Euro 2012: Spain will give Trap space to attack if he is willing to take it
Group C should pose no problems for the defending champions with Ireland primed to claim second qualification spot, writes Guillem Balague
Tiredness is a major issue for Spain as they attempt to retain the European Championships. Vicente Del Bosque will have to rotate players more than we've seen before.
Research shows that performance levels drop when footballers have played over 3,500 minutes of football. Many of the Spanish players have exceeded the 4,000 minute mark and some of them have reached 5,000 minutes.
Generally the team has focused on resting and recovery in their preparations because when you get to a tournament you have to be as fresh as you possibly can be, physically and mentally.
Some people think that the likes of Fernando Torres will be sharp because he hasn't played much but striking a balance between rest and competition is important. The best way to prepare for a tournament is by playing during the season. Torres hasn't played as much as others but he needs, and wants, to prove a point which helps him enormously. He shouldn't feel that way anymore and in training it looked like that approach has created a little bit of anxiety for him. If he scores in the first match then you might see the old Torres back.
He has experienced many highs and lows in his career, and was on the brink of not making it to the tournament (he wasn't called up in the last squad before the Euros). Torres understands that he will touch the ball maybe eight times in a game and when the chance comes he has to take it. He accepts it and will wait for his chance.
He offers something totally different to Alvaro Negredo (for some the favourite to start against Italy) and Fernando Llorente. Torres is good in space, Negredo can combine play as if he was another small midfielder but also finish with his left foot and Llorente will almost always win aerial balls. Not a bad choice to have.
Goal scoring is a problem for Spain. They will create chances but converting them has been an issue -- they lack effectiveness in front of goal. Teams will defend deeply against them, some deeper than others and perhaps nobody as deep as Ireland. Spain's main goal-scoring threat is posed by David Silva, which is worrying because he isn't a striker and he doesn't think as one. If David Villa was at the end of the opportunities being created I would feel more confident.
Spain's defence has been weakened by the loss of Carles Puyol. With Spain, as with Barcelona, you cannot ask the usual questions such as 'Are the back four strong?' because of how they play. Defending high up the pitch when they lose the ball and recovering possession early is the Spanish and Barcelona way. This style demands mental and physical sharpness. So the question should be, 'are Spain too tired to maintain that level of pressure when defending'?
Spain retain the essence of their World Cup-winning side. They also have that intangible but vital quality of a winning mentality. Players may not even realise they have it but as soon as they walk onto the pitch, because they are winners, they just seem to be taller, stronger, more confident. Winning gives you an edge and Spain have certainly got that. But so have their rivals today, four-time World Cup winners Italy.
My question mark over Italy today is their attack. They need to create chances (they don't need many, they will do enough in that department) and score goals, and that might be an issue. I wasn't impressed with Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli against Russia. It's not a partnership that has been worked on and Balotelli has only scored once for Italy. This is not an Italy that will turn all their problems around and win the tournament the way they did in the World Cup but they have the competitive gene, so they will be solid and you don't see them losing any of their group games.
Having said that, it will be hard for them to win, so three draws would send them home in favour of Ireland if the Irish can beat Croatia. The Spanish games will be copycats of each other so Spain will have lots of possession and will try to find the spaces in behind. Italy could prove dangerous on the counter-attack but I don't foresee many goals in today's game. Both teams will be patient but won't create much. I think perhaps it will end one-all or even a goalless draw, but Spain should get six points from their next two games.
My big concern for Ireland against Spain on Thursday is how deeply they defend. If they pushed up a little bit more and attacked on the wings through McGeady and Duff they would have a better chance. I think Spain will beat Ireland but I also think Ireland will qualify. They should be able to draw against Italy and beat Croatia and that will see them through.
Technically Ireland are probably the worst team in the group but since Spain don't allow teams to have possession that hardly matters. They keep the ball for long periods and when they lose it they try to recover it immediately. It's a philosophy they have perfected.
Giovanni Trapattoni understands this but needs to be clever in the way Ireland attack Spain. They must keep one or two players in wide positions, anticipating Irish counterattacks. He should have a couple of players willing to receive the ball straight away when they recover it and launch an attack. I'm sure he has worked on that and it could be effective because there will be a lot of space for Ireland to exploit behind the defenders, especially in the full back positions. Against Spain, Ireland will be very defensive but I don't think they are as rigid as everyone makes out. The wide players work hard and they can create problems. Trapattoni has alternatives, like James McClean.
The priority for Ireland against Spain is to ensure the result doesn't affect their chances of qualifying. A good performance will give them confidence even if they don't win. Ireland have nothing to lose, Spain need to win and they know how.
The rumblings emanating from the Irish camp illustrate how players sometimes don't understand the bigger picture. They just think about themselves and how tired or bored they are but it means nothing. Trapattoni is planting ideas in the players' minds and to do that they must work hard, repeat exercises, train longer than what they are used to.
It's an interesting clash of cultures -- the regimented, strong character of Trapattoni against the easiness of Ireland. If they had an Irish manager perhaps he wouldn't get as much out of them as Trapattoni does. Sometimes it's important to bring in an outside manager who has a different perspective and ambition.
Trapattoni and Ireland are a good combination. Soon we will see how good.
Sunday Indo Sport