Midfield Overload and Other Reasons Why Spain Could Struggle to Retain World Cup

Guillem Balague@@GuillemBalagueFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

I said in my last report from Rio that there were many reasons why Spain might win the World Cup again. Unfortunately, there are also many reasons why they might not.

In an attempt to play devil's advocate and wear the hat of Spain's most pessimistic supporter ever, here's my take on why they might fall short.

First and foremost, there isn't enough variation in a squad overloaded with too many midfielders.

Jesus Navas isn't there to provide that Plan B with his extra pace and hard work without the ball. And while Juanfran might be in the squad to do a similar job, he cannot do so as effectively as the Manchester City winger can.

(In defence, Juanfran is poor, in my opinion, although the likelihood is that Cesar Azpilicueta will start.)

Koke looks to be a likely replacement off the bench. He, too, is there to guarantee fast movement and quick distribution of the ball, but he hasn't got that extra gear in pace that Navas possesses. Vicente del Bosque has identified Koke as the only player with hunger in his eyes, but again, it seems unlikely that he will be used anywhere but off the bench.

So we should look elsewhere and concentrate on the midfield positions where Spain has historically ruled the world. However, even there, it's not all good news.

Xavi has slowed down considerably as he approaches the twilight stage of his career. He has become far too predictablehe plays deeper than he used to, and as a result, it's more difficult for him to prise open defences.

Xabi Alonso also plays deeper, but in his case, it's because he doesn't want to get caught out, as his mobility has been reduced. And while Sergio Busquets has been a magnificent servant for his country, he did not have the best of seasons, and like most of the Barcelona players, he looks to be mentally and physically exhausted.

In goal, Iker Casillas made two serious mistakes in the Champions League, and if he does that in Brazil, it could cost Spain very dearly.

Remember, Spain won all their matches in the knockout stages of the last World Cup, including the final, by the only goal of the game. In fact, they scored eight goals in seven games, the lowest in the history of the tournament for a winner.

What's more, they have qualified with a lesser average of goals than the other seven former World Cup champions who are in Brazil.

A blemish-free performance between the sticks from Spain's veteran keeper is vital for the team to avoid the lottery of penalties or, even worse, narrow defeat.

It has been a clear change between the Luis Aragones era and the Del Bosque one, and it has affected the way the team approaches games and scores goals.

Under Aragones, they played with only one defensive midfielder, Marcos Senna, and five in front of him. But Del Bosque considers that Alonso and Busquets add more balance to the team, and results seem to show he is right, even though the possession game has become progressively more conservative.

Up front, Spain do not have strikers who are great headers of the ball, so crosses from dead-ball situations and moments of possession in opposition territory will invariably be wasted.

I'm also not 100 percent convinced that Diego Costa is fully fit. What's more, with his move to Chelsea on his mind, I'm not convinced he is at the top of his game, either mentally or physically.

But enough of Spain; what of their main opponents in the group stages?

With all due respect to Australia, Spain should see their challenge off quite easily. However, Chile and the Netherlands are a different proposition altogether.

Chile are an exciting attacking outfit who are lightning fast on the counter. When the two sides met in 2013, albeit in just a friendly, the South American side were generally considered to have been the better squad despite Spain salvaging a 2-2 draw, thanks to a last-gasp equaliser in the first minute of stoppage time from Navas.

The Netherlands, as Spain know only too well, defend better than most of the teams in Brazil. Under Louis van Gaal, they will be well organised, and if you defend well against Spain, you're always in with a chance.

And last, but certainly not least, teams have finally realised how to play against Spain, which is basically by employing the sort of tactics that are all about killing spaces using a controlled aggression, which means it's going to be a very hard job for Spain in Brazil.

These are things that must be acknowledged before Spain kicks off at the 2014 World Cup. That said, let's hope I’m totally wrong.

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