You think Spain are good? Look who can't get a game...

The world champions have an incredible first XI but how strong is their back-up team? Pretty impressive, as England will find out at Wembley

Pete Jenson
Wednesday 09 November 2011 01:00
Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and David Silva are just some of the talents that cannot force their way into Spain's first-choice XI
Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and David Silva are just some of the talents that cannot force their way into Spain's first-choice XI

Victor Valdes (Barça)

Recently beat Miguel Reina's record for consecutive minutes without conceding a goal for Barcelona as he went more than nine matches unbeaten. There are many who believe he is a better all-round goalkeeper than Iker Casillas with greater command of his area, distribution and concentration but the Spain captain remains undroppable. Valdes has at least moved ahead of Pepe Reina, another keeper who would be first choice for most other countries and who may play at Wembley on Saturday.

But would he get in the England first team? Yes

Alvaro Arbeloa (Real)

Has blossomed under Jose Mourinho at Madrid and now does for his country as for his club, filling in anywhere across the back four. On Sunday in Real Madrid's 7-1 win over Osasuna he also got forward with two valuable assists that show the attacking side of his game that has also improved since his departure from Anfield. Spain have benefited from the experience their players have gained in other leagues and Arbeloa has returned from Liverpool with that Premier League competitive streak that gives Spain's pretty football a street-fighter edge. Arbeloa could feature at right-back or at left-back at Wembley.

In the England team? Yes

Victor Ruiz (Valencia)

Will have his work cut out replacing Carles Puyol as Gerard Pique's central defensive partner next summer but the veteran Barcelona captain has become increasingly prone to injury and that means Ruiz will have to be ready. There is no doubt that this is Spain's problem position and Vicente Del Bosque has attempted to play midfielders Javi Martinez and Sergi Busquets in the centre of defence in recent games without great success. He could also use Sergio Ramos, bearing in mind the Real defender's fine recent run in that position for his club. Ruiz has been left out of the squad for Wembley but is forming an impressive partnership at Valencia with French international Adil Rami and most expect Del Bosque to call on one of the stars of Spain's recent Under-21 European success again in the future.

In the England team? No

Raul Albiol (Real)

Was signed for €15m by Real the season before Mourinho arrived and it seems the Portuguese is not convinced by the former Valencia stopper. There is even talk that Real will sell Albiol to Malaga in January but, Mourinho's doubts aside, Albiol is a Champions League-class defender and – like Arbeloa – can play both at full-back and in the centre of defence.

In the England team? No

Ignacio Monreal (Malaga)

Will contest the left-back position vacated by Joan Capdevila with Jordi Alba and Arbeloa. Monreal has struggled to stay first-choice for Malaga but he remains in the plans of the Spain coach who continues to ignore Liverpool's Jose Enrique – tantamount to Capello leaving out Micah Richards in the eyes of many supporters of La Roja.

In the England team? No

Javi Martinez (Ath Bilbao)

Is not the typical short, neat parcel of passing football that usually makes it into Spain's midfield but his robust all-action style gives the national side another dimension. His ability to arrive late in the area and get on the end of crosses and aerial strength at set-plays complement his main asset – his skill at protecting the defence in holding midfield. He has attracted the attention of various Premier League managers who recognise that a jump from San Mames to English football would not be too difficult. Spain will call upon Martinez if the ever reliable Sergi Busquets is unavailable and he may get minutes on Saturday with the Barça man in action tonight for his club.

In the England team? Yes

Thiago Alcantara (Barça)

Looked like being the odd man out at Camp Nou this season with the return of Cesc Fabregas but so impressive were his displays in Spain's U-21 European Championship win that Pep Guardiola fast-tracked the young midfielder into the first team. The son of former Brazilian international Mazinho, Thiago has an unpredictability but has learnt to put the team before his flamboyance and he is now a major part of Barcelona's plans. Has displayed some of that maturity this week by stepping back to the Under-21s to help them in two key Euro qualifiers.

In the England team? Yes

David Silva (Man City)

Complained about a lack of first-team chances before the last round of internationals and it was telling that Del Bosque kept a lid on what could have become a player-coach feud and simply picked Silva to start the next two games. The City player scored a hat-trick against Scotland in Alicante last month and played in a 'false' centre-forward position, doing the job for the national team that Lionel Messi does for Barça. As Spain's formation moves closer and closer to Barça's and Del Bosque flirts with the idea of switching to 3-4-3 to allow him to accommodate more midfield talent then Silva's place in the starting XI looks more and more secured. However, if he is omitted, Del Bosque could still shrug his shoulders and respond, "who do I leave out?"

In the England team? Yes

Cesc Fabregas (Barça)

OK, OK, so the idea that the man who played the pass for the World Cup-winning goal and who has scored five goals this season for Barça since his summer move from Arsenal, making him the club's second-top scorer, might still not be a first choice is become less and less credible. But if Del Bosque sticks with his preferred defensive midfield pairing of Busquets and Xabi Alonso then Fabregas will be battling with Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Pedro for a starting place. The most likely development is that the Spain coach will find a way of fitting in at least Fabregas or Silva, if not both, by the time the finals of next year.

In the England team? Yes

Juan Mata (Chelsea)

Has surprised everybody with the way he has taken the Premier League by storm this season. To hit the ground running quite as fast as Mata has at Chelsea and to not have been held back by a dressing room full of senior professionals who have been at Stamford Bridge for as long as he has been playing senior football has shown just how mature and ready for top-level international football he is. The part he played in last summer's European U-21 Championship win has also stood him in good stead.

In the England team? Yes

Fernando Torres (Chelsea)

Looked on the way to becoming Spain's centre-forward for many years to come when he scored the winner in the 2008 Euro final but his problems with form and fitness, David Villa's relentless march to becoming his country's all-time top scorer, and Spain's embarrassment of midfield riches – which has pushed the coach towards playing only one out-and-out striker – have seen him since demoted. It is more bad news for Torres that Del Bosque is now contemplating a Barcelona-style system without any recognised strikers, in which David Silva would operate as a 'false' No 9 as Messi does for Guardiola. Torres's powerful acceleration away from defenders still means he offers something that no one else in the squad can provide and he remains an important option, particularly in the second half of matches against tired defences.

In the England team? Yes

And that still leaves these! Substitutes:

Jesus Navas

Navas is the last thing any exhausted full-back wants to see coming on in the closing stages. He did exactly that in the World Cup final and it was his mazy run that provided the impetus for the attack that ended with Fabregas passing to Iniesta for the winner. Whippet quick, but strong and with an accurate final ball he is one of Spain's many luxury substitutes.

Santi Cazorla

Was a second-half substitute in the Euro final and would have gone to the World Cup if not for injury. Now he is back and trying to fire Malaga up the table. Another of the Spanish Merlins that float between opposing team's defences and midfielders Cazorla must tough it out with Silva, Mata, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro and Navas for a first team place and hope Del Bosque makes room for as many of his type of player as possible.

Fernando Llorente

Is another of those offering something different – if Silva and Mata cannot pick the defensive lock then this man will head in crosses like an old-style British striker. The Bilbao striker would have gone to Spurs last January if they had met the asking price and his physical qualities coupled with a skilful first touch would have made him a success.

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