England are up against the World Champions this Saturday stripped of their talismanic forward Wayne Rooney. A tough task has been made harder in loosing Rooney but England's biggest challenge is going to be sticking to a formation and set of tactics which can beat Spain. England's recent record against top tier teams has been poor, here are a few ways they can end this loosing streak.
Here are the teams who have either beaten or stifled Spain or Barcelona recently and the lessons that England can draw from them.
Switzerland – World Cup 2010 Spain 0 Switzerland 1
Switzerland provided the upset of the tournament by beating the favourites Spain in their opening game. Switzerland did several simple things well during the 90 minutes which frustrated Spain and prevented them playing fluently.
The forward players hurried Pique to prevent him from cleaning playing the ball forward to the waiting midfield. This is an important part of Spain's game and using an energetic forward player who can disrupt this aspect of Spain's game plan willbe important in preventing them from settling in. Do it successfully and one of the midfielders, most likely Xabi Alonso will have to drop deep giving England an advantage in the midfield.
Switzerland had a simple plan which involved hurrying, and frustrating Spain stopping them from settling into their favoured passing game. England will need to match Switzerland's dedication and hope that Spain will be as poor as they were against Switzerland. Positional discipline and the ability to follow a relatively mundane tactical plan will be key, unfortunately those qualities are in shortage supply in the England camp.
Players most suitable for the role: Ashley Young or James Milner. They've got the energy to harry Pique over 90 minutes.
Positional discipline and the ability to follow a relatively mundane tactical plan will be key, unfortunately those qualities are in shortage supply in the England camp.
Internazionale – Champions League Semi Final 2009 3-2 to Inter Milan on aggregate
Inter Milan in contrast to other teams played a passive game against Barcelona, who contain most of the Spanish national side. They sat back, didn't look for possession and ground out a result against Barca. England will struggle to find the players or the tactical discipline to emulate Mourinho's bus parkers.
A screening midfield three of Barry, Parker and Milner is England's best hope of emulating Inter. A combination of Parker and Milner harrying the Spanish midfield while Barry sits to prevent any breakthroughs could be an option. However Barry's lack of pace was brutally exposed by Germany in the World Cup quarter finals, and he'll struggle with the athleticism of Torres if he's chasing the ball in a counter attack. Parker has been lucky so far this season, with some of his wilder tackling going unpunished by referees. In a friendly, against FIFA's golden goose Parker and England will have to be much more deliberate in their tackling if they want to avoid bookings.
Players most suitable: Owen Hargreaves. England's best defensive midfielder would be a major asset in this game but alas, we're stuck with his team mate Gareth 'turns like an oil tanker' Barry. Frank Lampard and Phil Jones could also be options as central midfielders.
Athletic Bilbao – La Liga Athletic Bilbao 2 Barcelona 2
Last Sunday night Athletic Bilbao, led by Marco Bielsa held Barcelona to a thrilling 2-2 draw. They accomplished this through a mixture of furious pressing, tracking individual players and a water soaked pitch which disrupted Barca's short passing game.
Bielsa managed Chile at the World Cup where they gave Spain a real fright with their intense pressing game before finally succumbing to goals from Iniesta and Villa. Under his direction Bilbao pressed even more aggressively than Switzerland, disrupting the distribution from Victor Valdes and forcing him to kick a long ball rather than using throws to start the attack. Barcelona with the majority of players being under 5'9 struggle to win many aerial contests. England's taller players will have the advantage in winning the ball from these kicks thus preventing Spain getting their passing game going.
Bilbao also employed strict and effective man marking to pick up players and to stay with them. To emulate this England would need midfielders with strong positional discipline, so the absence of Steven Gerrard won't really be felt. Disrupting Barcelona's midfield as Bilbao did stopped Barcelona being able to impose their passing game. Constantly chasing the ball will cause England to quickly tire and this 'rope-a-dope's strategy is the way in which so many teams have been beaten by Spain/Barcelona. Using Parker and Milner to harry and disrupt Spain's midfield will be crucial and these two players have the required industry over 90 minutes. Doing this will mean Villa or Torres will have to drop deep to pick up the ball instead of staying nearer England's goal giving England a man advantage in the their third.
Bilbao's centre backs also had the confidence to come away from goal to pick up Barcelona's forward players, John Terry's lack of pace and Phil Jones' over enthusiasm when getting forward make this a risky strategy England best avoid.
Players most suited: Scott Parker, James Milner and possibly Jack Rodwell if Capello trusts him. These players will tire quicker than their team mates so Capello will have to be astute with substitutions to maintain the pressure on Spain.
USA Confederations Cup 2009 / AC Milan Champions League 2011 USA 2 Spain 0 AC Milan 2 Barcelona 2
It's a strange pairing but both teams successfully exploited Spain/Barcelona's lack of natural width to their advantage. The USA happily surrendered the flanks in order to concentrate on securing the centre and handing Spain its first defeat since becoming European Champions. AC Milan used its favoured but narrow 4-3-1-2 formation to sit deep and prevent Barcelona exploiting the gap between the midfield and defence. Germany used this space to great effect against England in the World Cup and Capello will need to remedy this issue if he wants to prevent another embarrassment.
Spain don't play with a natural winger, Pedro as a wide forward in the Italian tradition is the only first team player who offers Spain width. Jesus Navas was thrown on against Holland in the World Cup for his dribbling ability which stretched the game out, giving Xavi and Iniesta more space in midfield. Packing the centre as previously described provides an obvious way for England to nullify Spain's short passing game and they can do this without paying too higher price for abandoning the wings.
Players most suited: Wingers who can tuck in will be useful here. Spain thankfully don't have a Dani Alves rampaging down the flanks, Sergio Ramos can do it but he's far less effective. Ashley Young and Theo Walcott can use their pace on Spain's fullbacks without another winger doubling up on them.
England don't have the temperamental genius of Rooney or the battering ram of Carroll to rescue them from trouble. They'll need to think, press and be disciplined if they want to upset the World Champions.
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