Strikerless Spain are Toothless

Against Italy and France, Vicente del Bosque has lined his world champions up in a formation with four defenders and six midfielders (4-6-0). While this tactic may well be the future of world football, it has various flaws that must be ironed out in order for it to work wonders.

Barcelona have played with one or two true forwards during their successful run to the top of the international stage, including David Villa and Sanchez. Villa, especially, was lethal for both club and country, finishing off opportunities orchestrated by the likes of Iniesta and Xavi. However, without a finisher, Spain and their tiki-taka system seem to be missing that edge in the final third.

Spain’s attacking play was poor – in comparison to past performances – in the third quarterfinal. With Cesc Fabregas deployed as a false 10, the ball was stuck in the middle of the pitch, as the former Arsenal player blended into the center of pitch, only distinguishing himself when he was the lone man pressuring the French rearguard.

It seemed there was no way forward for La Roja, unless David Silva possessed the ball and made a move towards goal. Alonso was fluent in the midfield, alongside Iniesta and Xavi. Unmarked, the ex-Liverpudlian picked up his first goal slotting a textbook header past the French keeper.

Scoring via the air is not Spain‘s forte, nor is it the Barcelona way, but it was the only way through against France. Gerard Pique was left in acres of space by the French on a corner, though he nodded the ball out of touch. Until the 90th minute, when Pedro earned his nation a penalty, the red men struggled to find their attacking venom.

The Spanish managed to muster 13 shots, with 11 of those coming from within 18 yards, though only 3 were on target. France did well to keep the defending champions off the mark inside of the area

But it was on the counter where Spain looked extraordinarily weak. In the 29th minute, the Barcelona-packed side meandered forward, and at various other times during the match the Iberians appeared lazy to say the least. Their hard pressing was AWOL in the second half, seeing Blanc’s boys string together passes.

One must doubt that Spain are not “hungry” anymore. In fact, UEFA’s Preview Magazine for Poland and Ukraine had an interview with Xavi entitled, “Still Hungry.” It could be possible that the Spanish become frustrated without a target man who can run onto a ball, or link up with a combination pass on the edge of the area.

Against Italy, Spain were content to keep the ball in the final third, but failed to get into the box until a wonderful run by Fabregas. Upon the entrance of Fernando Torres, the game changed. Immediately, the Chelsea man torched the back three of Italy, giving Danielle de Rossi a nightmare at center back. Torres failed to score, of course, but his performance earned him a place in the starting XI against the Irish, scoring just moments into the game.

With a forward, the Spanish were themselves. The passing was there, along with that deadly through ball for the eventual goal scorer.

In their tricky fixture versus Croatia, del Bosque took off Torres and replaced him with Jesus Navas. The traditional winger won the match for his country – playing in a primarily attacking role.

Thus, when Spain have a striker, or a footballer like Navas, they can beat anybody.

Portugal are next up, but with one of the strongest midfields in the tournament, Paulo Bento’s side could crush the Spanish, especially on the counter – if La Roja go with six midfielders. In addition, the Iberian neighbor’s boast a powerful defensive pairing in the ruthless Pepe and Bruno Alves. The former will not give his many rivals room to breathe, and perhaps he will step on someone’s foot to add an El Classico-esque air to the paring.

Roma experimented with the 4-6-0 during the last decade, using Francesco Totti, as the system’s axis. It failed to produce in Serie A and Spain have had a rough time with it in these European Championships, though they have produced two goals with the formation. However, this may be because they are a true golden generation. Also, when three key creators play together everyday, it is easier for them to work with any system, as the high intelligence of Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio is impeccable.

It will be interesting to see if the strikerless side becomes popular, though, like other tactical projects, the 4-6-0 may fail, which serves as another of the many reasons to take in football in by the hour and a half.

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