Two years ago David Villa was instrumental in guiding Spain to European Championship glory. Now, having secured a well-earned move to Spanish champions Barcelona, the lethal forward and his team are taking a shot at the world. If they are to be successful, you’d think his manager, ex-Real Madrid supremo, Vicente Del Bosque, would recreate the near-perfect conditions in which his favoured front-man thrived in Austria and Switzerland. And you’d be wrong.
Unsurprisingly, Villa has indicated his desire to play alongside Liverpool forward Fernando Torres, just as the pair did to great success for the majority of the Euro 2008 tournament. However, Del Bosque’s preference for a lone-man upfront may not play into the hit-man’s hands.
Speaking to FIFA.com, the striker revealed: “[Torres and I have] been playing together for a long time now. The fact that we get on well together makes a difference out on the field. That’s not vital, because at the end of the day you only really need to click on the pitch, but because we’re friends it makes everything very positive. The way he plays really brings the best out of me and vice-versa. We’ve got a good partnership and have been proving that for some time.”
It will come as a surprise to Liverpool fans (and probably Villa, himself) then that Torres faces the real possibility of spending the majority of his time in South Africa coming off the bench.
We should be aware, firstly, of how Torres operates in a Liverpool shirt for us to understand his expected exclusion from the starting eleven. He has played the part of Rafael Benitez’s lone-man. He is supported by the midfield and often has Steven Gerrard taking up a position just behind him. This allows him to drift off the central defenders to support his teammates and create space both for himself and for the midfield runners (this is explained in more detail here).
The problem is that David Villa also completes this task more effectively for the Spanish side by even allowing himself to drift wide to support Andres Iniesta and David Silva. His intelligence to drift wide then creates space on the opposite flank and through the centre into which the midfield roam, another important aspect of Spain’s game. And, in that sense, Villa is more positionally intelligent than Torres who, at least for Liverpool, is slightly more static.
Also in the new Barcelona man’s favour is his superior strike rate: 38 goals in 58, compared to 24 in 73 for Torres.
So, they are two similar players, but that alone has not stopped them from playing together. What has disrupted the partnership is Del Bosque’s unpopular decision to employ two deep-lying central midfielders: a break-up player (although he shouldn’t exclusively be described as a Roy Keane style destroyer – he is marginally more versatile) in Sergio Busquets and a holding passing midfielder in Xabi Alonso – who is pretty much emulating the role he made his own at Liverpool.
It’s not a popular system, but it sure as hell gets results. With a deeper midfield axis than the one with which they competed with in 2008, Spain are able to hold the ball in midfield much more tidily and gives them time construct their devastating passing moves. Spain have lost just once, against the USA, in 48 games. They have won 33 of their last 34 competitive games. Since their formation switch they haven’t lost, period.
With that said, Del Bosque may choose to field both Torres and Villa against the lesser teams should the opposition set out to defend and frustrate the Spaniards into surrender. Del Bosque, of course, has the enviable option of having a world-class striker sitting on the bench and not utilizing him would be suicide. Competition for places remains rife though, and the Spanish manager has a plethora of options from which to choose.
He could also opt for Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas to sit behind Villa. And let’s not forget he has also got Pedro, Fernando Llorente and Jesus Navas on hand should Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, Villa, Torres, and David Silva not suffice.
Liverpool fans will probably be puzzled by Torres’ likely omission, but with his fitness in question, the similarity of his and Villa’s play, Del Bosque’s successful 4-2-3-1, and the myriad of genuine quality competition, it’s perhaps not as perplexing as it might first appear. As for Villa himself, the absence of Torres is unlikely to be an anathema.
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