Spain must strap on their shooting boots and other key tactics ahead of Russia clash

Chris Bailey 30/06/2018
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A bonus game this may be for Russia but Spain are not a team to be feared based on the evidence so far.

In one sense, an appearance in the knockout rounds is mission accomplished for the World Cup hosts. In another, there should be no limits in a tournament that has already produced a series of shocks.

Check out the key tactics ahead of Sunday’s round-of-16 encounter below.

GOING LONG

Diego Costa.

Diego Costa.

Rumours are that Fernando Hierro is encouraging his side to let fly more often from the edge of the area after too much dilly-dallying in the opposition third – a common complaint against Spain.

Hierro will be loath to make too many changes, so don’t expect Marco Asensio and his jackhammer of a left foot to displace anyone in the starting XI.

There could be a slight shift in mindset, though, especially as Igor Akinfeev has a chequered history of dealing with potshots on the big occasion (see his mistake versus South Korea four years ago).

Despite typically hogging possession over their three games, a return of 16 shots on target can hardly be described as peppering the goal.

Like David De Gea’s howler against Cristiano Ronaldo proved, if you don’t ask you don’t receive.

POSSESSIVE NATURE

Denis Cheryshev.

Denis Cheryshev.

Spain controlled 78 per cent of the ball against Iran and no tactics manual will ever endorse giving up that much.

Team Melli, however, did nullify La Roja’s effectiveness in close spaces with narrow, compact banks in a 4-5-1 formation – and for the most part it worked.

Their mistake was to be so conservative in attack until Spain scored – admittedly fortuitously – as Sardar Azmoun started to impose a physical presence and Mehdi Taremi had a glorious chance in the end.

Russia also have a rough-and-ready talisman in Artem Dzyuba and while this team won’t set any land speed records, they have covered the most distance on average than any other side in the tournament so far.

That should help on the counter-attack and Denis Cheryshev on the wing is one outlet from which to spring a riposte. Russia should not make the same mistake as others – they must take the fight to Spain.

FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 15: Nacho of Spain celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Spain at Fisht Stadium on June 15, 2018 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Nacho.

Russia will be casting an extremely beady eye over the performance of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. Their reputations are far more iron-clad than their general play, with their powers of recovery on the slide and their positional radar seemingly knocked askew.

To counter this, there is talk of Hierro beefing up the midfield alongside Sergio Busquets, adding Nacho and Koke for some added ballast.

It would be a direct reply to their struggles against Iran and though Nacho does not offer the same guile as Hierro’s other options, he is still a clean distributor of the ball and should be able to take the edge off Russia’s physicality.

Busquets was at times overrun in the draw with Morocco, with Andres Iniesta and Thiago Alcantara often operating much higher up the pitch. Neutralising Russia’s greatest strength without sacrificing too much of Spain’s own would be the thinking here for Hierro.

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