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Forward thinking

Part five - Guillem analyses Spain's tame 1-1 draw with Italy

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 11th June 2012 view comments

Last night's 1-1 drawn in Gdansk between Spain and Italy was a fair result.

Italy impressed with their positioning. They were very capable in adapting defensively to most of what Spain offered and were brave in employing a high defensive line.

They showed courage - when they attacked they did it in numbers; their attitude overall was positive. They weren't obsessed with destroying and aimed for a degree of possession with Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano demanding the ball often, especially in the first half.

Del Bosque came under fire for opting against a striker

Del Bosque came under fire for opting against a striker

In the second half, Spain improved upon the things they had done badly in the opening 45. And this is where we introduce the striker/no striker debate.

The idea of coming out onto the pitch without a striker - a reference point, someone to target - seems to make people really nervous. Last night I received countless messages on Twitter (@guillembalague) claiming that Spain's decision to start without a recognised number nine was either anti-football, arrogant, or even defensive!

The idea of coming out onto the pitch without a striker - a reference point, someone to target - seems to make people really nervous.

Guillem Balague
Quotes of the week

Playing without a centre forward is an option. Don't forget that football goes through periods of revolution and counter revolution, shifts in tactical trends, where teams finds new ways of attacking (or defending) and little by little the old thinking about the game shifts.

Take the idea of playing with a false striker (false number nine), rediscovered by Roma in recent times but pioneered by the Dream Team of Johan Cruyff at Barcelona in the early nineties (Laudrup played as the false striker and there was no number nine in the team).

As Alfredo Relaño writes in the Spanish sports daily, AS, this morning: "Many of the greatest teams in history have triumphed by cutting out the number nine: since Sindelar's Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930's, through to the Barça of Messi, via the River Plate side of Pedernera, the Hungary of Hidegkuti, the Madrid of Di Stéfano, the Brasil of Tostao, the Ajax of Cruyff and others forgotten along the way."

Judging by the reaction, people were incredulous that Spain should take that approach against Italy last night - and I'm curious to find out why it drives people bonkers. However, I'll concede that if you are going to play without a centre forward (especially when you have Torres, Negredo, Llorente available) you need to do it better than Del Bosque's side did in the first half: a different combination of midfielders, with Pedro or Jesus Navas, who make runs into the space behind defenders, would be a start (although perhaps del Bosque thought Italy were going to play deeper than they did, killing the spaces that those midfielders would have had to open).

You also need better movement off the ball and crisp quick passing, which Spain lacked until they found their rhythm in second half. Spain's lack of pressure high up made life easy for Italy (as per the goal) and made Spain appear vulnerable.

The idea is fine, the problem was in its application.

Another issue was that the Spanish players hadn't really prepared - mentally or physically - for the formation: Del Bosque was unsure whether to start with a striker or not right up until just before kick off and even the players believed that Torres would start, based upon their experiences at the training ground.

Even Cesc, who would have to play a pivotal role, was shocked. They hadn't prepared for playing without a striker in training and it came out of the blue - although it is something that the Barcelona players have plenty of experience of and are accustomed to.

In summation, there's nothing wrong with the concept of playing without a recognised striker, but against Italy there was more than one deficiency in its execution.

Another thing to say about the Italy-Spain game: the grass.

It is a shame, even more, an embarrassment that the pitch cannot be watered before a game. It was long and it was dry, and Spain asked for it to be watered - as all pitches are if its not raining. The ball would have moved quickly for both rivals and it would have suited both (Spain passing and Italy's counter). In fact it would have benefited the spectacle.

The Italians were asked if they wanted it watered and they said no. UEFA based their final decision not to water it on - wait for it... the groundsman's opinion that it was fine: automatically making him the most important and influential individual of the tournament.

Comments (8)

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Ollie Lawrence (Arsenal fan) says...

Brilliant article, as per usual, Guillem. Just a few gripes though... Firstly, it was clear to see that the formation simply did not work for Spain. Whilst the style of passing mirrored that of Barcelona's, there was no target man, or 'main man' to look to. Italy allowed them no space and as we saw in the Barca-Chelsea and Chelsea-Bayern games, the 'attacking' teams were reduced to side passing and waiting for a moment of inspiration. Secondly, as I understand it, both teams have to agree to the pitch being watered pre game. Italy had every right to say no as they understood that such a move would make the game more difficult, as the fast moving pitch would suit the Spanish a lot more than themselves. Yes it would have benefited the 'spectacle' ie the viewer, but not Italy. A spectacle was not important for Italy, a result was, and that they got.

Posted 18:29 12th June 2012

Gordon Young (Chelsea fan) says...

It did not work for Barcelona against Chelsea, and they have Messi ! Spain were much more threatening after Torres came on.

Posted 12:04 12th June 2012

Ignacio Herrero (Aston Villa fan) says...

The problem is not playing without a number 9, I agree with Guillem. I think the real problem is that to play like that you need spaces and having Ramos on the right wing is the difference between previous Euros and World Cup and this Euro. Both full backs need to go forward in order to create space for "los jugones". Javi Martinez or even Albiol? And Ramos on the right. Non of them are as good as Ramos-Pique as centre-halves but overall the balance for the team would be better I think.

Posted 11:54 12th June 2012

Luke Wilson (Arsenal fan) says...

Regarding the grass, surely it being watered predominantly favours the Spanish and their short intricate passing game and not the Italians more direct, not particularly long-ball but certainly more direct, football. Therefore asking the Polish groundsman as an arbiter would make sense as he appears to be relatively neutral and has specialist knowledge of the pitch. Therefore blaming the pitch is a poor excuse for a team as talented as Spain.

Posted 01:16 12th June 2012

Brendon Vella (Manchester United fan) says...

I think one of Spain's problems was De Rossi's form who was immense in defence and played for the other 2 central defenders. I think if early in the second half Del Bosque decided to put Ilorente upfront for reference and to keep De Rossi occupied it could have been easier to attack especially on Bonucci's side who was quite lost. And with Iniesta needing 3/4 players to stop him and Ilorente imposing himself in the box it could have been a different story.

Posted 22:27 11th June 2012

Dean Archbold (Liverpool fan) says...

Scotland were absolutely murdered i the press for playing the same tactics against the Czech Rep in the qualifying groups for the Euro's. The diiference is that it was Craig Leveins first game in charge of the national team and the squad available to him at the time was very very poor. why is this deemed acceptable to the world chapmions with the players at his disposal. I personally do not see how it can be a positive move as if you are being pressed for a period of time then it becomes impossible to find an out ball, somebody to hit long and hold the ball up for support. Why are some teams villified and others praised for the same tactics ?

Posted 21:02 11th June 2012

Mo Jordan (Liverpool fan) says...

why do u select strickers in yr 23 man squard if you dont want to play them

Posted 16:45 11th June 2012

Jon Fazrul (Everton fan) says...

a good craftsman doesnt blame his tools. saying that spain were severely disadvantaged by the pitch not being watered is bordering on ridiculous....it actually sounds like something us english would come up with!! it may have been a slight advantage to italy but it just sounds like clutching at straws to me

Posted 16:00 11th June 2012

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