Spain vs. Netherlands: Key Selection Decisions for Vicente Del Bosque
Spain open their World Cup campaign in Brazil on Friday with a rematch against their defeated counterparts from the 2010 final, Netherlands.
Still ranked as the game's No. 1 side, Vicente del Bosque's world champions are expected to overcome Louis van Gaal's Dutch outfit at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
As always, much of Del Bosque's glittering outfit selects itself, with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba all certain to start.
Consequently, La Roja's decorated manager is likely to face only a small number of selection quandaries ahead of his team's clash with Netherlands on Friday.
So who will Del Bosque opt for in the positions that carry less certainty? What options does he have at his disposal?
The selection headaches facing the 63-year-old are presented across the following four slides.
Cesar Azpilicueta or Juanfran at Right-Back?
The identity of Vicente del Bosque's right-back is one of the few uncertainties for Spain's starting XI against the Dutch.
With Alvaro Arbeloa no longer in the picture, Cesar Azpilicueta and Juanfran are the two right-back options for Spain.
However, La Roja's World Cup preparations have given little away, with Azpilicueta starting against Bolivia and Juanfran been selected for the following warm-up game against El Salvador.
In terms of style, the pair are also rather contrasting: Azpilicueta is considered the more robust defender, while the Atletico Madrid right-back offers more width and directness in attack.
What may influence Del Bosque's decision is the organisation of Louis van Gaal's Netherlands outfit.
In recent matches, the soon-to-be Manchester United manager has tinkered with his formation, experimenting with a 3-4-1-2 and 4-3-1-2. Such is Van Gaal's affinity for altering systems, the Dutch could even line-up in a 3-5-2.
What does seem certain is that Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie will be deployed as the Dutch forward pairing.
That may mean Juanfran has the edge over the Chelsea man for Spain's opener, with his ability to stretch teams in attack capable of exposing the space regularly left behind the wing-back in the possible three-at-the-back Dutch system.
Pedro or David Silva on the Right Flank?
Like at right-back, Vicente del Bosque has two starkly different options to deploy on the right flank in his starting XI.
In Pedro, Spain have a pacey winger with fantastic scoring abilities who is capable of adding necessary variety to La Roja's attacking moves.
Silva, meanwhile, is one of Del Bosque's most gifted attacking midfielders who aids the Spaniards' possession dominance and positional fluidity.
Against the Dutch, Pedro would appear to be the more potent choice.
As previosuly mentioned, the 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2 formations that Netherlands could possibly deploy typically leave space behind the wing-backs when they push forward in possession.
In such a scenario, the Barcelona forward can attack that space with his speed, offering Del Bosque a sharper method of attack on that side of the pitch.
It's also worth noting that Pedro—as well as Jesus Navas—made a significant impact with his pace in the 2010 World Cup final meeting between these two sides, which should fill the 26-year-old with confidence ahead of Spain's rematch with the Dutch.
False Nine or Genuine Striker?
There's always a curiosity surrounding Vicente del Bosque's use of Spain's trademark false nine. Some see it as an admission of a lack of striking quality, while others see it as an example of Spain's brilliant versatility.
Undoubtedly, the false nine's presence—or lack thereof—will be among the first aspects of Del Bosque's starting XI to be mentioned by observers on Friday.
Against the Dutch, it seems unlikely that La Roja will opt for Cesc Fabregas in the debated position.
Del Bosque will remember the difficulties his side experienced in breaking down Italy's 3-5-2 when they employed a false nine during the group stage of Euro 2012 (though, for the record, it proved significantly more effective in Spain's second encounter with Italy in the final, which saw Cesare Prandelli revert to a more conventional system).
Indeed, the Spanish boss will be more inclined to look to a traditional striker to occupy the three Netherlands centre-backs, if Louis van Gaal deploys his side in that manner.
Additionally, with Pedro possibly more likely to start than David Silva—regularly used alongside Fabregas when the false nine is opted for—on the right, the use of a out-and-out striker would be a better fit for the Spaniards as they seek to break down the potentially unfamiliar Dutch system.
If, as predicted on the previous slide, Vicente del Bosque chooses to start a traditional striker, the 63-year-old will then have to decide which of his strikers it will be.
On form and current scoring prowess, the logical choice would be Diego Costa.
Among the most prolific and direct strikers in Europe, the Brazil-born star could potentially provide this Spanish outfit with the world-class forward it has lacked since the respective declines of Fernando Torres and David Villa.
Costa's imposing presence would also ensure the trio of Dutch central defenders are engaged, which could aid the attacking efforts of Pedro and Andres Iniesta.
Yet Del Bosque may hold two concerns for the striker: Costa is lacking in match fitness following his recent injury layoff and his lack of familiarity with the team's Barcelona-style methods.
That may open the door for the inclusion of Fernando Torres, who, despite suffering from a sharp decline in front of goal, comfortably fits into this La Roja team and is effective in holding the ball up and distributing it to his teammates.
But against a Dutch team that isn't as potent as the 2010 incarnation, Costa's threat could be worth the gamble.