Spain must drop flailing Fabregas for Koke against Italy

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The Chelsea midfielder has failed to impress at Euro 2016 and has slowed his team down. And with La Roja's campaign now under threat, it is time for a change of direction

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Cesc Fabregas is a marked man. As Spain prepare for a tough test against Italy in the last 16 of Euro 2016, coach Vicente del Bosque may decide to make a change to his team on Monday. And the Chelsea midfielder is under threat.

The 29-year-old has started all three of Spain's matches so far in France. Against Czech Republic in the opener in Toulouse, he made a key goal-line clearance in the second half, but offered little else during his 70 minutes on the pitch. "Great and hard-fought victory to start the Euros," he tweeted afterwards alongside a photo of his defensive intervention. It was his one highlight and Spain went on to win the game 1-0 after he had been replaced by Thiago.

In the second match he was better against a slow Turkey team that looked well off the pace. It was a match played at a slower speed and Fabregas set up one of the goals for Alvaro Morata as the rival defence failed to deal with his chipped pass. Again he was replaced, though - this time by Koke after 71 minutes.

And against Croatia, the midfielder picked up another asisst with a lovely through-ball for Morata again. However, his overall contribution was still some way short of what most fans had expected and in the end, Vicente del Bosque's men ended up losing the game. With La Roja needing a goal, Thiago came on for his former Barcelona team-mate with six minutes left.

That shock 2-1 defeat meant Spain dropped to second place in Group D and their route to the title is now incredibly difficult: Italy in the last 16, Germany in the quarter-finals if they win on Monday and a possible clash with either France or England in the last four.

If any side is capable of beating those teams, it is a Spain side at their very best. But ahead of their first tough test, Del Bosque must make some difficult decisions and against an impressive Italy team who will have studied their rivals in detail, La Roja would benefit from a change in the centre.

While Fabregas seems to slow Spain down in midfield alongside his two former Barca team-mates Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, Koke would offer more dynamism both in attack and defence for the defending champions. Because Fabregas, unfortunately for Spain, has proved he is not another Xavi.

"I don't feel challenged because I don't look at what is said (about me), these things don't affect me," Fabregas told Cadena COPE on Saturday. "What matters to me is to play and feel the support of my team-mates."

Looking ahead to the game on Monday, he said: "It will be very difficult because against Italy we have always had evenly matched games, but Spain have to what it takes to win." And he also spoke of future club coach Antonio Conte as he added: "I hope from next Tuesday he'll (begin his reign as) Chelsea's coach."

But Conte will be hoping Fabregas starts against Italy in Paris. The former Juventus boss will want to stifle Spain's magnificent midfield and with Fabregas in the team, he will believe there is much more chance for his team to keep Iniesta and Busquets quiet.

Koke, however, would give the Italians something more to think about. The Atletico Madrid is eager to show what he can do in this tournament and he has shown under Diego Simeone that he can mix intensity with his tremendous technique to become a complete pacakage in midfield.

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"Tiki taka has done great things for us and brought us a lot of success," he said in the build-up to this game. "We can mix touches of this 'red fury' (the natinal team's old nickname) with tiki taka, which would be great for Spain."

He is right - and he is the ideal man for the job. Fabregas, on the evidence of the past three matches, is not.

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