Spain v Paraguay: tactical preview

July 3, 2010

Possible starting line-ups

Have Paraguay got any chance of coming away from this game with a result?

Possibly a greater chance than some might expect. They are clearly the underdogs, but Spain have yet to hit top form, and the ease with which they saw out games against Chile and against Portugal ignores the fact that they didn’t have the game their own way until David Villa broke the deadlock.

Certainly, Villa is the player to stop. The advanced left-sided position he plays in for Spain is possibly not his favoured role, but he’s taken advantage of Spain’s central striker taking the attention of opposing centre-backs, to consistently get himself one-on-one with the right-back, before cutting in to great effect.

How should Paraguay go about dealing with him? Firstly, the key is to keep the right-back position filled at all times, as Sir Alex Ferguson insisted on doing when facing a Thierry Henry-inspired Arsenal. Secondly, Paraguay must double up against him when he receives the ball, getting their right-sided centre-back across quickly, with the left-sided centre-back picking up Torres.

Paraguay’s formation and line-up is slightly unpredictable – the diagram to the left assumes they will stick with the XI that progressed against Japan, although we will probably see changes. What they will certainly do is play with two defensive-minded midfield players – their job will be to deny Spain between the lines, regardless of which player looks to get into that position – it could be Villa, Iniesta or Xavi.

Spain’s use of Andres Iniesta in a narrow right-sided role means they they often end up playing with an off-centre ‘diamond’ in the middle of the pitch, with Xavi dropping into his usual, more deeper role. Paraguay will struggle to compete with this, both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of ball retention, and it’s likely that Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets will see plenty of the ball in the centre of midfield. Vicente del Bosque must try and get Alonso on the ball more than Busquets – against Portugal it was the other way around, with Busquets getting the most space of any player, but seemingly unable to create anything. Alonso is hugely important for Spain today.

How Spain’s full-backs operate depends on the system they are up against. Paraguay have played two strikers, then three forwards across the pitch, and then a hybrid of the two systems. The focus for Gerardo Martino should be on preventing Sergio Ramos’ dashes forward more than Joan Capdevila’s – both are able to attack, but Ramos seems to have a bigger responsibility to do, with Iniesta’s drifts into the centre of midfield.

Will Spain start with Torres? Fernando Llorente had a huge impact when he came on against Portugal, but Torres from the off seems the likely option here, with Llorente a potential supersub. Torres needs a goal, but Paraguay’s defensive record is excellent.

Their best chance of maintaining that record is to take the Switzerland approach – defend deep and narrow. Spain lack natural width, and they like to play the ball in behind the defence for Villa and Torres. They also try and play ‘through’ defences rather than going around them, and so keeping the gap between the defenders very small is important for Martino’s side.

Expect few surprises from del Bosque, but will his favoured XI be enough, or will he need to look to the bench to win the game?

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