FC Barcelona and Spanish national team defender Carles Puyol is set to undergo knee surgery and will miss the Copa del Rey for Barcelona and Euro 2012, as the Spanish look to retain the European championship.
“After tests were conducted it was decided he would have arthroscopic surgery on May 12,” the Catalan club stated on their website.
At 34, Carles Puyol’s days as a starting CB for Spain are over, and they may be numbered at Barcelona as well, as that team looks to get younger defensively. Carles has more than likely played in his last major international tournament and will more than likely retire from international play soon.
Spain’s first game at EURO 2012 is scheduled for June 10 against Italy.
With Carles out, manager Vicente del Bosque will be looking to replace a starting XI player in his squad. Del Bosque will announce a provisional squad on May 15, which will be cut down to 22 players for the final squad on May 27.
In years past, players like Joan Capdevila and Carlos Marchena would be called up. But with both players past their prime, it is unlikely that Del Bosque will call up either player.
A young defender will be needed so Spain can keep up with speedy forwards like Germany’s Mesut Ozil, the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben, and of course Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo if La Roja were to face them.
Who are the best alternatives to replace Carles Puyol in Spain’s back line alongside Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and Jordi Alba?
Here are the three players who will be in serious consideration to replace Puyol.
One alternative that del Bosque can use is moving Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez to CB to replace Puyol alongside Gerard Pique.
While Javi prefers to play as a midfielder, he is very capable of playing CB. Athletic Bilbao manager Marcelo Bielsa has used him as a defender several times this season, and Martinez has played well at the position.
At 6’3”, Javi would be another tall presence in the middle of the defense to compliment Pique. Martinez is an excellent tackler and with his midfielding abilities, he would have no problems handling the ball coming from the back.
Of course, the main disadvantage is that CB is not his natural position. Martinez may be naturally inclined to come up too often and thus leave the back line exposed.
Personally, I think Javi Martinez would be an excellent choice to replace Puyol in the starting lineup. He has the speed needed to catch up to the dynamic forwards Spain will face, like Mario Balotelli of Italy in group stage.
Martinez would essentially give Spain an extra midfielder in the lineup, which might come in handy if del Bosque finds that his team needs more offense in a game. Don't forget that Javi was a member of the 2010 FIFA World Cup team, so he is very familiar with his Spanish teammates, del Bosque, and their playing style.
A young defender coming up for La Roja is Alvaro Dominguez of Atletico Madrid.
Originally from the Real Madrid youth system, Dominguez moved to neighboring Atletico’s youth system at the age of 12. Alvaro made his debut with Atletico’s first squad in 2008. He was an integral part of Atletico’s run to the UEFA Europa League title in 2010, as well as the 2010 Copa del Rey title and UEFA Super Cup victory over Inter Milan.
Alvaro was also part of Spain’s U-23 squad that won last year’s UEFA European U-21 Championship. He was called up to the first squad for the first time in August of last year.
Alvaro’s weakness is that he is very inexperienced with the Spanish first team. There is no doubt that as a youngster, nerves and overthinking the moment will come into play.
A positive for Dominguez is that he is experienced in playing in big games. His Copa del Rey, Europa League final, and especially his U-21 European Championship experience help his case to make the starting XI.
Alvaro’s on-the-pitch positioning is excellent and is one of his greatest strengths. Growing up, Alvaro attended an English school in Madrid, and the story goes that the teachers would show him EPL games before football practice. One of the players young Alvaro admired was John Terry, and he has tried to model his game after the Chelsea legend.
Alvaro Dominguez is a quality choice to replace Carles Puyol in the starting lineup due to his experience in big games, as well as his awareness of on-the-pitch positioning and his ability to mark opposing forwards.
Another tall young defender that Vicente del Bosque will be considering is Sporting Gijon’s Alberto Botia. The 23-year-old has been a solid young defender for Sporting and was a part of Spain’s squad that won the U-21 European Championship last year.
Alberto started his youth career at Beniel and later went on to Murcia. In 2003, he moved to FC Barcelona. He spent seven years at La Masia before being moved to Sporting Gijon in 2010.
Botia has had transfer rumors buzzing about him lately, as he is rumored to head to Málaga or back to FC Barcelona. Part of Botia’s deal with Sporting Gijon was a buyback option for Barça. The Catalans have a three-year window to buy him back from Gijon.
Botia, like his U-21 national team teammate Alvaro Dominguez, lacks time with the first squad. Alberto only made one appearance with La Roja in 2011, and he hasn't taken part in big games at the club level, either.
As for his strengths, he is very composed on the pitch, which might come in handy for del Bosque as Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba tend to come up very often, leaving the back line thin. Botia is a pure defender. Alberto is very good at heading the ball into the back of the net, something Spain will be missing with the absence of Carles Puyol.
Alberto Botia is perhaps most like Carles in terms of attitude and work ethic. Don’t be surprised to see Botia given the starting CB job by del Bosque.
If I was Vicente del Bosque, I would select Javi Martinez to replace Carles Puyol in the starting lineup for Spain, with Alvaro Dominguez a close second. For me, Martinez’s height, dynamics, strength, and midfielding mentality is what is needed in the back line to take on teams like Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy.
Javi can defend and come up to play midfield if del Bosque decides to use a 3-4-3 during periods of some games. If not? Javi is an excellent tackler and has good speed for his height. At 6'3", it's going to be tough for opponents to get past him.
Alvaro Dominguez is my second choice, as he has played in big games for his club and has tremendous on-the-pitch awareness of opponents’ runs. Alberto Botia is my third choice because he lacks experience and big games—however, he is still a fine choice who will stay in the middle and his composure is excellent.
We’ll see what Vicente del Bosque does when Spain take on Italy on June 10, as La Furia Roja begin the quest to repeat as kings of Europe.
¡Vamos Roja! ¡Vamos España!
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona on Bleacher Report and Featured Columnist for Spain for Euro 2012.
Follow me on Twitter:@XoelCardenas
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