5 Things Vicente Del Bosque Should Test in Spain's Friendly with El Salvador
Spain's World Cup preparations will conclude on Saturday, with Vicente del Bosque's world champions set to take on El Salvador in an international friendly in Washington D.C.
After last week's 2-0 victory over Bolivia in Seville, Saturday's World Cup tune-up represents the final opportunity for Del Bosque to experiment with all of the options at his disposal.
As was seen at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium last weekend, the manager will likely explore the cohesive capacity of many of his peripheral players. Last time out, it was the use of Javi Martinez, Alberto Moreno and Ander Iturraspe that stood out.
So who will it be on Saturday? What should Del Bosque test against El Salvador as Spain's focus narrows in on their World Cup defence?
Across the following slides, we examine five things the manager should try in the team's last warm-up match in Washington DC.
Koke in Central Midfield
Atletico Madrid's Koke is the latest in a long line of Spanish midfield prodigies and his fine season for Los Rojiblancos in 2013-14 has been rewarded with World Cup selection.
Perhaps what's most promising about the 22-year-old is that he offers different qualities to many of his La Roja teammates—there's more grunt to Koke's game than there is in players such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Juan Mata.
With youth and athleticism on his side, the highly rated midfielder could add a contrasting ingredient to Del Bosque's outfit.
Consequently, Spain's encounter with El Salvador represents a perfect opportunity to experiment with the emerging star in central midfield.
Against an inferior opponent, two holding midfielders—typically Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, if you can refer to the latter as such—won't be required, meaning Koke could slot in alongside Xavi or Iniesta centrally.
Given that Koke's prominence for Spain will only grow in the coming years, establishing an understanding with Iniesta in particular would be beneficial.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that the 22-year-old has honed his craft in a predominantly counterattack-based system in Madrid, meaning a taste of the Barcelona-esque methods of this Spain team should be a pre-requisite for Koke ahead of the World Cup.
Juanfran at Right-Back
Now that Alvaro Arbeloa has been displaced as Vicente del Bosque's first-choice right-back, it remains unclear whether Cesar Azpilicueta or Juanfran is leading the race to start in Brazil.
Against Bolivia last weekend, it was the Chelsea full-back who took his place in the starting XI. However, it must be acknowledged that the manager decided to rest the players who had taken part in the UEFA Champions League final with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid six days prior.
Del Bosque should therefore deploy Juanfran on the right side of the back four on Saturday, affording the Rojiblancos star a final opportunity to stake his claim for the position.
Interestingly, the Atletico defender isn't all that similar to his younger compatriot.
More fleet of foot and inclined to stay attached to the right sideline in attack, Juanfran could provide added width to this La Roja team that can become narrow at times. The 29-year-old also benefits from having played on the right at domestic level all season, while Azpilicueta has filled in at left-back for Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge.
Although it's likely that Del Bosque already has a strong inkling as to the identity of his starting right-back, the success—or otherwise—of Juanfran against El Salvador could help to provide a definitive answer.
Javi Martinez in Defensive Midfield
Prior to Spain's encounter with Bolivia last week, it was suggested here that Javi Martinez be deployed as a centre-back alongside Gerard Pique.
The rationale was simple: Vicente del Bosque's final World Cup squad (which hadn't been confirmed at the time) was unlikely to feature significant cover for Pique and Sergio Ramos, while the presence of Ander Iturraspe against Bolivia suggested the Bilbao star could have been selected as a midfield reinforcement for the injured Thiago Alcantara.
However, since the announcement of Spain's final 23-man party to tour Brazil, it's possible that Martinez may be required as cover for Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso.
While Napoli's Raul Albiol can be used in central defence to replace Pique or Ramos, La Roja's holding midfield pairing is without obvious alternatives if Martinez is considered a defensive option. The former Bilbao star, of course, was a critical midfield component of the rampant Bayern Munich outfit of 2012-13 under Jupp Heynckes.
As a result, Del Bosque should look to re-acquaint the 25-year-old with his favoured position against El Salvador on Saturday, ensuring a suitable back-up is available for a seamless transition should Busquets or Alonso be forced into absence at any stage.
A Conventional Winger for 45 Minutes
In this Spanish outfit, Vicente del Bosque prefers to use inverted wingers and attacking midfielders.
Regularly, the likes of Andres Iniesta, Santi Cazorla and Pedro are deployed on the left to cut inside onto their right foot. Meanwhile, players such as David Silva and Juan Mata are used on the right to do the opposite.
Such tactics ensure Del Bosque's team possesses a marvellous positional fluidity, with his attacking ensemble capable of seamlessly drifting and interchanging to create matchup headaches for the opposition.
However, there are times when Spain become narrow and predictable in attack, lacking the width and dynamism to pull opposing teams apart.
Saturday's match with El Salvador represents an opportunity to experiment with reversing that characteristic system.
For 45 minutes in Washington D.C., Del Bosque could test—at least on one side on the pitch—the effectiveness of maintaining width. Using Pedro on the right would be an obvious option, given that he performed that role for Barcelona on 10 occasions in 2013-14, per WhoScored.com.
On the left it's more problematic, as Silva and Mata aren't the type of left-footed players to stay attached to the sideline and attack from wider areas.
But this Spain team should look to explore alternatives when going forward, meaning the use of at least one conventional winger would be worthwhile in the team's final outing before the World Cup.
Diego Costa Up Front If He's Fit
Diego Costa is a headache for Vicente del Bosque, simply because he's such an unknown quantity in this Spanish outfit.
In a best-case scenario, the striker has the capacity to push La Roja to unprecedented levels by giving Del Bosque a truly prolific forward. Worst-case, an underdone and unfamiliar Costa could disrupt this Spanish machine.
If the Brazilian-born star is fully fit for Saturday's clash with El Salvador, it's essential that he receives playing time, given that it's his last chance to develop on-field chemistry with his national teammates prior to this summer's World Cup.
Perhaps what will be most intriguing is how Del Bosque will organise his team if Costa is chosen to lead the line. It must be remembered that the decorated manager is extremely fond of familiarity and continuity, reflected in the selections out-of-form players—at least at domestic level—such as Fernando Torres, David Villa and Juan Mata.
While Torres, Villa and Cesc Fabregas—the player used as the manager's false nine—are cohesive with Spain's methods, Costa has only featured for his adopted nation once and brings a vastly different set of skills than his striking counterparts.
Provided he's fit, Costa must be given the opportunity to prove he can make it all work.