Perhaps unfairly, tactical acumen isn't the first quality that comes to mind when considering Vicente del Bosque's managerial strengths.
Despite being the only manager in history to possess all three of the World Cup, European Championship and Champions League crowns on his CV, the Spanish boss is most renowned for his ability to unite his players and create harmony within a squad.
It's a concept that has become further entrenched during his time at the helm of this La Roja generation—a group of players so accomplished and decorated that sideline influences have seemed almost unnecessary.
But in Spain's comfortable 2-0 victory over El Salvador on Saturday, del Bosque displayed his complete tactical repertoire.
"Tomorrow we're going to focus on giving minutes to the players who joined up later with the team. We know the differences we have in our team and nobody will be left waiting," del Bosque said prior to the game on Friday, according to Inside Spanish Football.
That intent was clear from the outset in Washington D.C., as the 63-year-old deployed his contingent of stars from Madrid who missed last weekend's encounter with Bolivia shortly after the Champions League final in Lisbon on 24 May.
At the back, Iker Casillas took his place in goal, while Sergio Ramos was used instead of Gerard Pique. In one of del Bosque's areas of uncertainty, Atletico Madrid's Juanfran was chosen ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back.
Centrally, Xabi Alonso and Koke formed the manager's primary midfield partnership, with Diego Costa leading Spain's front line after shrugging aside fitness concerns.
However, del Bosque's usage of his Madrid-based talents wasn't the most notable takeaway from the match. Instead, it was the manager's versatility with his line-up that was most ominous for Spain's World Cup opponents.
Interestingly, it was Costa's presence that changed the look of this Spanish outfit. Although regularly used as the manager's false nine, Cesc Fabregas consistently interchanged with Andres Iniesta on the left. On the opposite side, Pedro was used as a conventional winger—rather than the inverted role he often plays—to maintain width and create space for Costa.
In the opening minutes, the striker regularly burst into space behind the stretched El Salvador defence. A flurry of half-chances and a penalty resulted. Spain could have been out of sight at the break. For those who have criticised La Roja's predictability and lack of variety, this would have felt like the antidote.
And it's hard not to see it that way. With a truly prolific forward leading the line, del Bosque opted for contrasting players on either side—the more technical, positionally fluid Fabregas and the pacey, threatening Pedro.
Evidently, the Spaniards and their manager have more up their sleeves than the principles of "tiki-taka."
After the half-time interval, del Bosque's tactical nous only became more apparent.
Needing to add further bite to his attacking squadron, the manager replaced Fabregas with David Villa to provide another clinical finisher in the box alongside Costa. To maintain balance, del Bosque inserted the versatile Santi Cazorla in place of Pedro.
Goals followed, as Villa added to his stunning record in national colours.
Again, La Roja's boss had organised another cohesive trio. But it was the tactical variation that stood out most. Each decision was balanced by a countermeasure, ensuring La Roja's machine kept running in spite of contrasting attacking methods either side of the break.
Other substitutions also highlighted the depth and alternatives at del Bosque's disposal.
David Silva replaced Iniesta on the left side of midfield. Sergio Busquets came on for Alonso to fill the holding role centrally. To avoid any injury complications, Costa was removed for Xavi, resulting in a reshuffle that shifted Villa to the centre of the attack.
Prior to Saturday's match, del Bosque had suggested that he was still unsure of his preferred starting XI. It's not difficult to see why.
"We've decided on nine or 10 players and there are two doubts, which is normal," del Bosque told Radio Marca, as relayed by Sports Mole.
While those doubts will continue to linger across the coming days, there won't be any regarding the manager's use of his glittering talents.
Del Bosque's tactical acumen shouldn't be overlooked.
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