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Atletico Madrid

Del Bosque’s Happy Dilemma

Vincent del Bosque must be a very happy man. Now, that may sound surprising given that they were utterly outplayed by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, but given what has transpired during the summer transfer window so far, the World Cup-winning manager must be licking his lips at the prospects of defending his world title next year.

Spain’s manager, basically, has a problem with having too good a squad. With his U21 team winning their age group’s European Championship, a new breed of midfielders has, emerged and seem ready to challenge the old heads like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso for first team places. However, with so much quality and quantity in midfield, it naturally seems that the current Spanish strikers pale in comparison – whether due to poor club form or lack of coverage as a result of not appearing in the Champions League.

Raul used to be Spain’s golden striker, partnered by Fernando Morientes; but the Real Madrid legend had left before Spain went on their glory run, starting with their triumph in the 2008 European Championships. The mantle seemed to then be in good hands with David Villa, especially when Barcelona signed him from Valencia for €40million signing in the summer of 2010. Injuries transpired to deny him the opportunity to pull away as Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer, having surpassed Raul in 2011. This paved the way for Fernando Torres, who seemed to have the world at his feet as Liverpool’s main striker and looked like the world’s best. But after his Torres’ much-speculated move to rivals Chelsea came into fruition, he has since lost much of his pace, with his goalscoring record suffering as a result.

The new pretenders to the throne were in the form of Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente. In del Bosque’s eyes, and probably the Spanish public too, these three were mere pretenders, and not world-class enough to be Spain’s regular no.9. The Spanish gaffer’s faith shown when even midfielder Cesc Fabregas was played as a false no.9 on several occasions.

This summer’s transfer window has given del Bosque much to ponder now – in a positive way. The three pretenders, along with injury-prone veteran Villa, transferred clubs just a year before the 2014 World Cup.

Valencia captain Roberto Soldado finally earned the move he yearned for by switching the Mestalla for White Hart Lane, for a eye-catching £26million. Being Tottenham Hotspur’s record signing, it shows how much faith manager Andre Vilas-Boas has in the 28 year old striker. The move comes at the right time for Soldado, since he is reaching his peak years as a goal poacher.

Right now, Spurs are arguably stronger than Valencia, and exposure to another league would do him a world of good. With Soldado almost assured as Spurs’ main man up top and with better service from the likes of Gareth Bale (if he stays) and Moussa Dembele, he is sure to get close to the number of goals he got in La Liga. His physicality will suit the vigours of English football just fine too.

Along with Soldado, Alvaro Negredo has been the top goalscoring Spanish strikers in La Liga for the past few years now. Negredo, upon signing for Manchester City this summer, can look forward to Champions League football with a better quality team behind him. Even as Negredo will no doubt be happy to play alongside Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and fellow new signing Stevan Jovetic, what he will look forward to most will be linking up with his Spanish and ex-Sevilla team-mate Jesus Navas – who also joined City recently.

This Negredo-Navas link-up could be a good plan B for del Bosque whenever he wants a more direct route towards goal, whenever opposing teams seem to be snuffing out their famous tiki-taka gameplay, or when Spain needs a goal. This Spanish duo’s chemistry and understanding will only increase while playing together in Manchester, and this, in turn, will only benefit the Spanish national side.

Another who can look forward to Champions League football this year is Fernando Llorente, former skipper of Athletic Bilbao. Linking up with ex-City forward Carlos Tevez at Juventus, Llorente’s exposure to the Italian Serie A will allow him to experience a vastly different type of football to the one he is used to in Spain. An understanding of Italian-style defending, while playing as a target man against more tactically defensive teams will give Llorente a chance to learn how to break down Catenaccio.

del Bosque will look to him as a useful option against his and Spain’s bogey team, Italy. Llorente’s height and brute strength and power will be a good “over-the-top” or “bypass the midfield” option for Spain if need be. In truth, however, Llorente’s a more English-style striker, and only a 20 plus goals haul will give him any chance of overhauling the more favoured Soldado or Negredo, since the latter two can also play Llorente’s game though they’re seen more as intelligent penalty box poachers.

David Villa’s move away from Barcelona to Atletico Madrid will be the one that intrigues del Bosque the most. Being Radamel Falcao’s direct replacement, Villa will no doubt be Atletico’s first choice and the focal point of the team, a role he vanquished ever since he joined Barca and stepped into the shadow of Lionel Messi.

Deployed in more central areas now, Villa will hope he can get back to form and steer clear of injuries. With his tremendous record for Spain, plus proven international experience and pedigree, Villa will definitely be ahead of the three pretenders in del Bosque’s thinking should he enjoy an injury-free, goal-friendly season at Atletico.

Besides what del Bosque will definitely deem as a success in the transfer market without even doing anything, hiding in the shadows are potential World Cup gatecrashers in Rodrigo of Benfica and Spain’s U21 striker Alvaro Morata. Rodrigo is a firm first-choice at Benfica right now while Morata has finally risen to Karim Benzema’s deputy following the exit of Gonzalo Higuain. Both can play on the wings, while their creativity and adaptability may work in their favour come selection time.

Who may suffer from all this? A certain Blue blonde. All this will either spur Torres to finally come good at Chelsea – now under a Jose Mourinho who is looking to play quick, entertaining football a la Barcelona – or will see the three pretenders outshine him at their bigger clubs and snatch his place in Spain’s team.

In truth, del Bosque will only bring a maximum of three strikers to Brazil, to make more room for more midfield players, since he only uses one striker. This will see five strikers of peak age and two U21 forwards fight it out for three precious spots. Torres may have his work cut out, but del Bosque will be quietly happy to see most of his Spanish strikers getting better quality football this season, and he’ll hope this will relieve the goalscoring workload off his playmakers, so they themselves can concentrate in doing what they do best, dictating play and threading killer balls for a bunch of Spaniards with a new lease of life.

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