Why? Because they have corrected the problems from 2014.
Fixing the problems of 2014
2014 was an unmitigated disaster for Spain. They brought back too much of the old guard and they failed to adjust their style of play. Xavi, Casillas, David Villa, Fernando Torres, and Xabi Alonso were all still very good players in 2014, but they were also all worse than they had been in 2010. Going back to the well with these players was ultimately a mistake on Vicente del Bosque’s part. When you look at their 5-1 dismantling at the hands of the Netherlands, Alonso started in a rather redundant pivot with Busquets, Casillas was in goal, and Torres came off the bench while Xavi played the full 90.
Being experienced in the World Cup is a good thing, having too much of your roster past their peak is not.
This time around, there’s still some old hands aboard. Iniesta is taking his last tour with the team, Busquets, Pique, and Ramos have all seen the glory years first hand, but it’s the new talent that changes the shape of this team. Isco and his magical dribbling skills are here for their first World Cup, Lucas Vazquez provides a hard0working two way presence on the wing, while metronome Thiago Alcantara will be here after missing out on Brazil due to injury. This team doesn’t just have new talent, they have talent that will shape how they play.
Speaking of which, the tiki-taka of Del Bosque is dead. Don’t get me wrong, this team still wants the ball, but the advent of high-pressing in the game has made the trademark Barcelona-style irrelevant. Even Barca have changed their game. In 2014, the system had just been figured out and Del Bosque didn’t adjust to the times. Julen Lopeteguli has the side playing faster, more direct, and has brought in new talent to challenge opposing fullbacks and beat high presses.
A national identity
What separates Spain and Germany from the rest of the pack is that both have a clear concept that unites the entire team. Germany, for instance, are collectively efficient. They have versatile players who can adjust on the fly and quickly nullify the threat of the opposition. Other nations, like France. have rosters that don’t fit well together. Didier Deschamps’ refusal to take Karim Benzema and Rabiot leaves him with forwards and a midfield that isn’t balanced. Likewise, Brazil and Argentina have heaps of attackers, but one could argue that they don’t fit together.
Spain has the possession game it has always been known for, but they are more incisive then ever. Before, if you took the ball off Spain, they had to collect it back, then start over in their slow build up toward goal. Now, if you take the ball off Spain, you’ve just invited them to send the ball out wide and fly down on the break. 2010 Spain was Pep’s Barca. 2018 Spain is the treble-winning Bara side of Luis Enrique.
With all due respect to Germany, Spain has the most balanced squad in this year’s tournament. The reason why is that they have better forwards than Germany. Werner is very good, Muller has proven himself historically, and Gomez is there to be a late game target man, but the rest of their selections lock them into a 4-2-3-1, where the outside attacking mids aren’t exactly awe inspiring (which is what happens when you leave Leroy Sane at home.)
Spain has Costa, Aspas, and Rodrigo, who are all competent center forwards, but they can also play Isco as a false 9 (as they have in the past). They can play Isco, Asensio, or Lucas Vazquez as different style wide looks in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, or 4-2-4. Their fullbacks are great going forward, while also being defensively minded. Spain’s midfield could run several different iterations of three or four and still be world class.
There’s no such thing as an absolute lock in the World Cup, and the amount of talent in this year’s tournament is incredible, but I am riding with Spain to take the title. There are too many ways they can beat you; they have great a great blend of youth and experience, not to mention the world’s best keeper. You heard it hear first.
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