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Do Spain need a Plan B? – EURO2012 Tactical Preview: Part One
- Updated: 6 June, 2012
AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KLEIN
The forthcoming European Championships being held in Ukraine and Poland offer Spain the opportunity to create footballing history. To become the first international side to win three major international tournaments consecutively.
The obstacles in their path include the continual improvement of both Germany and Holland as genuine contenders to succeed la furia roja as European Champions. However the biggest impediments to the successful defence of their title may come from within Vicente del Bosque’s immensely talented squad – fatigue, the tactical set up deployed and the somewhat infamous Plan B.
And it’s the same critique that was levelled at Barcelona during the closing weeks of the season, primarily the lack of variation in their tactical approach which saw Real Madrid and then Chelsea claim crucial results over them which defined their season.
Barcelona and Spain are both different footballing entities. With such short time periods in which to develop a coherent game plan at international level, an international side will never be able to assimilate the philosophical and footballing philosophy of La Masia. Yet Spain do show several glimpses of the Barcelona philosophy which is completely practical given the large Barcelona contingent within the squad.
Some elements of the Barcelona game though, are too difficult to develop at international levels with any real understanding. The fluidity of the back four becoming a back three is unlikely to be replicated by Spain who will remain true to the 4-3-3 formation, instigated by Luis Aragones and continued by del Bosque, and which has brought them such success over the past few years.
Miguel Delaney has covered the issue of fatigue in some depth. The salient points revolve around the continuous football played by some members of the Spain squad over the past few years most notably the Barcelona contingent. Xavi Hernandez, for example, had made an average of 66 appearances in each of the last four seasons. Such continued operation at the highest level is unsustainable in the longer term and we saw clear evidence of Xavi toiling as the season drew to a conclusion.
The performance of Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) continues to look like a collection of amateurs overseeing the organisation of one of the best leagues in the world and the best national side in the world. From the inability to schedule games properly in advance to the needlessly scheduling of endless friendly games for la seleccion following their recent triumphs, off the pitch RFEF have considerable work to undertake to match Spain on the pitch.
Factors outwith the control of del Bosque. Yet the factors within his control are arguably the most important.
Do Spain need a Plan B?
The constant speculation around this issue is actually deflecting attention away from the crux of the issue. In order to satisfy his entire squad, and also avoid criticism at home, del Bosque has packed a glittering array of talent into his first eleven.
This notion of a Plan B seems to be in vogue in the UK media currently following on from Barcelona’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea and their subsequent victory over Bayern Munich in the final. It was claimed in many quarters, that Barcelona, and to a lesser extent Bayern Munich, lacked a Plan B to navigate through Chelsea’s massed defence with David Pleat going so far as to label Barcelona brainless.
Quite a bold statement from one normally so reserved. Also, quite a wrong statement from one who normally contributes so thoughtfully.
What is a Plan B? A deviation from the norm and yet in the aforementioned game, Barcelona made many tactical changes to try and counter Chelsea. Ultimately, none were successful and so Barcelona were seen to have failed by those unable to see the tactical nuances of the game.
What was the alternative? What would the proponents of the Plan B support?
The mainstream conventional view is that Barcelona did not possess a tall, physically powerful striker who they could aim long balls towards in the hope that this leads to knock downs and the creation of half chances.
This must mean that when a team who play long balls then fail to break down an opponent, their Plan B is to instigate a dramatic switch in style and begin a patient passing game?
Why do we see football in such simplistic terms? Football is not a straightforward choice between two opposing ideologies. The short pass vs the long ball. It’s worth considering footballing styles as existing on a wide spectrum. Whilst the short passing game and the long ball exist on opposing ends of the spectrum, there are multitudes of permutations in between.
Spain have a Plan B. It’s just not the stereotypical Plan B that many commentators would like them to have. A style and approach which is so radically different from their normal approach, that it can be easily identified by lazy media pundits. Del Bosque has demonstrated before that he can make small changes which have significant impact upon games. It’s just that Spain will not forsake the approach that has delivered them silverware. And nor should they.
For not only do Spain possess a Plan B, they also possess a range of players to actively enforce their alternative arrangements. It’s just that Plan B is a subtle, discreet change and not a massive switch in their interpretation of how the game should be played. Spain can utilise the pace and direct nature of Navas on the right wing, the physicality and strength of Llorente and Negredo, the attacking surges from deep by Alba, the lateral movement of Cazorla.
For in the forthcoming European Championships, the strength of the Spanish squad does not exist in the 7 or 8 players who are widely known. It is the depth of quality and versatility in the newer players and those on the fringes of the starting eleven where the strength exists.
Spain may be running low on reserves of physical energy but the reserves they take to Poland and Ukraine could play a pivotal role if they wish to successfully defend their title.
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