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Spain-Italy: David Villa and Marco Asensio fuel optimism


With every passing day, I'm more and more in favour of David Villa's recall to the Spain squad. From the photo of him hugging Andrés Iniesta to every word he's uttered, he's exuded positivity. He doesn't expect to be a starter, he's just happy to be back after three years. I really hope we raise the roof at the Bernabéu, he says, regardless of whether it's me on the scoresheet. It's clear to see that he's returned to a team, his team, with which he's enjoyed his greatest moments as a player. His team-mates look upon him with respect. Álvaro Morata has given up the number 7 shirt for him. He's Spain's record goalscorer, after all! Marco Asensio was nine when 'El Guaje' made his La Roja debut. Imagine how he must feel when he sees him.

Asensio could play as a false nine against Italy...

Asensio is the other face in the squad who's inspiring optimism. Of the crop of players coming through to take over from the golden generation that lifted two European titles and a World Cup, he's the one who most sets pulses racing right now. He starts and finishes moves, links up well, has an eye for goal, is putting Gareth Bale under real pressure, and has given La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui plenty to chew on. Yesterday, he tried the Real Madrid starlet out as a false nine. Against Italy's customary three-man defence of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, a number nine drifting deep is a good counter-measure. Spain lined up for the Euro 2012 final against Italy with Cesc Fàbregas in the role, and walloped them 4-0.

Centre-forward has been tough role in Spain team in recent years

The Spain team's relationship with its centre-forwards has been a tricky one. With its focus on possession and controlling the play, their style has tended to leave their main striker somewhat boxed in. Villa and Fernando Torres have managed there, but quite a few have struggled to make a lasting impact in the position: Fernando Llorente, Michu, Álvaro Negredo, Roberto Soldado, Diego Costa, Morata, Paco Alcácer, Iago Aspas... So, as I say, Cesc has at times played at false nine and it's a role Lopetegui looked at Asensio in yesterday. What he finally opts for remains an unknown; he has a number of options to weigh up and a while still left to think about it. But as he does, Villa and Asensio offer solutions and cause for optimism.