Spain fail to banish the demons of USA after Switzerland defeat

Switzerland emulated USA’s Confederation Cup tactics against Spain to shock the European champions.

The statistics before the game were almost perfect; Spain had recorded 45 wins in 48 matches. In between, they have become the reigning champions of Europe, are joint favourites to hold aloft the 2010 World Cup and have achieved all this by playing a beautiful brand of football. Indeed, were they allowed to field a ‘B’ team, then surely both sides would face each other in the final. They are that good. But wait…hang on a minute. What’s this I see? Is that a loss? Did Spain lose to USA?

Yes, they did. 2-0 in fact, in the Confederations Cup and they are hoping, on a little-known Wednesday on the 24th of June 2009. Because, despite cantering to the semi-final of the tournament without breaking as much as a sweat, the tiki-taka football found itself unstuck by the American’s defensive doggedness and speed on the break. Those tactics, Vicente Del Bosque knows, are prone to being imitated by his World Cup opponents and just like an honour student with a failure in gym class, has tried to cover up the blotches on the grade sheet.

Del Bosque has brought in two defensive midfielders – Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets – to guard his side on moments of transitions. Fernando Torres, whose scoring record has in recent times been overshadowed by his strike partner, David Villa, is now not guaranteed a starting place. The double pivot allows Xavi freedom to get forward into the box while also providing  protection for the full-backs who are now detailed to stretch play on either side, almost as wing-backs.

And in the first-half against Switzerland, Spain were relatively comfortable without being very penetrative themselves. They passed the ball back and forth across the pitch with much patience, looking to drag a Swiss defender out of position. Phillipe Senderos committed a series of fouls to indicate that a mistake was imminent. Only two in the end as Gerard Pique once again produced a magic in the opponent’s box akin to the Champions League semi-final but saw his shot fired straight at Diego Benaglio. David Villa got his golden opportunity but saw his chipped effort go disappointing wide. A goal was coming they thought, as Switzerland’s minds and legs would inevitably tire and Spain’s technical superiority would come out on top.

However seven minutes into the second period and the unthinkable happened. Switzerland broke through on the counter attack, Casillas came rushing out and from a moment of messiness, Gelson Fernandez was able to convert from amongst the wreckage. Suddenly that meticulous preparation has to be revised – time was not on their side any more and Spain had to find try to find a goal. Cesc Fabregas, usually Luis Aragonés’ Plan B, was not even summoned off the bench. Perhaps it had become blasphemy to take off Xavi as Del Bosque’s predecessor did on frequent occasions in Euro 2008. Certainly the Arsenal man has added power and dynamism to his game to be both a Plan A and a Plan B being able to seamlessly fit in to the endless triangle passing. Del Bosque usually experimented with a winger in the midfield four in the Confederation’s Cup, typically Albert Riera, but as the former Liverpool manager has indicated, the wide man had let his status in the national side get to his head. Jesus Navas’ introduction saw the Sevilla man fire in 19 crosses but without a target in the box, nothing materialised.

The unthinkable happened and much credit must go to Ottmar Hitzfeld for instilling a discipline and concentration in his side and ultimately doing what USA did against Spain. Switzerland were narrow and conceded the wings to La Roja because essentially there was only one to aim for and that was Villa. Late running was at most going to be provided by Xavi due to the use of a double pivots. The two forwards, N’Kufo and Derdiyok remained up the pitch for all of the game, one dropping back to mark the deep-lying playmaker and sought to feed of any clearances. Derdiyok got his chance but when the on rushing Casillas blocked his shot lady luck must have been on his side because as he was sent tumbling, the ball ricocheted of his flying body and into the path of Fernandes to tap in. Phillipe Senderos may not be held in high regards by Arsenal fans but he is now associated with both the UEFA Champions Leage and World Cup consecutive clean sheet records. A team as perfect as Spain should not have this much questions to answer but being that good, they feel they must.

[Update 17/06/2010: 16:30] Ottmar Hitzfeld’s quote on Switzerland’s strategy: “We saw how the Americans played against Spain with a lot of interest,” Hitzfeld said. “You know that if you are going to have a chance against [Spain] you need to do certain things very well. The USA did not try to do everything. They accepted the fact that Spain has pace and width and simply made sure they kept the center of defense as tight as they could. It is not a perfect system, but it was a very interesting tactic and it worked.”


23 thoughts on “Spain fail to banish the demons of USA after Switzerland defeat

  1. its actually a good result for barca oops! Sorry Spain.tis would make the barcan shit player to concentrate more on Spain rather than brainwashing CESC to move back to barca.

  2. Surely when they needed a goal wasn’t cesc ideal for it?they fell for the same trap as barca did vs inter.the swiss clogged the centre resulting to the spaniards playing it out wide where navas would cross and the swiss would clear.spain were breath taking at the euros because senna could do the roles that busquets and alonso are doing now.this allowed spain to have an extra attacker and lots of penetration.senna was so crucial such that he has had to be replaced by two players!id also love your input on chile and their exciting 4-2-1-3/3-3-1-3 formations.cheers.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Would love to cover more matches but from a readership level, just isn’t doing it. Not enough people are interested enough to read about other teams on an Arsenal website. (Would like to hear your view on it).

      – But anyway regarding Chile it was a 2-4-1-3 in attack. The two wing-backs can play central midfield but fell back into a back four in defensive phase and when they went forward Chile had two DM’s to cover. I think Bielsa took more risks today as he usually plays a 3-3-1-3. BTW, Chile’s stamina was fantastic. Bielsa is normally criticied for mechanising his players but the midfielders, when they lost the ball, ran full intensity to defend.

      – Regarding Spain; you are dead right about Senna and it’s a shame he couldn’t play a full season as he is crucial. Cesc also, would have been more suited in a 4-4-2 than Xavi as it was obvious Xavi likes to start deeper and had trouble getting in between the lines in the final 15 minutes.

      1. To leave an attacking midfielder with such great penetrative passing on the bench is just staggering. Apart from 08/09 where Cesc had 4 months knee injury, No player has played more forward passes than Cesc every season for the last 6 years.

        That diving twat Busq needs dropping with Xavi moving deeper, drop Silva for to play Villa and Iniesta on the flank with Cesc behind Torres.


  3. Thanks that they lost and fabricas did not make it the first 11 cos he is not a barca yet. Did u c how many spain’s players played against the mighty swiss most of them r from la liga and that shows that they hate spanish who play abroad, now they r under pressure.
    Thanks their pre-peration method is not going to work 4 them this time.

  4. I read one of your articles regarding how to break the seems teams in this tournament have learnt alot from inter’s exploits hence increased use of sacchi used to have his team keep distances of 25 metres between forwards and defence it seems something similar is happening in the should be on the look out since we will face alot of ‘swiss scenarios’ in the would also be great if we would drill our players on organization especially in defence.brain can you see us absorb pressure like the swiss did?…thats what i thought.

    1. I think we all know it’s against Wenger’s philosophies to play like the Swiss did although if the side is defending a lead, and in a crucial game, he will expect so.

      But in training, rarely are drills very bureaucratic; there are one-on-one games and 11-a-side matches but a lot is about finding solutions yourself, of course with a bit of guidance. Never does it feel your hand is being held.

      Another point is – can you play an attacking game like Arsenal play and also be that defensive? It’s difficult that’s why you have to press to keep compact, especially in the 4-3-3. In the 4-4-2, maybe being organised is more easier as there is zones to fall back on but still the side is expected to be attacking. The only exception was that Champions League run in 2006 where the side was ultra compact and counter attacked devastatingly. We must not also forget, they played fantastic football.

      1. I forgot to add also just how important “recovering possession” is, as Guardiola puts it in this years World Cup. Often winning the ball back quickly has led to big chances – Uruguay did that very well against SA.

  5. I sometimes wish the likes of denilson and diaby had the energy levels showed by chile’s players.Eboue would be perfect for chile.on another note id love to see Aw change our formations when things don’t work.Bielsa played a 4-2-1-3 in the first half when honduras played a 4-4-1-1.this ensured chile had a spare cb at the the second half honduras played 2 up top and what did bielsa do?he played a 3-3-1-3 which led to him having a spare cb at the back.if suazo gets fit the spaniards and the swiss will be in for a challenge.

  6. Its Karma time for Spain, what with 7-8 Barca players in there. They got exactly what they deserved for harassing Arsenal and shamelessly tapping up our captain.

  7. didn’t del bosque introduce navas along with torres?

    that would give their formation more width, as it would resemble a 442, torres and villa being the 2 strikers.

    i think wenger has diagnosed last season’s attacking failings as a lack of width similar to the problems that barca/spain are having right now. which is why he has gotten chamakh – an ace in the air.

    1. Yep. The 4-3-3 was also set-up in a way that instead of the wide players starting deeper as in the 4-4-2 and progressing higher as play built up, they were stationed more up the pitch so it was easier to play through a team.
      The one real problem that the World Cupo has seen despite Chile or Spain opening up the pitch is someone who can get beyond the last defender whether in the build up or in crosses. Bring back the goal poacher I say!

  8. What surprised me was that Ramos never tried to overlap Navas and at least add some unpredictability to the play. Just as in the US game, Spain were allowed to have the ball in wide areas and they didnt know what to do with it. When Navas had the ball the rest of the team just stood and seem to be expecting him to do something magical. They have to make off the ball runs to create space for him to cross or run the defense. In the first half Spain were just one paced, didn’t make any adjustments even though their plan A wasn’t working. (Actually reminded me a lot of Arsenal).

    Inler was brilliant in this game, chasing after Xavi when required and shielding the defense when required. I see why Wenger rated him so highly

      1. Inler was great indeed. But is Wenger still interested in him? Apparently, he did not want to come to Arsenal. Wenger has always been looking out for players like Melo and Inler to fill the second midfielder spot. Is he unhappy with Diaby/Denilson? Comparing both the players, I think Inler is the better one.

        1. Inler is more of a holder than a “second function” type of player so he would be a natural fit into Song’s position, not Diaby’s.
          Udinese always demand very high prices for their players so Arsenal are unlikely to go for him.

          1. Oh, okay. For Switzerland, he didn’t play as an out and out DM right? Huggel did that. Even for Udinese, he plays alongside other holders…

            1. He can play both positions depending on tactics but I think for Arsenal he fits into the holding role better. The playmakers for Udinese are Asamoah and D’Agostino.
              In the Spain game he had the brief of closing down Xavi. I have never seen him as much of a creator but his defensive game is great.Wenger has transformed players before so anything is possible.

          2. A deep lying playmaker I think of him with a box-to-box energy about him as he tended to play alongside D’Agostino, who is also a deep-playmaker. Interestingly however, they have now sold D’Agostino for £9million having tried to hold out £17mill last season. So Inler may be in greater need for them next season. But yes, Wenger likes him although intrigue may not result in interest…

            Will try and get a Diaby article up and Vela also soon….

      2. Yes Please. I am preparing an article on him myself for my blog but I want to watch one more game Switzerland before I write it up.I would love to read a different perspective on him.
        Maybe he wouldn’t fit into a passing side like Arsenal but he was bossing it against Spain.

  9. Hi, good article. Enjoyed it!
    I think Spain are making a huge mistake here by playing with two holders, and wingers who are basically attacking midfielders. Its actually a 4-5-1, not a 4-2-3-1 and Xavi is not as effective in an advanced position. Atleast someone more dynamic like Pedro or even Villa on the right would have been better. And as you highlight, Fabregas should have come off the bench. Seems like the same old problems that Arsenal face throughout the season against the ‘smaller’ teams.
    One must see the German team. Their CMs(Kedira and Schweiny) pass the ball extremely quickly and keep it moving. And they play with two forwards on the wings who make intelligent runs to create space.

  10. It was just amazing how disiplined the swiss playes against Spain. I think it is important for every team to do exacty what you coach sais. Otherwise you will end up like france.

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