COMMENTARY | The 2013 Confederations Cup offers an opportunity to preview the 2014 World Cup, and defending world champion Spain is not exactly sending shock waves with its squad selection for the upcoming tournament in Brazil. Spain is a team defined by its midfield, and manager Vicente Del Bosque once again picked every available Barcelona midfielder and sprinkled in the some top Spanish exports from across Europe.
Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta have been automatic selections since Del Bosque took the reins, and Cesc Fabregas expects to continue in his role as second half substitute.
Not many players have regrets about leaving Arsenal these days, but Fabregas' move to Barcelona has led to a diminished role on the club level. Leaving behind captaincy and a regular starting place in the middle of the park in favor of sitting in wait for Xavi Hernandez to retire was Fabregas' decision, and his role in the national team is identical to his place with Barcelona--a utility player regularly played out of position.
Naysayers will quickly point out that Fabregas played in 32 of the 38 La Liga contests and started on 30 occasions in the 2012-13 season. However, Fabregas was not a central figure in the matches that mattered most--the Champions League.
He came on at halftime for an injured Lionel Messi in the first leg of the quarterfinal in Paris. In the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, he lasted an hour and was blunt at best. A hamstrung Messi replaced the former Arsenal captain and created the necessary equalizer to help Barcelona advance to the semis.
In the semi-final, Fabregas was an unused substitute in Barcelona's demoralizing 4-0 drubbing in Munich. Couple that with his lackluster 90 minutes in the 3-0 return-leg loss, and Fabregas remains the odd man out for club and country.
Santi Cazorla, Fabregas' replacement of sorts at Arsenal, joins fellow London-based Spaniard Juan Mata on the flight to Brazil. The duo may be two of the finest midfielders in the English Premier League, but Manchester City's David Silva still holds rank with the national team. Del Bosque is a loyal man who has noticeably avoided altering the formula that won him a World Cup and European Championship.
Mata has been entirely underutilized by the national team to this point. Last term, the Chelsea midfielder led the Premier League with 12 assists and banged in an impressive 12 goals to boot. Cazorla put up nearly identical statistics with 11 assist and 12 goals in his first Premiership campaign. Both players displayed more fire and flair than Silva during the 2012-13 season, but whether that translates to playing time with the national team remains to be seen.
Silva only finished with four goals and eight assists in 32 Premier League appearances last term. In the past, Del Bosque favored the players who contributed to European and World Cup glory, and it would be difficult to argue against the 62-year-old manager on any of his decisions. His complete lack of hearing criticism regarding squad selection has resulted in Spain sitting on top of the globe for the past six years.
One forced change this time around, however, is Xabi Alonso. A groin injury forced the Real Madrid man to withdraw from the Confederations Cup, and recent Champions League winner Javi Martinez is most likely to fill that gap. Whether Martinez holds the spot in a year's time remains to be seen, but the smart money would be with Alonso.
Rounding out Spain's never-ending midfield is Sevilla winger Jesus Navas. Navas possesses quality and offers an added dimension, but he is not part of Spain's "Plan A" in big matches.
If Alonso was healthy, Del Bosque would likely have opted for three forwards in place of the four he selected for the trip to Brazil. Regardless of form, David Villa and Fernando Torres have been automatic selections for La Furia Roja when healthy, and Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez has also been a regular.
Joining the trio this time around is Valencia's Roberto Soldado, a lethal forward who has been constantly overlooked by the national team in recent selections.
Considering Del Bosque's preference for midfielders over forwards, Fabregas is more likely to feature as a false No. 9 than Soldado is to feature in attack. Del Bosque ignored criticism and started Fabregas in this role for a majority of Euro 2012. Spain won that tournament.
Since taking over in 2008, Del Bosque has been predictable and relied on his trusted group of midfielders to dominate possession and dictate matches. With Alonso out injured and Xavi losing some steam at age 33, the Confederations Cup is a massive test to determine whether Spain and Del Bosque must finally force change ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
However, if June yields yet another trophy for Spain, Del Bosque will likely look to the same established group of midfielders in a year and say, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more."
- Sports & Recreation
- Vicente Del Bosque
- Cesc Fabregas
- Xavi Hernandez
- 2014 World Cup