In France at Euro 2016 Spain are on for a three-peat as la Furia Roja embark on their mission to become European champions for a third time in a row.
Rebuilding after Rio
The World Cup in Brazil was a flop for the defending champions. The short passing style of previous tournaments was slightly abandoned in favour of the Diego Costa experiment. The experiment failed as Spain looked devoid of ideas and often reverted to hitting long passes to the lonely striker.
It was notable that Spain’s best performance at the World Cup was against Australia, albeit after they had already been eliminated, when they reverted to the shorter, quicker, passing style that had bought previous success and it coincided with David Villa and Fernando Torres being installed back into the starting line up at the expense of Costa.
The World Cup in Brazil felt like the end of the road for the tika-taka incarnation of la Selección; Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Villa all retired from international football after the tournament and legendary manager Vicente Del Bosque considered his future. He was eventually persuaded to continue on as coach and see through the transition phase to bridge the era of Carles Puyol and Xavi and integrate the new stars such as Alvaro Morata and Koke.
Since then Del Bosque, more of a man-manager than master tactician, has had to refresh, re-evaluate and remodel the playing style of his team whilst still trying to maintain true to the beliefs of passing football and possession that have come to define the Spanish game.
Two main things that were lacking in the qualification campaign were excitement and goals. In ten qualifying matches, Spain scored 23 goals, conceding three. Their general dominance meant that games were often played at a slow pace as the opposition sat deep and tried to restrict space. This led to their play becoming predictable, and although they often got the result they wanted, in general the football was uninspiring.
A lack of a settled forward line was also a problem. Throughout the friendly matches and qualifiers Del Bosque selected Pedro, Nolito, Morata, Aritz Aduriz, Inaki Williams, Paco Alcacer, Costa and Munir.
Although these are undoubtedly good options for Del Bosque, since the Torres/Villa axis he is yet to formulate a standout partnership that commands first team selection.
Line Up and Tactics
On Monday, Del Bosque let it slip that he is looking to a 4-1-4-1 formation. Far from being rigid, this formation is likely to be similar to what we have seen in the past from Spain, with the possible exception of having just one pivote in Sergio Busquets, with Bruno the player to come into contention if the opposition command a second screening midfielder.
David De Gea or Iker Casillas would appear to be the only selection uncertainty among the back five, with Juanfran, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba almost nailed on to start.
In midfield, Busquets will play the holding role with one of Thiago, Cesc Fabregas or Koke alongside Andrés Iniesta making up the central pairing. David Silva and Nolito are likely to play the supporting roles out wide with Morata the smart choice for centre forward.
Other tactical options will be provided by Pedro and Aritz Aduriz in a more target man approach, or even a return to the false nine could be implemented given the plethora of excellent options in midfield available from the bench.
This is Del Bosque’s last act as Spain manager; the man from Salamanca already having announced his intention to retire after the tournament. As such he will want to leave on a high and right the wrongs from Brazil.
This Spanish team are not the favourites for the tournament as were the teams of 2008, 2010 and 2012. That said, they possess a good stock of experienced heads such as Fabregas, Pique, Ramos and Casillas who have been and won big international tournaments and will set the standard for the younger ones in the group.
Can They Win It?
Spain, if playing close to their top level, will be in with a good chance. They know they will need to raise the bar again if they are to emerge again as the top team on the continent.
World champions Germany are not in the same peak condition as they were at the World Cup, and their recent form has not been good. France have a very exciting youthful squad and home advantage, and you can never discount the tournament know-how of Italy or even outsiders England.
Despite the perceived lack of quality among the top sides compared with previous editions, it should make for an exciting tournament. Spain will hope to come through it victorious as history awaits them and Del Bosque.