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Nov 2011
11:06 Comments (34)
The European and World Champions at Wembley

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Rafa Benítez

Tomorrow, Saturday 12 November, the Spanish National Football Team will play against England in London. Spain are coming as Champions, having won the two biggest trophies in the last few years, continuing to beat all records and respected and admired throughout the football world.

To what do they owe this success? What has changed in Spain to produce a team that cannot stop winning from one that had never won anything?

To start with, for a long time, youth development in Spanish football has had a structure which people like Iñaki Saez, Juan Sanisteban, Gines Melendez, Fernando Hierro (now at Malaga FC) and others knew how to adapt to suit Spanish nature. Local competitions, regional teams and then national squads produced boys who are constantly competing and it is widely known that youth coaches in Spain are very good at their job. These are key factors in the continuity and success at all levels.

With regards to the current squad, since the arrival of Luis Aragones, they began to play a short passing game and took care of the ball. As well, because they had players like Xavi, Raul, Villa etc they were gradually creating a style based on possession while at the same time, with players like Puyol, Marchena or Casillas, they were forming a very competitive squad. The arrival of Vicente Del Bosque, a calm, intelligent man, saw a continuity which with players like Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, Torres, Alonso, Reina, Sergio Ramos, Silva, Mata or Valdes produced a quality and mentality necessary to maintain the competitive spirit but at the same time win.

Del Bosque is a man respected for his knowledge and praised for his humane approach to group solidarity

Spanish National Team Shirt signed by Del Bosque

Down Madrid

which gets the fans’ backing.

He has also had the ability to continue the model set by Luis Aragones. The tremendous quality of the Spanish players helps but it is still difficult to stay at the top, as the best in Europe and the World.

My experience of Spanish players that I have coached is that they are footballers who want to be picked for the national team because they can do great things and win trophies. And they have, the Euros and the World Cup came along one after the other. What more can you ask for?

In England, people are wondering how to stop the Spanish, which is more important, technical ability or passion and physical effort, whether you can play more direct against the Spanish or play possession football like them...

The Champions League Final showed that the Barcelona style, similar to the Spanish National Team, was able to conquer Manchester United, Premier League Champions. This has had the result of many teams trying to play like this.

Can the England team play like Spain? And more importantly, should they? Should they adapt or should they play their own style true to their own game?

Spain will use a 1-4-3-3 similar to Barcelona’s since they have 5 – 7 of their players in the squad:
Their main idea will be possession, long transitions providing width which forces defenders to be more open and looking for wall passes to penetrate when they can. If they don’t find the gaps, they have enough 1v1 ability to go past defenders in reduced spaces.

Given the quality and versatility of most of their offensive players, they can switch positions without reducing the effectiveness of the attack. It’s the opposite in fact, because the defenders have problems adjusting to a different player all the time.

As we have said before, the full backs will be open and in advanced positions, taking advantage of the possession Spain have, making the opposition defend deep and forcing them further away from the Spanish goal making it more difficult to counter attack.

The closest players will also press after losing the ball making counter attack even more difficult.
At attacking set pieces, they are dangerous because they have good players who deliver well, although at corners they usually play short.

Defending set pieces, they use a mixed zonal/man to man marking system and they can have problems at the back post.

As for England, they have to decide how they want to play. Capello is a good coach with a lot of experience and he is fully aware of the difficulties in this game. Despite it being a friendly, the Italian coach knows he has to assemble a team, choose a style of play with an eye on the Euros but at the same time win, or at least give a good account of themselves against the European and World Champions.

There will be some concerns about the game but at the same time it will be an exciting one and the English player is always competitive and proud, so we should see the spectator being the winner. At least that’s my opinion.

34 Comments Send us your opinions
11/11/11 at 13:14:11 #1
Enjoyed reading that, do you think Enrique has a shot at LB for the Euros?


Hello Saul, there are not too many LB, so I think so
11/11/11 at 13:24:19 #2
Thank you Mr Benitez (Rafa) for being a great liverpool manager for us
This again proves how much you do understand the game and the way you explain makes other mortals like me understand the game more.
11/11/11 at 13:53:47 #3
David Alvarez
Estimado Rafa,

No se si te acordaras de mi. Tuvimos la ocasión de charlar un buen rato en Ginebra cuando nuestro amigo común hizo la velada de su centro de fitness (Nicolas Christin).

Pues estoy muy feliz al ver tu nuevo Blog y espero que todo vaya bien para ti en tu futuro futbolistico y privado.

Un abrazo, David


Hola David, me acuerdo de la visita y del centro de Pilates. Un saludo.
11/11/11 at 14:10:39 #4
Wayne Kierans
The theory and what seems to be the key to beating Spain (or Barca) is that the first few seconds of the transition from defense to attack is the most important. As their closet players press high and fast to re win the ball back the opposition who have just gained control of the ball must be brave and show quality by adopting 1 touch passing to escape the initial 7 or 8 seconds of pressure. For those 7 or 8 seconds the Spanish players are very tight and compact and accurate incisive passing can eliminate 2 or 3 Spanish players with one pass. This approach coupled with the pace of the likes of Wallacot for England could lead to England having some good counter attacks. The difficulty is to have players of the quality, bravery and skill to adopt this approach and hurt Spain.

I love to hear Rafa's opinions and tactical tips and would love to see more of them. I am starting my career as a coach and live for the small details like him.
PS come on Ireland!
11/11/11 at 14:13:14 #5
Scott Daly
I would like to know your opinion on Josè Enrique. I've been extremely impressed with him since moving to Liverpool and left-back seems to be a weak position for Spain.


Hello Scott, I said before in another comment, he is doing well and will have a chance with Spain. Thanks.
11/11/11 at 15:50:20 #6
English players will have to humble themselves, stay calm & concentrate. To rob Spanish players they will surely need to have stikers & midfielders prepared to mark off the ball players to cut passing options. Then run and harrass Spanish players into making hurried passes. What they then do with the ball is another question!......oh easy get RAFA as a COACH! :-)
11/11/11 at 16:32:01 #7
Great post rafa!

Do you think using inverted fullbacks that push inside would be a good way of counteracting spain's dominance in midfield?

It seems to me Barcelona and Spain can have a tendency to play narrow and push the full backs back. But if you use inside runs from fullback you can have a spare man in midfield to help you keep possession.

Another thing with playing Spain or Barcelona is there any real point closing down Xavi or Iniesta since there first touch is very good. I would say a better tactic would be to press players with a weaker first touch highly and try to keep Xavi or Iniesta deeper.
11/11/11 at 16:51:27 #8
One question that you might be able to answer regarding the difference (if any) in mentality of the English and Spanish players:

Obviously both teams of players know what they are doing when on the pitch, do you see a difference in the abilities of the team to adapt to unforeseen evens? (such as tactical changes, substitutions etc.)
As such do you see a difference in the overall game intelligence of English vs Spanish players? And can this be linked back to the way that they are trained as a kid, or is it more to do with the footballing culture of the two countries?


Hello Tommy, you can read in the article that Spain has been working with similar ideas for years. That is a kee point in the mentality and tactical knowledge of the game.Thanks.

11/11/11 at 17:02:29 #9
I am a Chelsea fan, and have been monitoring Fernando Torres' progress closely as I am sure you have too. I am of the opinion that Mr Villas Boas is attempting to utilise Torres as more of a false nine, dropping off to help retain possession and cycle positions in order to bring players like Mata into the game more easily. Something similar has happened in recent times while Torres has played in the Spanish team too.

But I do not think this plays to Fernando's great strengths. My question is, do you think that Torres would be more effective and more of a threat if he were to be played off the wing? Perhaps in a wide left position. This way he would be required to link less play, but would still be afforded the opportunity to move centrally and strike.

You know much more than me, so your input would be greatly appreciated.
11/11/11 at 17:25:14 #10
Rafa's representative on Talk Sport and other media outlets (Guillem Balague) suspects there is a hidden agenda behind the non-selection of José Enrique. When he asked Del Bosque about it, DB gave a rather odd response ("I'm not here just to give opportunities" or something similar).

Re Rafa's analysis, I'd suggest that a well-trained monkey could manage Spain at the moment. They've got the rump of the best club football team in history (less Messi). A lot is made of maintaining team spirit in the face of Clasico aggro, but that's surely just a lot of hot air. All teams have people who detest each other. A bit of bad blood between Ramos and co and the Barca boys isn't going to derail Spain. What may derail them is a loss of edge due to having won everyting there is to win.


Hello Phil, Del Bosque is bringing the best from a group of very good players and that is very important and not easy, for sure. The desire to win is there, the young players Mata, Silva, Busquets have quality, so I think they still can win more trophies.
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