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Nov 2011
The European and World Champions at Wembley

General Articles

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.