Focus on Spain

Position battle: Fabregas vs. Torres

GDANSK, Poland – One would think, after watching Fernando Torres bag two goals in Spain’s 4-0 win over Ireland, that the decision as to La Roja’s starting forward is getting easier for Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque. But Cesc Fabregas’ late tally -- which he took with venom and an air of defiance, as if sending a message -- only drove home the point that the position battle (not to mention the man-management challenge) involving him and Torres looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

It’s a dilemma that in some respects Del Bosque is more than happy to have, especially in the wake of striker David Villa’s failed attempt to recover in time from a broken leg he sustained in December. But the situation also presents a delicate balance for Spain’s manager. It’s evident that he needs both players. Torres is the classic striker, with good size and mobility. The only question has been a lack of finishing touch that has plagued his game for large swaths of his time at English Premier League side Chelsea. While Spain will encounter much tougher opponents than Ireland down the road, the match was a definite confidence booster for Torres. Fabregas is more schemer than finisher, capable of setting up teammates with incisive passes around the box, but also showed against Italy his ability in front of net.

After two matches, one gets the sense that playing multiple systems – one with a true striker and another with a false nine – will allow Del Bosque the kind of tactical flexibility needed to unsettle opponents' plans.

“In Spain we have various systems and various ways to play depending on the game at the moment, and both work,” Torres said afterward. “There's a good feeling on the team so if someone doesn't play, it's no problem. All that matters is that Spain wins."

That doesn’t mean the situation is tension-free. Afterward Fabregas declined to talk to reporters, but one only had to watch his body language after he scored to see that there is a sense of frustration growing that once again he might be Spain’s odd man out. It’s a tough situation for the Barcelona attacker, who for the past several years has struggled to find a place in Spain’s starting lineup due to the ridiculous amount of talent on the squad. He started against Italy and scored Spain’s lone goal Sunday, but it wasn’t enough for him to keep his place against Ireland, and Torres went on to score two well-taken goals.

For that reason, Del Bosque will need to make sure both players remain on board. Granted, it’s something the Spain manager is well-versed in given the depth on his roster. But it’s an aspect of management that requires constant vigilance, lest a player’s frustration boils over.

That awareness was evident at the postgame news conference, as Del Bosque went to great pains to explain how important both players were to the team.

“We have put in Torres so he could do what he does best,” he said. “And we also trust Cesc Fabregas, which is why he started in the first game.”

Del Bosque later added, “We have 23 players, great players, all of them play in their clubs, in the starting lineups, they play each match. Fernando Torres is one of the alternatives. We wanted to dominate on the pitch. We have 65 percent possession of the ball. We wanted to also rely on his quickness. He knows how to find spaces, he knows how to score and he did that very well tonight. I think this was a perfect match.”

If both Torres and Fabregas remain content in their respective roles, it will become clear there isn’t one perfect system for Spain. But there might be two.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

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