After their dramatic 5-1 embarrassment at the hands of the Dutch, Vicente del Bosque's Spain are facing the most extreme test of their extraordinary era in this World Cup in Brazil.
Never before has this La Roja generation been so comprehensively dismantled during their current reign, meaning lingering questions have suddenly become burning concerns for the defending champions.
Of course, it must be remembered that the Spaniards lost their opening match in South Africa in 2010, but now Del Bosque's men must contend with a whole new problem: goal difference.
By conceding a staggering five goals against Louis van Gaal's Netherlands on Friday, Spain's World Cup defence has been left in tatters. While only the lower-ranked teams in Chile and Australia await the Spanish, any slip-up could see La Roja miss the knockout stage entirely.
Additionally, even if the Dutch were to falter in one of their remaining games, Spain's goal difference (minus-four) means heroics are required if they are to top their group with two victories. Consequently, a likely round of 16 clash with Brazil awaits the Spaniards if they do find a way to progress.
Del Bosque's task, therefore, is simple: Spain must discard their typical conservatism in the search for goals.
But does this team, an outfit renowned for its efficiency, have the attacking capacity to overcome their sudden goal-difference problem?
A look at Spain's recent history suggests that the current La Roja generation has been far from prolific in front of goal, despite their staggering run of success that commenced in 2008.
Across 26 combined games from the 2010 World Cup, Euro 2012, 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup qualifying, Del Bosque's men have averaged just 1.88 goals per match.
|Spain's Recent Goal-Scoring Record|
|Competition||Games||Goals per Game||Games with 3+ Goals|
|2010 World Cup||7||1.14||0|
|2013 Confederations Cup||5||3.00||2|
|2014 World Cup Qualifying||8||1.75||1|
|FIFA.com, UEFA.com, WhoScored.com|
However, if you were to exclude the 10-0 victory over Tahiti last June, Spain have averaged just 1.56 goals per game in their major competitive outings from 2010 to the current campaign.
The world champions will certainly back themselves to defeat both Chile and Australia in the coming seven days. However, recent statistics suggest that Spain will struggle to overcome their goal-difference issue to top the Dutch in Group B—even if the Oranje suffer a loss in one of their two remaining games.
Such a dire goal difference also leaves little margin for error for the Spanish. If the Chileans managed to force a draw against the defending champions, Del Bosque's team—assuming the Dutch defeat Australia—would have a six-goal differential with Chile to overcome on the final day of matches in the group.
Another concern for Del Bosque will be the matter of where the goals can come from.
While Spain's possession dominance has typically strangled their opponents and reduced the need for heavy scoring, the team is now in an entirely different position in this World Cup.
Worryingly, the recent goal-scoring form of the squad's primary attacking options raises further questions. Had this team contained an array of players with prolific recent streaks in front of goal, La Roja's moderate scoring record in prior tournaments could have been somewhat dismissed.
But that's not the case.
Examining the records of Spain's attacking squadron in all matches (both domestic and international) since the beginning of March highlights the full extent of Del Bosque's headache in attack. Simply, there's little goal-scoring form within this La Roja outfit, even when performances in international friendlies are factored in, which is the case in the following set of data.
|Scoring Records for Spain's Players Since Mar. 1, 2014|
A Cause for Optimism?
If there's one factor that could help Spain's search for goals against Chile and Australia, it's variety and a depth of options.
Unlike a number of teams in this tournament, Del Bosque can relentlessly tinker with his attacking formation in search of the right mix.
Available to La Roja's manager are three primary systems: The team's conventional 4-2-3-1 with a genuine striker, an adapted 4-2-3-1 with a false nine and a Barcelona-like 4-3-3.
Additionally, the Spaniards can rotate all of Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla through the primary attacking positions on the pitch.
That great volume of options at the manager's disposal marks this Spanish squad as the deepest outfit in the tournament, and on paper, they're capable of weaving through the lesser teams remaining in Group B.
However, both individually and collectively, statistics show his players have struggled to score heavily—a fact that's also true at both domestic and international level in recent months. If Spain are to overcome their goal-difference issue, Del Bosque must find a way to significantly, unprecedentedly elevate the threat posed by his vast array of options.
All player statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.