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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 17:42:30 #11
I fear for England tomorrow night. I really hope that Downing doesnt play because the whole team could get a beating that will take some time to recover from.


Hello Mookie B, maybe I'm wrong, but I think that people can express what they think about football, players and even managers with respect in this site. But it is not a site to discuss the weaknesses of any player or manager, there are other forums for that, it pretends to be a place to enjoy football, tactics or opinions. The way to express them is the key. Thank you.
11/11/11 at 17:47:56 #12
I love reading your insights thank you for sharing them, I have two questions- as a manager do you have a preferred system and get players to suit it or do you analyse the players you have and use a system that suits the squad you have available? What system would you use if you were England Manager?

Ever consider international management ? I think you would make a great Ireland manager !! Trappatoni has turned us into Mourinhos Chelsea without the goals !


Hello Joey, to prepare a team or a system it depends on your money. Simple, when you arrive to a new club, if you have some money you try to bring the players that will be good for 'your system'. If you don't have money you have to adapt to 'your players'. Every transfer window you will try to sign the players that you are missing for doing what you think that is best for your team, so, after some years, you will have a team playing ‘your system’, but you will need to have different options (systems) or it will be easy for the opponents to stop you.
England and Ireland have managers with experience, I can’t give my opinion here, it will not be fair.
Thank you for your support.
11/11/11 at 18:43:55 #13
Rafa, thanks for the insight and analysis, much appreciated. Do you think one way to counter the Barca/Spain way of play is to play a fast, direct, counter attacking style of play? As soon as you retain posession play directly to the wings and try and get behind the advanced full-backs with pace. Of course, another approach would be to do what Bilbao did last weekend and play Barcelona at their own game, press intensely and move forward with lots of movement. However not every team is led by the legenday Bielsa!
11/11/11 at 19:08:18 #14
nice read there is one question
can you play alonso, iniesta, busquets, xavi and red hoit DAVID SILVA togather in that formation ?


Hello, Spain can play also 4-2-3-1, Silva e Iniesta can play as a wingers like they do sometimes in their teams and Xavi behind the striker. But I think that with these five players maybe Del Bosque will look for another solution.Thanks.
11/11/11 at 19:44:40 #15
Rafa, Thanks for the wonderful insight in this piece and can't thank you enough for what you did for Liverpool FC. It pains me not to see a worldclass manager like you not in a job. Would you be willing to take a role of international team which has a realistic shot at 2014 Worldcup. Spain or England(after Euros) or maybe even Argentina?


Hello Aditya, They have already managers, so we have to respect them. Thank you for your support.
11/11/11 at 20:43:15 #16
Roger Watson
Hi Rafa

So, how do you stop the Spanish team? What tactics are the best?

Playing on the counter attack with pace?


Hello Roger, you say in your question, with pace? So, it depends on your players, each team will have different solutions, Walcott?, we will see what Capello prepares for tomorrow, sometimes your plan is good but the other team is better. Thanks.
11/11/11 at 21:28:46 #17
Hello Rafa.. You have already said how Spain lineup and and change their formation once the game starts.. What do you reckon England should keep their formation? Should they play defensive or go on attack from the start? Who could be he crucial player for England?


Hello, I'm not sure about the spanish formation or system, only I'm sure that they will try to keep the possession. England has to play narrow and compact, deep or high, but always very compact
12/11/11 at 00:49:01 #18
I think it's going to be very difficult for England to win this game because of Spain's quality in possession. Even with someone of Capello's tactical knowledge, if Spain really perform it's going to be very hard for England to get a good result.

I'm quite interested to see how we go about stopping Spain. Obviously being compact is key but I think getting a balance is also big. We don't want to be pushed back too much in our own half because otherwise Spain will destroy us pressing high up the pitch and we won't be able to get any sort of attacking momentum. If we get a balance with the line and be quick on the transition and get passed Spain's pressing game then I think we'll be in with a better chance. Obviously that's easier said than done.
12/11/11 at 03:01:50 #19
Hi Rafa,

The only thing we may be able to say with a degree of certainty is that there probably aren't many managers in the world who look forward to playing against spain.

I think a part of their strength is that the players play as spain. A whole country. Each player is spain.

That is one of the missing ingredients in England. We see the England football team as 11 players. We don't have the same connection with the national team as we used to, but if the team and manager can bring pride back, that No.12 will return and that is very important for the national team spirit.

I wouldn't be surprised if Spain became double european and world champions, they have the ability and belief.

England need to work hard for each other and give every last ounce, the result doesn't matter. The tactics don't matter - they just have to give a performance with honest intent and never say die, even if they lose 100-0.

The England cricket team was once ranked at the bottom, now they are at the top
12/11/11 at 03:46:49 #20
I guess Spain and Barca seldom concede is because of the dominating possession. Opponents rarely have a chance to do what they want when they have the ball.

Since they require wing backs to go forward, there are actually many space to be exposed. That's probably why Walcott created lots of problems to barca last season. Instead of attacking, midfielders can actually be prepared to spend most of the time chasing around. How midfielders defend, how defenders create some dangerous pass when they clear the ball, can forwards seize probably only one or two chances in the game... is the key.