10 Things You Need to Know About Vicente Del Bosque's Spain
Vicente del Bosque's Spain outfit will head to Rio de Janeiro this month, looking to become the first team to defend a World Cup title since Brazil did so in 1962.
Examining the composition of La Roja's squad, it's difficult to envisage a team better equipped for the task.
Indeed, since claiming the 2008 European Championship, this glittering era of Spanish football has risen into the game's pantheon, standing alongside even the finest Brazilian outfits. In six years, the generation that Del Bosque inherited following its initial triumph has claimed three major international honours, adding the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship to a swelling trophy cabinet that reopened its doors in 2008.
Consequently, the Spaniards will arrive in Brazil with the opportunity to become the most prolific international generation football has ever seen.
To give you an understanding of Spain's capacity to achieve such a feat, we've outlined 10 things you must know about Del Bosque's world champions.
Del Bosque Has Allowed the Barcelona Core to Dictate the Team's Style
Despite owning a managerial record which is perhaps the finest of the modern era, Vicente del Bosque hasn't attempted to place his own definitive style on the current Spain squad.
Instead, the former Real Madrid boss has allowed the team's Barcelona core to dictate La Roja's methods. Thus far, it has proven immensely successful.
With a midfield ensemble boasting the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas, the 63-year-old has been content with surrounding La Blaugrana's stars with the most cohesive talent available.
The result has been an outfit embodying the "tiki-taka" principles associated with the incredible success achieved by the Catalan giants since 2008.
That approach has been further aided by the presence of other Barcelona players: Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Pedro have all enhanced the continuity of Del Bosque's team.
Of course, the predictability of the Spaniards' recipe is seen as a weakness by some, but familiarity is an often overlooked commodity in football.
By that measure, Spain are peerless.
Mutual Trust Is the Key to Del Bosque's Managerial Success
There's an apparent and seemingly unshakable bond between Vicente del Bosque and his players. Unlike the confrontational methods utilised by many contemporaries, the Spanish boss has reaped the rewards of possessing an implicit trust for those under him.
As the key ingredient in his holistic approach, Del Bosque's ability to manage the hubris exuded by star players and instil a team-first mentality is perhaps unrivalled in world football.
That was evident during the manager's tenure at Real Madrid between 1999 and 2003. Despite the club's plethora of individual talents, the Spaniard moulded Los Blancos into a team acknowledged for their cohesion.
Two La Liga titles and two Champions League crowns were won as a result, marking the most successful period for the club in the modern era.
Those same qualities have also shone through during his time at the helm of Spain.
Under the 63-year-old's guidance, La Roja have become synonymous with work ethic and tenacity as much as they have for individual brilliance.
At the core of it all is Del Bosque's trust: Unwavering faith is given to his players, which in turn, is afforded back to the manager.
Spain's unity, then, comes as no surprise.
The Manager Has Some Obvious Favourites
There were certainly a couple of surprises when Vicente del Bosque belatedly named his final 23-man squad for this summer's World Cup.
Those men were selected ahead of players such as Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas. Real Madrid's Daniel Carvajal can also consider himself unlucky to miss the plane to Brazil.
Indeed, what Del Bosque's final squad clearly indicated is that the manager has some obvious favourites in this Spanish outfit.
Most notably, the misfiring Torres has managed to retain the trust of Del Bosque, despite suffering a sharp decline at Chelsea since 2011. Villa, too, struggled in the second half of Atletico Madrid's fine season, but he clearly benefits from being a known quantity to Del Bosque.
Again, the manager's affection for some of his fading stars could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. However, it seems Del Bosque is eager to give his trusted players a chance to finish the glorious generation they started in 2008.
This Team Has a Striker Problem
If there's one area of the pitch where Spain have problems, it's up front. And just like it has in previous competitions, Vicente del Bosque's striking conundrum will be a headache for much of La Roja's World Cup campaign in Brazil.
Crucially, the manager's most prolific option, Diego Costa, has endured battles with injury in recent weeks. A fully fit Costa has the potential give Spain a different dynamic, but an underdone Atletico Madrid star is more likely to disrupt the team's fluidity.
The Brazilian-born striker is also set to endure an arduous time in the country of his birth, following his decision to represent his adopted nation. Quite simply, he'll have few allies in South America.
Yet, the reinforcements at Del Bosque's disposal inspire little confidence.
Fernando Torres scored just five league goals all season for Chelsea. David Villa hasn't scored in his last 15 appearances (both stats per WhoScored.com). It's obvious that both men were selected for their familiarity with the team's methods, but carrying out-of-sorts forwards through a World Cup is flirting with danger.
Observing La Roja attempt to overcome the team's striking concerns will be fascinating to watch this summer.
Del Bosque Is Always Quick to Use His Trademark False No. 9
Spain's striking headache isn't the only reason for Vicente del Bosque's regular use of a false No. 9. Given the positional flow inherent in this La Roja squad, the manager clearly believes in the effectiveness of a forward that can merge in and out of the attacking midfield positions.
Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas is the man Del Bosque deploys in the role.
Typically, the manager's use of the false No. 9 is dependant upon the opponents. Against weaker sides, the Spanish boss will favour the use of a conventional striker. Against more robust teams, Fabregas is used to enhance possession dominance and fluidity, thereby limiting the opponents' attacking opportunities.
That was evident during Spain's European Championship campaign in 2012. In matches against Ireland and Croatia, Torres led the line. For encounters with Italy (twice) and France, the Barcelona ace assumed the false No. 9 role.
Should Diego Costa fail to recapture form or fitness, it's likely we'll see Del Bosque utilise Fabregas for a significant portion of Spain's campaign, with Fernando Torres and David Villa representing alternative options from the bench.
False No. 9 Aside, Del Bosque Rarely Tinkers with the System
It would be foolish to dismiss Vicente del Bosque's tactical acumen, but the Spaniard is not the type of manager to implement sweeping changes for specific opponents.
"One of the fundamental issues is the good relationship that exists within the group," Del Bosque said in 2012, in an interview with World Soccer. "I have been fortunate to have a good group made up of nice people. It is important to reinforce the relations that exists between the players—that was a key part of our success in recent years."
Clearly, it's team harmony that Del Bosque values over all else.
That stands in contrast to what many football fans, particularly those observing the Premier League, have grown accustomed to.
Indeed, the tactical flexibility of a manager has quickly become a key issue in England. The likes of Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez and Mauricio Pochettino have been widely lauded for their tactical nous in 2013-14. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger's reluctance to evolve and adapt Arsenal's approach has led the Frenchman to be viewed as out of touch.
Interestingly, Del Bosque in more in the Wenger mould than the Mourinho one.
Aside from the manager's use of the false No. 9, little else changes in the Spain team. Of the starting XI, nine players essentially pick themselves, with only the identity of the striker and right-sided attacker regularly changing.
So unlike other teams who will look the counter the specific qualities of each opponent—often done by altering the defensive organisation, changing the height of the defensive line and deploying game-specific midfielders—Del Bosque's Spain will use much of the same system from game to game throughout the bulk of their World Cup campaign.
Del Bosque's Spain Are Most Dangerous When a Different Ingredient Is Added
When Spain become predictable and over-reliant on "tiki-taka," much of the team's threat is diminished—think the 2010 World Cup opener versus Switzerland for a prime example.
But when Del Bosque opts for a player possessing contrasting qualities, La Roja transform into a vastly superior beast. Remember the impact of Jesus Navas' speed in the 2010 World Cup final? Or Fernando Llorente's influence against Portugal in the round of 16 that same year?
Most recently, Pedro's acceleration down the left-hand side was Spain's most obvious attacking threat in the friendly against Bolivia on Friday.
That theme will again be a critical component of La Roja's campaign in Brazil.
Despite the plethora of ball-playing attacking midfielders (Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Cesc Febregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata), it's the players who offer variety that have the potential to dictate Spain's fortunes.
If fit, Diego Costa provides a different look up front. Koke can give added dash in midfield, as well as superb dead-ball skills. The aforementioned Pedro can sharpen up Spain's forays forward. Juanfran could increase the team's width down the right.
While the team's superstar core garners most of the attention, it's regularly Del Bosque's contrasting alternatives that put the finishing touches of this Spanish outfit.
A Lack of Athleticism Is One of Spain's Biggest Concerns
Watching the evolution of La Liga and the Bundesliga has been compelling viewing in recent seasons.
In Spain, opponents have begun to decipher the riddle of Barcelona's characteristic style. In Germany, Bayern Munich's transition to a similar approach under Pep Guardiola has received mixed reviews.
Essentially, the once indomitable possession-oriented method has seen its superiority fade slightly. Atletico Madrid's robust system displaced Barcelona from the top of La Liga. Real Madrid's swift counter-attacking ripped apart Bayern in the Champions League.
These occurrences are cyclical, of course. But what does it all mean for Spain?
Intriguingly for this World Cup, La Roja embody that short-passing and possession-based approach that has begun to be figured out in European club football across the last 12 months. Rather than mimicking the "tiki-taka," opponents have recognised that strength, speed and overall athleticism can disrupt the style that one associates with Vicente del Bosque's team.
The lack of those physical advantages in a concern for this Spanish outfit.
Few of Del Bosque's midfielders can break a line with a sudden burst of speed. When they dispossess their opponents, Spain are unable to surge with numbers into the space that is left in behind. Elite nations may fancy their chances of physically out-working Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta in Brazil this summer.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. But ahead of their World Cup defence, Spain's lack of raw athleticism is a significant concern—particularly at a time when their methods have shown a degree of vulnerability at club level in Europe this year.
Andres Iniesta Makes Del Bosque's Spain Tick
Spain's esteemed veterans in Xavi and Iker Casillas are undoubtedly the spiritual leaders of this La Roja outfit under Vicente del Bosque. With both having represented their country since the beginning of the century, the pair command the respect and attention of their teammates.
But on the field it's a different story: Andres Iniesta makes it all tick.
In the final phase of their careers, Xavi and Casillas can no longer make the on-field impact their younger countryman can.
For Xavi, that has been evident across the duration of the 2013-14 season, as the finest midfielder of his generation has finally begun to slow down. Casillas, too, has become less dominant, only playing in cup competitions for Real Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti.
Iniesta, meanwhile, is still enjoying the last of his peak years.
While it was merely a friendly, the impact the 30-year-old had on Del Bosque's team was profound when used as a substitute against Bolivia last Friday.
Prior to his introduction, Spain were laboured and predictable in their build-up play. Yet, in his presence, everything sharpened up: The ball moved quicker, attacks became more swift, a plethora of chances opened up.
In short, it was blatantly clear who Del Bosque's star player is. And it wasn't even close.
Brazil Represents This Generation's Final World Cup Campaign
Few teams in the history of international football have ever compared to the current Spain outfit. However, the impending 2014 World Cup in Brazil represents the conclusion of this glorious Spanish era.
When the tournament shifts to Russia in 2018, it's highly unlikely that Xavi, Iker Casillas, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina will be involved. Even Andres Iniesta, who will be 34 ahead of the next World Cup, will be playing out his twilight years when 2018 arrives.
Thus, this summer's monumental tournament represents the opportunity for a final tilt before transition occurs.
Interestingly, every great team deals with such occasions differently. For some, the emotion becomes too burdensome—players lose clarity in the desperate search for parting glory. For others, the experience only strengthens their resolve.
At present, it's unclear which way this La Roja outfit will lean. But when watching football's showpiece this summer, rejoice in the wondrous beauty of Vicente del Bosque's team; celebrate the artistry of the Spaniards.
Regardless of one's allegiance, this Spanish generation has inspired us all.