Spain play Czech Republic and Lithuania in the upcoming week, not seemingly two of the most daunting prospects they have ever faced, but there seems to be (I can’t believe I’m actually writing this) a shortage of class up front at the moment. Now when I say that, I mean a lack of quality players in form, not simply quality players, whom they have in abundance.
This was apparent in last month’s match against Colombia, where the lack of a cutting edge showed up more than the 1-0 scoreline suggested. 17 goals in 28 games for David Villa would seem to indicate a man on form, but he has not scored since a rather easy 3-0 victory against a depleted Mallorca side on the 26th February. For the national team, he is tuck on 44 goals (the same number as Raul) and perhaps is having diffuculty on the mental side of things, trying to overcome this barrier. Fernando Torres, meanwhile, kicked out of the national team’s starting line-up towards the end of the World Cup, has done little to suggest he merits regaining his place. His barren streak extends even further than his teammate’s, with his last goal coming in a routine 3-0 win over Wolves (he actually got two in that game), then the Premier League’s bottom side. ‘The Kid’ has had a total of 99 shots in the league this season, with merely 9 finding the back of the net. In fact, in his last five matches for Chelsea, the club for whom he signed for £50m on the last day of the January transfer window, he has had one, yes, one shot on target.
The solution? Fernando Llorente. Very different in style to his two strike partners, with Villa prefering to cut in from the left and Torres playing as a complete striker, Llorente appears to be a tall, bustling traditional centre-forward. The 26-year-old struck two goals in October as Spain beat Lithuania 3-1. His aerial prowess is invaluable, but also deflects from the fact he has a considered touch and all-round awareness (the player himself has confessed to being a hot-heeled winger in his youth, before a growth spurt shifted him into the central striking position). So, if Spain want to play to feet, they can use Llorente to build up attacks, but can also feed the play wide – more options make them less obvious to anticipate.
The stats are firmly stacked against a Czech Republic victory in this game, with their only away win against Spain coming in 1988, a time when ‘Faith’ by George Michael was topping the charts. Their last win against their Iberian opponents in a 3-2 victory for Czechoslovakia in a UEFA European Championship qualifier in Prague on November 14, 1990. Spain have also won their last nine competitive fixtures since losing 1-0 to Switzerland in their opening game of last summer’s World Cup finals. However, there is one reason for the Czechs to be optimistic. Spain’s record in 13 games against Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic reads W5 D1 L7.
It might seem like an easy game on paper, but with their two best strikers out of form to say the least, Spain may just have to rely on the firepower of Fernando Llorente to get them through this game.