Spain has had more success playing without a forward in Euro 2012 and should continue to use the “false No. 9” lineup in the final.
The tournament will end where it started for Spain and Italy, who played each other to a 1-1 stalemate in the opening round of Group C matches.
In that first game, Vicente Del Bosque turned heads when he started Cesc Fabregas at center-forward and played with six midfielders and no forwards. Fabregas notched Spain’s lone goal in the 64th minute, before being subbed out for Fernando Torres in the 74th minute.
Although La Roja failed to get a goal with Torres on the field, the team did look more threatening with a striker in the lineup.
In the next match, Del Bosque started Torres, and the troubled forward put in two goals in a dominant 4-0 win over Ireland. It seemed that the false No. 9 lineup was done with, but Del Bosque brought it back against Croatia. He correctly identified that Torres’ fine performance had more to do with a terrible Irish side than any resurgence from the striker.
Against the Croats, Spain played with six midfielders until the final minute of the match and controlled the ball an incredible 72 percent of the time. The constant poking and prodding of the Croatian defense eventually produced a goal in the 88th minute.
In the quarterfinal, Del Bosque stuck with the midfield-heavy lineup, and it produced an impressive 2-0 victory over France. In the semifinal against Portugal, he opted to play Alvaro Negredo, a true center-forward. But he was clearly dissatisfied with the team’s performance and subbed in Fabregas after just 54 minutes.
Spain failed to produce a goal in the game, but they would have broken through the Portuguese defense had Fabregas been on the field from the start.
When the team plays with six midfielders, they completely overwhelm the opposing midfield. This is why Spain has dominated possession this entire tournament, keeping the ball 67 percent of the time, according to WhoScored.com.
With so many talented midfielders, the team slowly breaks down its opposition over 90 minutes by forcing them to chase the ball around the field. This causes frustration and fatigue to set in and helps the team both on offense and defense.
Spain has scored a goal in the final 10 minutes in three of its five matches in the tournament.
But more importantly, keeping the ball for such a huge portion of the match severely limits the amount of attacks that the defense has to deal with. This is why Spain has not allowed a goal since Antonio Di Natale’s strike in the first match at Euro 2012 and why it has not allowed a goal in nine consecutive elimination games at major tournaments.
Now that Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos have become more comfortable playing alongside one another, Spain’s defense will be nearly impossible to crack if they start Fabregas.
Playing with six midfielders will ensure that the team dominates possession. This gives Spain a better chance to score against a quality Italian side, and it will keep Mario Balotelli and the Azzurri’s attack out of the net.