It’s difficult to picture Vicente del Bosque anxiously pondering the make-up of his all-conquering Spain outfit ahead of the World Cup. In fact, Del Bosque is typically so calm and unassuming, that it’s easier to imagine the Spanish boss nonchalantly scribbling his side on paper before returning to a cozy couch to enjoy a glass of Rioja.
But the former Real Madrid manager will have one headache ahead of his trip to Brazil: What to do with Spain’s ensemble of strikers?
First and foremost, the 63-year-old will need to decide which of the forwards he will take to South America. After submitting his provisional 30-man squad, as released by the team’s official website Sefutbol.com, he’s due to name his final 23 players on Sunday.
Among that provisional squad is the striking quintet of Diego Costa, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente. However, Del Bosque will undoubtedly harbour concerns of a certain extent for all five men.
Costa is likely, of course, to be selected as the manager’s primary striking option. With 27 goals in 35 La Liga appearances in 2013-14, per WhoScored, the Brazilian-born attacker is comfortably Spain’s most prolific forward.
However, after leading the line for an Atletico outfit more inclined to counterattack, it’s unclear how Costa will fit into the far more intricate Barcelona-esque style embodied by the national team. The 25-year-old is indeed a superb dribbler and finisher, but Del Bosque has reason to question whether Costa will prove cohesive with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Co.
Furthermore, Costa is a notoriously irritable personality, renowned for losing his cool on the pitch. Given that he’ll be public enemy No. 1 in Brazil for snubbing the country of his birth in favour of Spain, it’s not unreasonable to think that the striker’s temperament will be seriously tested.
Additionally, although Costa’s record this year is outstanding, fitness issues have hampered the final weeks of his season. In fact, the Atletico Madrid star flew to Belgrade this week to see “miracle doctor” Marijana Kovacevic, in a bid to be fit for Saturday’s Champions League final versus Real Madrid, as reported by Rik Sharma of the Daily Mail.
Thus, Del Bosque will require other options to support the fiery Atletico star. The problem is that there are no obvious answers.
It's possible that the decorated manager would like to take just two true strikers to Brazil. While Del Bosque opted for a trio of strikers in his 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship squads, he did only opt for two in Spain's most recent match versus Italy.
Given the ability of his midfielders to push forward and his affinity for deploying a false No. 9, the 63-year-old may look to bolster the depth of his defence and midfield.
But risks are inherent in that approach. Costa is unproven at a World Cup. A clear standout to back him up isn’t obvious. The team’s midfield generals are ageing. The defence could potentially be more exposed. Significantly more goals may be required this time around in comparison with 2010.
Consequently, La Roja’s conductor will likely be forced to opt for a trio of strikers in his squad.
Based on World Cup pedigree, Villa would be a logical choice—he’s Spain’s all-time leading scorer and has substantial international experience.
But the 32-year-old’s form has deserted him in recent months. After scoring 14 goals in his opening 31 appearances for Los Rojiblancos, Villa has been scoreless in his last 14 matches, per WhoScored.
Most notably, the former Barcelona striker has lost the yard of pace that once made him an extremely potent force. Once—before his serious leg injury in 2011—Villa’s speed would have perfectly balanced Spain’s attacking squadron as an alternative to Costa. But that’s not quite the case now.
Looking elsewhere, Negredo would also provide contrast to Spain’s attack, but significant concerns exist regarding his form, too.
Like Villa, the muscular forward enjoyed a strong start to life at his new club, Manchester City, in 2013-14. But his season has fallen away drastically since the new year. After dropping behind Edin Dzeko, Negredo has been scoreless since a 3-0 win over West Ham on January 21 and has completed 90 minutes just once in that time, according to WhoScored.
Del Bosque has hinted that Negredo is very much in his plans—the forward was included in the squad for Spain’s last five World Cup qualifiers, per WhoScored—but languishing form won’t please the manager.
Should the team’s boss be looking for a physical alternative, Llorente is another candidate. However, the Juventus striker was left out of Del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s friendly with Italy in March, possibly indicating his position in the pecking order.
When asked about Llorente’s chances of making the World Cup squad ahead of that match, Del Bosque politely reminded those at the press conference of the competition facing the forward.
According to Inside Spanish Football, he said:
He’s a player who we hold in very high regard, but there’s a lot of competition in this squad.
We’ve left out Soldado, Llorente, Torres, Villa… players who are normally here, but we can’t choose everyone.
Even the player himself would concede that’s not what you want to hear. Kind of like listening to the relationship-ending speech that begins with: “You’re really great, but…” Most understand how that one goes.
And there’s Torres.
Despite Torres owning winners' medals from all three of Spain’s recent international triumphs, Del Bosque will be extremely reluctant to select a deteriorating forward with just five goals in 28 league appearances in 2013-14, per WhoScored.
And therein lies the crux of it all: Del Bosque has striking options, but each candidate presents a unique problem.
The strikers who are proven in this team and proven at this level are either out of form or out of favour. Meanwhile, the manager’s only obvious option to shoulder the striking burden has just one game of experience with the world champions (a friendly against Italy) and is set to have volatility surround his every move in Brazil.
It just goes to show that even the mightiest of them all experience their own headaches and selection quandaries. Del Bosque’s remarkable Spanish outfit is no exception.