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Diego Costa, Rodrigo, Iago Aspas…


The big problem is who plays at number 9, but that’s not the full extent of it. Spain coach Lopetegui, in the two pre-World Cup friendlies, has used Diego Costa (90 minutes in total), Rodrigo (90 minutes) and Iago Aspas (60 minutes). The three played in both games, all having one go in the starting line-up, the other on the bench. Of the three, only Aspas nabbed a goal, his 27th of the season, including Celta and La Roja. So here’s Lopetegui’s big doubt: who is Spain’s number 9? One of the three clearly, but: just one of the three or two? One behind another? That’s how Spain finished against Tunisia, with Iago Aspas supporting the physical Diego Costa, and two wide players, Lucas Vázquez and Asensio. But that’s not the formula that’s got Spain to where it is now.

Spain's tiki-taka style

The formula that defines Spain, tiki-taka, is hard work for the number 9, hence why there have been so many doubts over the position in recent years. Tiki-taka implies domination, high pressing, monopoly of the ball from the ‘little cloud’ of touch and pass players (Silva, Thiago, Iniesta, Isco…) whose ball skills drive the opposition team to distraction, chasing shadows and killing off their desire to play. That’s been Spain’s method, but it’s one which makes life hard for the centre-forward, who is stuck in the area with nine opposition players, all ready to hoof the ball clear, alert to any risk of a decent pass getting through.

Lopetegui's decisions, decisions...

And that’s the way Spain are still playing. Lopetegui is clearly thinking about things, of course. In these two games he’s given the most direct player, Diego Costa, 90’; another 90’ to Rodrigo who’s a bit of both; and 60’ to Iago Aspas, who’s somewhat like Muhammed Ali, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Three fine players from which Lopetegui needs to pick one, or maybe two, depending on the day and the moment. The 90-90-60 equation from these two games reflects his doubts, which will only have been heightened by the fact the only goal was scored by the player who played the least… and who came out with unexpected negative comments about the impression the team had made in the two friendlies.