The limits of art for art’s sake

Soccernet’s list of the 40 best players at Euro 2012 includes 10 members of the Spanish squad. Unfortunately, seven of them are central midfielders. Normally a team plays with a maximum of three central midfielders, but in its successful Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 campaigns, Spain often has used four and occasionally even five.

Today, against Italy, Spain started six. Busquets (ranked #24) held down the defensive midfield role, while maestros Inieseta (#2), Xavi (#3), Silva (#7), Fabregas (#15), Xabi Alonso (#24) assumed the five attacking positions.

This meant that Spain had no recognized forward and no recognized wingers or wide midfielders.

The five Spanish artists wove some pretty patterns, though not as many as I would have been expected. But lacking a cutting edge, they produced few genuine scoring opportunities and no goals until mid-way through the second half when Fabregas scored on a brilliant feed from Silva.

Spain’s attack improved when Del Bosque, the manager, brought on a winger (Navas) and a forward (Fernando Torres). Torres was an interesting choice. His movement and feel for the games of Xavi, Iniesta, etc., honed through many years of being at the hub of the Spanish attack, make him a natural for the forward role in the absence of the injured David Villa.

But Torres has pretty much stopped scoring for Chelsea, and he seems utterly devoid of confidence. Today, he failed to convert two good scoring chances. On one of them, Buffon, Italy’s great goalkeeper, used his feet to take the ball off of Torres’ feet, as the Spaniard dithered.

The match ended 1-1. In fairness, one goal is an okay haul against a defense of Italy’s quality. And Italy crossed-up the Spaniards with a 3-5-2 formation. Spain improved in the second half, presumably in part because it became acclimated to Italy’s defense. But even so, Spain rarely looked like itself.

Del Bosque will have to decide whether to play a true forward from now on and, if so, which one to use. I vote “yes” and “someone other than Torres.” But Del Bosque knows his team far better than I do.

Next up is unimpressive Ireland, so perhaps Spain has one more match in which to experiment.

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