Early Doors

Replacing the irreplaceable

Early Doors

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David Villa


How do you replace the irreplaceable? That is the conundrum Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has been left to wrestle with after David Villa's participation at Euro 2012 was placed in serious jeopardy by a nasty broken leg suffered in the Club World Cup on Thursday.

Barcelona, though no doubt harrowed by the sickening sight of Villa's leg snapping as he landed after taking a shot in Yokohama, are not left with the same problem given the fact that Villa's status has slipped this season following the signings of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, but there is no disguising the fact that this leaves Spain in some disarray as they plot the defence of their European title next summer.

It is thought Villa will be out for five months, ensuring that if he does return before the end of the season he will have to prove his fitness very quickly. Villa may remain hopeful, but Spain would be negligent if they did not start planning immediately for contingency plans.

Villa wrote on his Facebook page: "This injury is a tough blow but I am convinced I am going to recover quickly and am thinking about playing the (Champions League) final in Munich. I know my colleagues will get me there - and to Euro 2012. I'm going to work hard to achieve it."

Early Doors is loathe to underestimate a team in Spain that is undoubtedly one of the greatest international football has seen, but if Villa is unavailable in Ukraine and Poland then their attack will be severely emasculated.

Just look at Spain's past two international tournaments. At the World Cup in 2010 Villa scored five of Spain's eight goals; at Euro 2008 he scored four of 12. Overall that amounts to 45 per cent of the goals scored by La Furia Roja as they became only the third team after West Germany and France to be European and world champions at the same time.

Indeed, across all games, Spain score at a rate of 2.33 goals per game when Villa is in the team, and 1.78 without him.

With Villa's participation at Euro 2012 now doubtful at best, Spain must consider how best to replace a man who has been synonymous with their ascent to the international heavens. It is not a task that will be fondly embraced by Del Bosque.

Given Villa is the only genuine striker in Spain's starting XI, whether he actually performs in a central position or not, the temptation will be to bring in something approaching a like-for-like replacement, even if a goalscorer of Villa's calibre, with a record of 51 in 82 internationals, is rare indeed.

Fernando Torres was once Villa's partner at international level, famously scoring the winner in the Euro 2008 final, but by the conclusion of the 2010 World Cup he was relegated to a cameo role. With barely a decent spurt of form in the past two years at club level, Torres made only three appearances during qualifying for Euro 2012, though he did score twice.

Given his current travails at Chelsea, where he has scored three times in 25 Premier League games and currently operates as back-up to a transfer target of Shanghai Shenhua, it would be something of a surprise were Del Bosque to turn to El Nino. ED rather suspects he won't.

Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente - who bears the look of a classical Greek statue come to life, albeit one hell-bent on wreaking havoc on La Liga centre-backs - has been shown a lot of love by Del Bosque, and his commanding physique would certainly provide a focal point for the Spain attack. With seven goals in 18 caps, many of which have come as a substitute, he is a strong candidate and a return of six in 13 for Bilbao this season is strong enough.

Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo scored twice in his one appearance during qualifying but, if Del Bosque is seeking a conventional striker, one likely candidate to fill in for Villa is surely a man who has been snubbed consistently by the coach over the past three-and-a-half years: Valencia's Roberto Soldado.

With 14 goals in 21 appearances this season, and 25 in 42 across 2010-11, there are no more prolific Spaniards currently operating at the top level. Del Bosque recently admitted he has been watching Soldado's progress carefully and a call-up now must be inevitable, whether he proves to be a long-term consideration or not.

Of course, all this assumes that Spain will adopt a conventional solution to a conventional problem. For a team that takes its cue from Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, that may be a dangerous assumption. Indeed, a clue to how Villa's absence could be compensated for lies at Camp Nou, where Lionel Messi has adopted the role of a false nine par excellence.

It is an approach Del Bosque has tinkered with of late, using Manchester City's David Silva in the central position. Silva adopted the Messi role in a 3-1 win over Scotland in Spain's final Euro 2012 qualifier and scored twice. Villa also played and scored in a wide role, reprising his Barcelona role along with Pedro, but shifting him out of a central position resulted in a coherent performance, albeit against a pretty poor side.

Early Doors is no Jonathan Wilson, but it seems this opens up the possibility that Del Bosque could replace Villa by bringing in Silva to perform as Spain's Messi, while asking a player such as Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla to operate out wide. The best side on the planet with no strikers? If anyone can pull it off, it is probably Spain, though as an experiment it was rather less successful in a 1-0 defeat to England, when that man Villa came closest to scoring when hitting the woodwork.

In truth, there may be no way to sufficiently replace a man whose deadly performances have been the bedrock on which Spain have constructed their international dominance.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There is just no one better in the business, just like the old days, quality banter with football expertise - a night to remember." - Britannia Construction give a ringing endorsement of the after-dinner speaking repartee of Richard Keys and Andy Gray, remember them? Oh, and the headline on the flyer that is doing the rounds? "Andy Gray and Richard Keys SMASH IT!" Yes, honestly.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I'm in perfect shape to give River my best. To play for this club and in Argentine football is to crown a dream. I left [Buenos Aires] very young and I'm really enthusiastic about this." Former France international David Trezeguet, who grew up in Argentina, is signing for River Plate on a free transfer in a surprising move.

COMING UP: The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League takes place on Friday, with Chelsea and Arsenal set to discover their fate, before Manchesters United and City 'eagerly' await the Europa League draw, which will follow soon after. We will be kicking off our coverage from 11am.

At lunch we have the third and final part of our exclusive chat with Gerard Houllier, while the evening sees the Euroscout deliver a scouting report on a certain Neymar, of Santos.

We also bring you the result of our Goal of the Week competition this morning, while Jim White and Paul Parker will be filing their latest columns. Finally, the Fantasist is dropping by for our latest Fantasy Football chat.

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