Spain manager Vicente del Bosque opted to start yesterday's match against Italy with four defenders and six midfielders. Ostensibly, Cesc Fabregas started up front – and indeed found himself forward more often than his midfield counterparts and scored his country's goal.
It's unlikely Fabregas will start as far forward of the ball for the entire tournament given that Italy's unusual 3-5-2 formation (with a libero!) contributed to Spain's unfamiliar team selection. But rather than shoehorn a poorly-fitting player into the side in the name of orthodoxy, del Bosque announced that Spain's gameplan doesn't require the prototypical “no. 9”. Also, by not deploying Torres in his favoured role, he also tacitly admitted that he views the Chelsea man as a player only to be used in the right circumstance.
Bountiful Spanish midfield quality suggests a replacement for David Villa is a luxury rather than an immediate necessity. Were Spain only to create six shots a game, an penalty box predator would be crucial. But by employing the pass 'n' press, Spain can philosophically expect to dominate possession against every team they play; they are likely to create enough chances against harried defenders from which a midfielder like Fabregas, Iniesta or Silva can score.
This is the form and model of play which has seen Spain win their past two major tournaments. It is also the model in which Fernando Torres now struggles heftily. While serving his country well at Euro 2008, and despite the greatest collection of providers any striker could want, Fernando Torres' confidence issues meant he couldn't play the same role in South Africa and still can't now.
Torres' Chelsea form this season was fair, at best. He played better as Chelsea reverted to a counter-attacking side, but still patently can't find his strutting best.
Because Spain so dominate the ball, del Bosque now sees Torres almost exclusively as a player whose best use is in exploiting overextended defences; a player to be brought on fresh for the last twenty minutes when the game naturally produces more chances. His form has regressed to the point where he's now only a player to be used in one situation, a luxury. According to Sid Lowe of The Guardian, del Bosque said as much in his post-match press conference.
This is a story simply because of Torres' reputation; on form he deserves to be in the squad, but hardly a shoo-in for selection. Spain still have Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo to use at centre-forward. However, without a more clinical edge in front of goal, Spain's goal of a third successive major tournament victory becomes more difficult.