World Football: Is Spain's Tactical Success a Straight Copy of Barcelona?

Mikhail Turner@MikhailTurnerContributor IIIJuly 10, 2012

KIEV, UKRAINE - JULY 01: Andres Iniesta of Spain during the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since their European Cup victory in 2008 Spain has been the top dog on the international stage of World Football.

The Spanish team's ascendance to the No. 1 spot in World Football which includes winning three straight major International trophies, Euro 2008, 2012 and the 2010 World Cup, has coincided with a certain Spanish club's successes domestically, in Europe and on the international stage.

Interestingly enough, the international side actually got the ball rolling as their 2008 European Championship victory came before Barcelona's all-conquering 2008/09 season.

Just to clarify, Spain's participation in the 2009 Confederations Cup is not taken into account here.

Both Spain and Barcelona share a lot of the same players and one of the questions many have to ask is whether or not Spain's tactical success is a replica of Barcelona's own tactics.

Both sides are identical in their defensive mindset so the major thing to look at is the team's tactical formation and style of play.

While there are certain similarities within each setup, there are also a few differences that do not make Spain's tactical success a straight copy of Barcelona. Looking at what Spain has evolved into during the recent Euro 2012 the Barcelona traits are clear to see.

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The emphasis on possession and the use of a "false nine" along with the continued defensive pressing are all there. The use of a 'double pivot' and various changes in tactical formation throughout the tournaments give Spain its own vibe.


The fact that Spain's emphasis on possession has increased is certainly a product of Barcelona influence. The Spaniard's preferred use of the 'false nine' during Euro 2012 is another point  in favour of the club team.

Barcelona's domination of possession is no secret but Spain did not start off in that manner at Euro 2008.

When you average their possession statistics for their first three group games in each tournament one can see how Spain's mindset has evolved. We use only these games as they are indicative of how Spain played throughout each tournament.

In Euro 2008, Spain averaged 50 percent in their three group games. In the 2010 World Cup that number jumped to 59 percent. In the recently concluded Euro 2012, that number went up to 63 percent.

An article in the Guardian also provides its own statistics that prove even more how the Spaniards have become more like Barcelona. Via the Guardian:

"At Euro 2008 they had 33 passes per shot; at the last World Cup it was 44; this time it has been 58."

One could say that is as much a product of opponents "parking the bus" as it's the manager's own conscious decision to have his team even more in control of games.

Tactical Formation

Barcelona's standard setup has been a 4-3-3 for some time with the "'false nine" presenting a major tactical change and a few uses of a 3-4-3 setup during the 2011/12 season providing something new as well.

The only difference is that Spain used a variety of tactical formations throughout all three tournaments and indeed one major difference was their use of the 'double pivot' which made the team look more like a 4-2-3-1 during most of their games in the World Cup and Euro 2012.

Euro 2008 saw Marcos Senna as the lone defensive midfielder while the team setup in basically a 4-4-1-1 formation throughout the tournament.

On a side-note, while some folks may look at Cesc Fabregas' inclusion and label the formation a 4-6-0, the midfielder's style of play, being more inclined to link-up than provide a direct option, did not negate the fact that, as the Telegraph quoted Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque saying, "We will play with three attackers."


Looking at these two aspects one could say that the answer could be yes and no as to whether Spain has copied Barcelona tactically. The major factor in their success is possession which certainly has its Barcelona blueprint but, again, there are differences.

Euro 2012 was certainly as close a copy as possible, the World Cup was near that standard while Euro 2008 was the furthest away especially in terms of style of play.

If Spain were to drop one of either Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso to put Andres Iniesta back in midfield and play someone else on the left then it would be a definitive yes.

The team would then move toward a 4-3-3 setup with a "false nine" and the replacement player, likely Pedro or Jesus Navas, would be more direct.

It will be interesting to see how this Spain team continues moving forward with certain players nearing the end of their time and opponents even more determined than ever to stop them.

They have certainly taken pieces from Barcelona's plate to help continue their success, but they have not directly copied the Catalan club. Especially since they have no one quite like that man Lionel Messi.


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