Spain—a team so set on their pinpoint-passing, possession-controlling style of play—appear anything but set on their starting lineup in Euro 2012. In two games, manager Vicente del Bosque has fielded two different starting lineups, with two different results.
Against Ireland, Fernando Torres replaced Fabregas in a 4-5-1. The move paid off immediate dividends, but left many wondering: "Why Fabregas—a hero three days prior?" A question repeated when Fabregas, upon entering the game late, scored his second goal of Euro 2012.
The midfielder then delivered a celebratory, yet visibly frustrated "I should start!" swing of the fist.
I agree, Cesc, you should.
The indecisive lineup shuffling remains a work in progress, but here's how to finish it: Simply start Fabregas in place of the uninspired Sergio Busquets. Busquets' level of play has rapidly declined of late. His touch is off, decision-making suspect, and the effort only surfaces in theatrical flops to the turf.
Fabregas, on the other hand, is riding tidal waves of confidence. He's a dynamic playmaker and clearly the better option to ease the goal-scoring burden off Torres' shoulders—a must with David Villa sidelined.
Spain, co-leaders of Group C with Croatia at four points each, is in no position to shift into cruise control. A safe assumption can be made that Italy will earn three points in their finale. Spain would then need a win or tie against Croatia on Monday to advance. A loss would send the defending champs on an early—and disappointing—flight home.
That being said, Del Bosque has little time to waste. So I offer this, the final draft of a Euro 2012 winning lineup.
Perfect for Spain's abundance of talent, specifically at the midfield position. A true striker is needed for spacing purposes and to apply pressure early and often.
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas
He's not called "Saint Iker" for nothing. Casillas' rare blend of athleticism and reaction speed is unparalleled. He gets the nod in goal.
Defense (4): Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique
No changes here. No need to. This is a group that is cohesive, but often look bored and can get caught off-guard in a counterattack.
The absence of mainstay Carlos Puyol (knee) has moved Ramos to the inside. He's a solid back, albeit risky at times, but the right choice for the assignment.
Midfield (5): Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso
Soccer's version of Murderer's Row.
Xavi can continue to create Picasso-like masterpieces with his superb dribbling and precise, always-on-time passes.
Iniesta, who has arguably been Spain's top performer in tourney play, is again on the left as an attacking midfielder.
Silva does the same on the other side.
Alonso quietly goes about his business of directing traffic and providing another defensive presence.
Fabregas, as mentioned earlier, returns to the starting 11 as a midfielder-forward hybrid.
Jesus Navas is an exciting young player, but better suited as a spark plug off the bench. And Busquets has to remain unselfishly ready to step in if needed.
Forward (1): Fernando Torres
Torres is the lone man up front.
Reserves Fernando Llorente, Pedro Rodriguez and Alvaro Negredo—all proven strikers at the club level—are eager, waiting for their chance.