.

This friendly was all about seeing how Spain coped with having a genuine striker in the team once more. Gone are the days of 2008 when the late Luis Aragones had Fernando Torres and David Villa in the side, 2012 saw Cesc Fabregas used as a false nine in the European Championships whilst the months since then have seen del Bosque try to incorporate various centre forwards into his system without success, for example Fernando Llorente and Roberto Soldado.

Diego Costa is different to Llorente in Soldado in that he fits in with the famed style of ‘tiki taka’ which has seen Spain as a national team become so successful since 2008. Costa is not a physical target man like Llorente but he has just as good if not better eye for goal. Costa is really the dream for del Bosque as he is essentially an extra technical midfielder whom also has the predatory eye for goal which we have seen in both Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

In Madrid last night we saw Spain slowly getting to grips with having Costa as the frontman, there were significantly more crosses worked into the box from Pedro and Jordi Alba with Costa in the middle to aim at, and this is the key notion for del Bosque’s decision to bring Costa in. He offers different options but doesn’t stray too far from the mould of Spain’s success like Llorente and Soldado do, it is the perfect example of trying to develop a team and further their success rather than changing the previous approach.

Despite having very few chances at Gianluigi Buffon’s goal Diego Costa’s running in between the lines was excellent and it often took away an Italian defender which in turn left a slight gap for Pedro to run into, or Iniesta to run into and this only furthered the challenges for a side defending against an already superhumanly fluid forward line.

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