Now they continue to answer the burning Euro 2016 questions by solving Spain’s striker problem.
In announcing his provisional 25-man squad, Vicente del Bosque hit the headlines by choosing to leave a raft of senior players off his list.
Midfielders Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla were among those culled by the World Cup-winning coach.
However it was up front where the 65-year-old’s axe spilt the most blood:
— Selección Española (@SeFutbol) May 17, 2016
Overlooked trio Diego Costa, Fernando Torres and qualifying top-scorer Paco Alcacer must all find a suitable armchair from which to watch Euro 2016, as La Roja bid to win their third title in a row with a relatively green central striker.
Alvaro Morata and Aritz Arduriz, with 11 caps and two goals between them, have been assigned net-finding responsibilities by Del Bosque. But which one, if any, will be the starter?
La Roja have not played a warm-up friendly since announcing their party for France, thanks to the city of Madrid providing both participants in this season’s Champions League final.
Spain have, however, played three times since qualifying for the summer tournament. They defeated Roy Hodgson’s England 2-0 in November and have drawn with both Italy and Romania this year.
That Del Bosque used a different formation and changed his striker on each occasion provides a window into just how much the coach is striving for answers up top.
Alcacer was the only striker to start more than once in that time, playing on his own against Romania and starting with Costa against the Three Lions. 35-year-old Aduriz got the nod against Italy and did his chances of future selections no harm when bagging the equaliser.
Here’s how the Spaniards lined up against the Azzurri that night, with Alvaro Morata used in a wide berth:
Aduriz v Morata
Del Bosque rarely fields a 4-4-2 formation, so it appears these two are in a battle to land the number nine role in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system in France.
The pair are at opposite ends of the career spectrum, with Morata a 23-year-old rising star at Juventus and Aduriz a 17-season veteran enjoying an international renaissance.
However, a comparison of the two indicate that it’s the more senior man that has the hotter hand:
With 36 goals for Athletic Bilbao in all competitions this season and a better end to his campaign, the twilight of Aduriz’s career could be headlined by leading the line of his nation at a European Championships.
Playing the San Sebastian native through the middle doesn’t necessarily mean Morata misses out, as he can operate from the left just like he did against Italy. But is that Del Bosque’s only option?
The False Nine
Having scant forward options is not a new problem for Spain, nor has it held them back from success.
It was at the Euros just four years ago that La Roja played three games on their run to lifting the trophy with Cesc Fabregas imitating a striker.
That included using the Chelsea man as a false nine in the 4-0 win over Italy in the final. It’s a move that could well be replicated in France with Fabregas, Isco or Thiago the most likely candidates to play furthest forward.
Remind yourself of that trophy-clinching performance against the Azzurri below:
Ultimately, opposition and the stage of the tournament will determine which way Del Bosque leans.
When things are tight in the knockout stages, the former Real Madrid manager may want greater control in midfield, which is by far his sides’ strongest suit. In that instance 4-6-0 is his best bet.
However, against weaker oppositions it could be that Aduriz gets the nod.
For what it’s worth, here’s how Ladbrokes News see the side lining up in their Group D opener against the Czech Republic:
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.