Case on why Spain should drop Xavi and Iniesta at World Cup
Vincent Del Bosque included six outright central midfielders in his Spain squad for the victorious 2010 World Cup and striking the balance in this area of the pitch will be critical if they are to defend this title in 2014.
Spain are only fourth favourites in the World Cup betting at 7/1 and not only does Del Bosque have the same six players at his disposal again to include in his final squad of 23, but there are at least four others knocking on the door.
There have been some calls for Spain to introduce some new blood into the national team and based on this season so far, an argument can be made as to why Andres Iniesta no longer deserves a starting spot, with Xavi a candidate to be dropped also.
The 10 players arguably competing for the central midfield slots are Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Borja Valero and Benat.
It is Fabregas and Koke that have laid on the most assists across Europe’s big leagues this season, with eight apiece, while Xavi and Iniesta have only one each in a team that have scored 44 La Liga goals this term.
Borja Valero has the most assists in Serie A with six for Fiorentina, to go alongside five goals, and his ability to shoot from distance would add a new dimension to a Spanish set-up that is often guilty of over-playing in the final third.
Meanwhile, Valero and Koke are the pair of this decatet to average over two key passes in their league games. Where the duo fall short though is in the realm of pass accuracy, as they average lower than the other eight.
With Spain loving to keep possession, six of the 10 players have a pass accuracy over 90 per cent, with Sergio Busquets coming out on top.
Given that Busquets is also the top tackler, prominent in terms of interceptions and a leader for clearances, he simply has to start as one half of the double pivot, protecting the back four.
Xabi Alonso probably will start alongside him and is another with solid defensive stats, but a case can certainly be made as to why he should be replaced with one of the Bayern Munich pair Javi Martinez or Thiago Alcantara.
Like Alonso, both complete over 90 per cent of their attempted passes, both win more tackles and foul the opposition less.
The problem for Martinez is that his attacking statistics are far worse and he is still to play a single key pass this season, whereas Thiago has two assists and is second only to Xavi from the list in terms of the average number of passes he gets through per game.
Thiago was often earmarked as the Xavi replacement in the Barcelona team and the time may have come to use him as a box-to-box midfield option slightly ahead of Busquets for Spain.
Fabregas could then play furthest forward, with none of other nine players trumping him for goals, assists, or shots per game.
As for the remainder, Koke could be utilised in a wider position in competition with the likes of David Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas, Martinez is more than comfortable at centre back and could be an asset against weaker opposition, while Xavi and Iniesta are no brainers as members of the final squad because of their experience.