The intent from Cesc Fabregas was pretty clear as he slammed home Spain’s fourth goal in their 4-0 win over the Republic of Ireland last night.
The Barcelona man had been relegated to the bench for Thursday’s game having being deployed as a nominal striker in the 1-1 draw with Italy four days earlier, but soon made his point with a thumping finish to round off an equally emphatic victory over Giovanni Trapattoni’s side.
Fernando Torres, who took his place in the starting XI, had already scored twice, to the relief of a nation.
Torres went into the game unsure of his place and even more unsure of his own form and confidence – the Chelsea man may have had to wait over 1,000 minutes for a league goal last season but before last night the had been waiting two years to feel the sensation of hitting the net for his country.
For much of the week leading up to last night's game, Spain boss Vicente del Bosque kept his cards close to his chest, suggesting he was more than happy to continue the defence of the crown won four years ago in Vienna without the man who scored the winning goal in the final, Torres, or indeed any of the other forwards he has selected in his 23 man squad.
Against Italy, Spain failed to fire but it wasn’t solely down to their lack of forwards on the pitch – their movement was to lateral and any pace they wanted to inject into the game had to come from a standing start. Italy took the game to them with an unusual formation which didn’t help La Roja’s rhythm.
Of course, the introduction of Torres certainly alleviated that problem – his pace and movement gave Spain a chance to find a conclusion to their intricate midfield patterns, even if he did spurn two highly presentable chances. Fabregas hinted at his capability in the role with his equaliser, but Torres' front running was in a different league.
Fabregas has spent much of international career in purgatory, facing the same problem that he does at club level – he is hardly likely to dislodge either Xavi or Andres Iniesta from the national side. Equally the emergence of David Silva, who enjoyed a spectacular season with Manchester City, hasn’t helped him finally bed down into Spain’s side.
All that hinders the former Arsenal man is that he just so happens to play for a country with the greatest array of midfielders in the world. Bouncing around searching from the start, the 25-year-old has been squeezed forward in his pursuit of more game time for his country, moving him squarely into the berth Torres covets so much.
On the face of it at least, Fabregas moving forward seems to fit the bill. Del Bosque, continuing on the philosophy passed on by Luis Aragones places huge emphasis on his midfield, and with Torres still suffering from a lack of form, Fernando Llorente exhausted after his exertions with Bilbao and Alvaro Negredo still wet behind the ears moving Fabregas forward slighty made sense.
And, despite all the talk that surround their decision to not field a recognised striker, such is the fluidity of Spain’s system that even when David Villa was leading the line he would spend as much time drifting out wide as he would at the sharp end in attack.
Del Bosque rightly pointed out this week that as well that in Andres Iniesta and David Silva he had two attackers capable of getting forward and scoring goals – the inclusion of Fabregas would just ensure their passing style would shift up the pitch 20 yards, and will be amongst their opponents rather than in front of them.
But it wasn’t so much the system that caused a problem, it was the man who was missing that highlighted its flaws.
When Torres emerged from the bench against Italy the difference was stark. No longer was pace lacking from the game, nor was it congested.
The Chelsea man’s movement was enough to allow space in midfield for the likes of Xavi and David Silva to flourish, while his speed was enough to trouble an Italian defence persevering with a dubious offside trap.
Torres’ troubles were obvious for all to see as he struggled to find the target, but against Ireland not only did his 30th goal for his country arrive but so did his belief, after it had been missing for so long.
Of course, their opponents last night were hardly the most difficult they will face in the coming weeks but it was refreshing to see Torres lurking menacingly on the shoulder of his marker and pouncing. This time the ball hit the back of the net and the confidence that made him one of Europe's most feared strikers appeared to come flooding back.
In Fabregas’s reaction after coming on for Torres there was more than a glimmer of frustration that his possible avenue into a regular first team spot had been blocked once more by the resurgence of a man out of sorts for more than a year.
For the remainder of the tournament, Torres is surely the way forward, his attacking instincts are the perfect compliment to Spain’s passing style.
When the Spanish squad was announced Torres spoke of his sheer relief at his inclusion, and how it meant more to him than when he first broke through for his country. Now he has found his home once more, four years on from one of the highest points of his career. The only problem is that he has dislodged a very good player indeed from the comfort of his newly found abode.
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