After looking at the England WC squad in Part 1 of the series, we move on to one of the hot favorites (besides Brazil) to win the tournament – Spain. La Roja will be looking to win an unprecedented fourth major tournament on the trot, and here we look at the Premier League contingent making the trip to Brazil with them.
Del Bosque calls on the two Davids from Manchester
It is a testament to the strength of Spain’s goalkeeping department that one of Manchester United’s sole bright spots this season, David De Gea, will be a third-choice back up after Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina. Although United have conceded the second most goals of the top 7, behind only Tottenham, few if any of those goals can be attributed to a goalkeeping error (he has 0 defensive errors), and he has regularly kept United in the game, relatively at least. He’s only 23 with plenty of time with the national team remaining, but expect him be a solid understudy throughout the tournament this year.
Manchester City’s diminutive wizard David Silva will also be making the trip down from the M62; having enjoyed a stellar title-winning campaign with his club, he will now be looking to make an impact for the national side with his skill and wizardry. Comparing him to his most direct international competitor, Juan Mata, we see his stats eclipse United’s No. 10 in almost every department. To account for the stats being skewed by Mata only spending half a season with his new club, we look at how much more often Silva creates chances (25 min/Chance Created to Mata’s 37) and a higher crossing accuracy of 31% (vs Mata’s 21) overall. However, his selflessness and sometimes complete unwillingness to shoot sees him suffer in the shooting department, with only 45% of his shots put away and 33% of Cleat Cut Chances scored (Mata, in comparison, averages 65% and 80% conversion rates). If Del Bosque has to go with a false No. 9 to make up for Costa and/or Torres, Silva may be dropped for other options from midfield.
Azpilicueta is a reliable option on either side
Mata’s former Chelsea teammate Cezar Azpilicueta is another one of Spain’s more reliable back-up options going into the World Cup. Although it was surprising to see Daniel Carvajal not make the final cut, Azpi’s ability to play on both sides means he has the edge in the battle, and although he has to fight for a place against Juanfran and Jordi Alba, expect him to provide a much needed impact off the bench.
Will Spain miss the Negredo-Navas combination?
The strength of Del Bosque’s trust in Fernando Torres can clearly be seen in his decision to pick him over both Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo. Diego Costa was always going to get a ticket, while David Villa’s experience and Pedro’s excellence always meant the final forward spot was essentially the only one up for grabs. Negredo’s shooting stats on the whole eclipse those of Torres; he’s scored more goals at a higher rate and has attempted more shots at a higher rate while maintaining a similar shooting accuracy (he has, however, missed and incredible 14 Clear Cut Chances). Some of this may be attributed to the differing structures of the teams involved – Chelsea is a more defensive unit under Mourinho, and this clearly leaves the lone striker in their 4-2-3-1 isolated a lot of the time, while Pellegrini’s City focuses more on attack and plays with a second striker most times, allowing the front-man, in this case Negredo, more attempts on target than most other teams. Torres does usually play better for his country though, and his prior experience with Del Bosque gives him the edge over the Beast.
Jesus Navas’ exclusion is a surprise, given how he is one of the few out-and-out wide players at Del Bosque’s disposal. Although he wouldn’t have started many games, he is renowned for his role as an impact sub; his blistering pace and excellent ball control whilst hugging the flank could prove a costly miss against the top sides.
Watch out for: Solid Defence. Although Spain’s much-vaunted midfield will surely be in focus here, watch out for a legendary Pique-Ramos base at the heart of La Roja’s defence.
Possible weak link: Spain’s goalscoring options can only be described as iffy, especially if Costa isn’t running on a full tank. Torres has had another bad season with Chelsea while Pedro will more likely be played on the wings of a 4-3-3, and even Costa himself has only played twice before with the Spanish side. Del Bosque may turn to Fabregas to play a false No.9, but it remains to be seen if they can score the goals they need to go all the way this time round.
Fond Farewell: Xavi, now 34, is almost definitely playing in his final World Cup. He’s been superb for Spain and Barcelona in recent years, expect him to give us a stellar performance one last time.
Likely Starting XI: Casillas/Juanfran-Pique-Ramos-Alba/Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta/Pedro-Costa-Silva
Predicted Finish: Runners-up. A strong squad will be enough to carry them through to the final, but they’ll fall agonisingly short of a fourth straight major tournament win.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below to let us know how far you think Spain will go this year!