EURO FINALS: Apprentice Deschamps and master Santos, France v Portugal analysis

Second extra time decided the winner of EURO 2016 when Eder struck a long shot into the bottom corner to clinch it for Portugal against hosts France after a long fought battle that was tactically won by Portugal. While France made no changes going into the final they were favourites to win, Portugal was lucky to have Pépé back who recovered from injury and replaced Bruno Alves that played semi final game. William Carvalho came back from suspension and replaced Danilo Pereira in defensive midfielder role.
Despite being labelled as favourites, France changed little compared to semi final match they won against Germany. Didier Deschamps set his team to defend their own half and showed no desire to risk defensive compactness by pressing high up the pitch. Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo who are both pacey and skilled on the ball were also in favour of this decision as high pressing means high defensive line which could leave a lot of space for Portugal front two to exploit.

Going forward, France again didn’t change their approach. They were largely relying on individual skill of Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann ability to combine and create something for themselves or their team mates. Either Giroud and Sissoko, who was often coming inside, or Evra overlapping Payet. Matuidi and Pogba were very conservative and kept back most of the time making an odd forward run.

Initially Portugal was under a lot of pressure. More due to importance of the game than French involvement. They were misplacing passes and making unforced errors while Blaise Matuidi and Sissoko were reading the game really well taking the misplaced passes. Below you can see how high France was able to intercept the ball or win the tackle in the first half, and most of those turnovers Portugal made during initial 15 minutes of the match.

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Impressed Portugal lost ball high in first half, as the game progressed you can see they didn’t make similar mistakes later on

 

Portugal were obviously impressed and lacked their defensive cohesion as well. Below you see France attacking and Payet free on the ball. Despite Cristiano Ronaldo failed to track back and Portugal defence is pulled out of shape, Payet is lacking passing options due to France being reluctant to push Matuidi or Pogba forward.

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Despite having time and space on the ball, Payet has no passing options since France is too afraid to advance with numbers

This passive approach meant that despite numerous mistakes by Portugal players, France wasn’t able to make their domination count in the opening stage. Once Portugal managed to find the rhythm to their defensive positioning everything looked even worse for France as you see on the image below.

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Once behind the ball, Portugal closes all approaches to advanced positions

As Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo dropped behind the ball there was no passing lanes left open for France since they were often with at least four or five players minding possible counter attack more than attacking themselves. This was broken only when Sissoko or Matuidi drove forward with the ball at feet. However, Portugal always had a spare man to tackle or put attackers off balance.

French plan to create something was mainly down to movement. Payet and Sissoko often moved centrally while Evra, and less so Sagna, overlapped le Griezmann went deeper. However, Portugal stood firmly and their players didn’t let opponents drag them out of position.

As France failed to score in opening minutes when Portugal looked unable to cope with pressure, a major incident happened as Cristiano Ronaldo had to leave the field due to knee injury. This was turning point in the match as, instead of crumbling without their leader, Portugal rallied themselves in spite the trouble and kept plugging.

Once Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted with Quaresma Fernando Santos made an important change. Renato Sanches went into center of midfield letting Quaresma on right wing while Nano was left up front alone. This meant Portugal changed to 4-1-4-1 while defending meaning Joao Mario on left and Quaresma on right would track back following French full backs and letting Cèdric to man mark Payet and following him into center midfield where he was taken over by extra man Portugal had in center of the pitch.

This meant France had even tougher time getting into decent position to threaten Rui Patricio. In meanwhile, Portugal got foothold on the match and was mainly oriented to quick direct passes forward. Whenever Rui Patricio got his hand on the ball he was looking for an option of quick pass to catch France out of position. While this didn’t really allow Portugal to get into threatening position, it did put a pressure on France and made them unwilling to commit more players forward.

By the time first half ended, Portugal was more convinced they might come out with a win and all possession and chances France created from individual efforts dwindled down into a stalemate.

While Portugal didn’t change anything, France came back from dressing room looking to press higher and finally score. However, their pressing was largely uncoordinated as they were still sitting deep. You can see below how lonely are Griezmann and Giroud as midfield doesn’t have time to arrive and press the man since their starting position is too deep for high pressing to be effective.

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While in second half France went pressing, their defence was too deep and midfield had to cover too much ground to make a coordinated effort with two strikers

Apart for (ineffective) high pressing, Didier Deschamps changed little in his approach to attack on the ball. In meanwhile, Portugal was tiring France forwards who were chasing the ball whenever it was in vicinity. Rarely in their grasp, though. Bellow you can see Portugal frustrating their opponents as creative Payet was tracked into half space by Cedric who effectively cancelled him out of the game.

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One way to stop France is to block their Playmakers. Cedric drifted centrally to prevent Payet from receiving the ball however, poor defending from Quaresma gave opportunity to France. However, Deschamps didn’t use it

However, Quaresma isn’t paying attention and Evra gets behind his back to pick a long pass from Matuidi. This forces Cedric to abandon Payet as he tracks Evra’s run and Portuguese defence collapses. This was only thing that worked really well for France and one has to ask himself if Deschamps should have exploited Quaresma’s defensive awareness more and focus attacks down right.

However, Deschamps did substitute Payet for Coman who proved to be most dangerous man in French line up during the rest of the game and Griezmann failed to convert his ideally served cross. Other opportunities he created were largely due to individual effort instead of systematic exploit of Quaresma’s defensive weakness.

Slowly through second half game changed and final move from Fernando Santos was to introduce Eder in place of Renato Sanches. He changed his shape once more and shifted to 4-3-3, although, without the ball it was old same 4-1-4-1. Also, this meant Quaresma went to left wing and Coman had to deal with Nani who’s work rate is much higher compared to Quaresma’s.

More importantly, once on the pitch, Eder was able to cope with strong and tall French midfielders Matuidi and Pogba. This gave Portugal a focal point, target man, up front who was able to hold the ball allowing his team mates to join the attack.

Once Portugal was able to get on the ball more consistently, French defensive weakness showed again. Just as Germany was able to pass through French lines, Portugal could do the same once they had ability to hold the ball.

As the match was getting ever deeper into the extra time France seemed like they stopped believing they could win and just hoped, while Portugal went the opposite way until Eder got on the ball in 109th minute to strike it into the bottom of Lloris’ net. Although he was close, Sissoko didn’t even come near to close him down and help his defenders. He was rather hoping Eder will miss instead of believing he could stop him.

To conclude, Portugal played as they did whole knock out phase. They covered the back with discipline, energy and a bit of luck while they tried to score on quick counter attack. It was really France who should have thought the plan to break them. However, beside individual efforts, that served them well together with luck, they showed little team effort to overcome determined Portugal. Deschamps had no real plan how to break them and even reacted poorly as he failed to exploit poor defending from Quaresma. On the other hand Fernando Santos seemed to pick all the right cards. He marked closely Payet and had Carvalho always near Griezmann. Once France got under the pressure he added to it even more introducing a strong striker who relieved his defence and in the end managed to score.

 

Better to be born without penis than luck, GERvFRA analysis

After hosts France beat Germany in second EURO semi final we are slowly coming to conlusion of what once was the toughest football tournament in the world. Prior to the game France had quite clear startng line up while Joachim Loew had to make som e hard decisions due to suspensions and injuries.

Since Mario Gomez was injured he had no striker and decided to leave on bench Goetze while Thomas Mueller took most advanced spot in 4-2-3-1 formation. Khedira was out as well and Loew opted for Emre Can instead of Weigel while Hoewedes took the place of Hummels. The biggest problem for Loew was no proper striker in the squad and Khedira’s replacement. However, with Mueller up front Loew was confident he could create chances for others or himself. Style of play was changed since Gomez is less mobile but bigger threat in the air while Can took the role of coming from deep and adding to aerial power in absence of tall striker.

As the game started France came out as if they are going to tear apart Germany but five minutes were enough for Loew’s team to take controll on the pitch. They didn’t differ from their overall approach during the tournament. Plan was to get high, compress the opposition and then to create overload either by passing and movement or to switch the point of attack. Once France didn’t bother to press high, Die Mannschaft had little trouble bringing football forward and compressing France into their own half.

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Loew tried to break deep French defence by sending his center backs forward to create numerical advantage

Above you see a prototype of modern center back as Boateng is entering his midfield line to create a spare man. Advancing full backs are always creating an option on the wing, but what Loew preferes is overload in midfield which is allowed once Boateng enters the zone unopposed. He has number of options infront and Schweinsteiger with Kroos on his sides who can support him if he gets closed down. However, that isn’t preferred option. Actual plan is for Mueller to drag away Coscielny who leaves a gap for Draxler to get in and receive the ball.

France had great trouble stipping these passes through the middle and were only lucky not to get punished. You can see below how french failed to cope with their opponents roaming through their zones of responsability. Oezil is free on the ball and has an easy pass to Mueller who is coming to receive the pass. Before the move is over Die Mannschaft has created an overload on Payet and Mueller passes quick ball to flank for Kimmich who can go one on one with Patrice Evra and look for cut back, cross or recycle the possession with Oezil again.

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Despite France allowed numerous passes between lines, Germany didn’t have a man to convert chances created

Emre Can had an important role here as, while Oezil looked to drop deeper, Can was taking his position ready for run into the box replacing Gomez as an aerial threat in case his team mates chose to cross the ball. Despite numerous passes through French defensive lines, Germany failed to get anything out of their domination in the first half. One individual mistake from experienced Schweinsteiger gave Griezmann opportunity to score and he took it happily.

Germany had to be very disappointed going into the dressing room as they controlled the match and, while they didn’t create any extraordinary chances, France wasn’t any better. Start of second half was the same as the first with France pushing early on and then getting compressed in their half again.

While without the ball, Germany was, unlike France, trying to press high and disturb French transition into the middle third. It worked reasonably well but apart occasional break, French were always ready to get back and cover. Germany didn’t change their approach as they must have been fairly confident they will score with all the possession. However, another individual mistake, this time from Kimmich who carelessly lost the ball in his own area, essentially ended the game.

French kept to their feeble defending that Germany wasn’t able to break mainly due to lack of any inspiration from Mueller or Oezil and some great defending from new Barcelona star Samuel Umtiti.
As time went on Germany was ever more desperate since nothing they did went in, and France was happy to override its own midfield and ping direct long balls to Griezmann who was kind of player Germany missed to make this trully classic match.

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French were happy to send long direct balls for in form Griezmann bypassing their midfield while Mueller disappointed not being able to get on the ball. If that was Gomez, it would be fine, but player as Mueller should have participated more  (diagram source: @11tegen11)

If you look above you can see Fraance mainly attacked down left without trying to involve Pogba or Matuidi in the center. Deschamps put all his faith in Griezmann – Giroud partnership and got it right. Germany will be heavily disappointed with Mueller who was completely lost between French center backs.

To conclude, what Germany was lacking was an inspired player that France had in Griezmann for whole tournament. Their defending was apalling at times but theere was no one there who was able to punish it. In the end, they were collectively punished by elimination. Was Loew able to do something to overturn result? Not really, Germany had sound plan and executed it reasonably, just as French did. They didn’t have any luck though, and as they say were I come from, it is better to be born without a dick than without luck.

The ugly, the bad, the Wales v Portugal semi finals

After almost a month we finally got our first EURO finalist as Portugal beat Wales in Lyon. Portugal is returning after 12 years and, paradoxically, this time they are in same position as their opponents Greece were in that distant 2004 final.
Portugal has been bashed and ridiculed for their defensive approach as much as Greece was back then when they faced free flowing Portugal. I don’t find it fair as teams don’t break any rules playing defensively. Besides, they didn’t lose any game in the tournament either.

Wales came into the match without their best midfielder, Aaron Ramsey, and Tottenham defender Ben Davies. However, they have beaten one of the best team sheets in the tournament during the previous round, Belgium, and they were confident going into the match against inefficient Portugal which was unable to win in regular time whole tournament.

It is difficult to say who was the favourite before the match, but both teams entered the pitch with a clear idea not to make something stupid and get punished. They both refrained from high pressing in order to keep it tidy in defence. Overall approach quite similar to game Portugal played against Croatia in first knock-out round. Even during on the ball phase of play both managers refrained from any tactical surprises and played exactly as they did in previous matches.

Portugal initiated their active defence as their opponents approached the middle third. Throughout the knock out phase they weren’t interested in closing down opposition high up the pitch. In a way that is to cover lack of pace in defensive line, as high press usually involves high line, but part of it is due to Fernando Santos not being willing to risk his defensive shape to prospect of winning the ball higher up the pitch. As you can see below they allow opposition to get to middle third of the pitch and then they deny the passing option. There is no single Welsh player available for a pass once Portugal defence is set. Since they don’t press high and aren’t prone to losing the ball in their half, they have the defence set up pretty much always. Hence, conceding only once in three knock out matches.

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Portugal allows opponents to come into middle third but then they close down all passing options very efficiently

Once the defence was set, only option for Wales was to either recycle the possession in defence or try their luck with direct balls to Robson Kanu or same type of risky passes for Bale who was running from deep. You can see how that worked on Welsh first half passing diagram pasted below. Portugal effectively denied them entrance in the middle third where Wales would be able to create something.

However, major part of Wales’ game plan was to find runs of their forwards and then quickly penetrate through Bale’s speed and technique into the dangerous positions. Problem is, while this worked wonders against Belgium which had the burden of the team that has to attack, thus it had to position itself higher on the pitch, it didn’t concern in the slightest the side of Fernando Santos. He was happy to take the blame for ugly football and sit patiently in defence while waiting for counter or a mistake from opposition.

In order to brake this defensive stance Bale frequently dropped deep to pick up the ball and help the midfield to carry the ball into more dangerous position. He was drifting all over the pitch, however, it was always against set Portugal defence.

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Bale was often coming deep to get the ball. By the time he came upfield, most of the options were already taken away

You can see above Gareth Bale coming from deep with the ball and looking for pass. However, there really is no passing option unless he turns back and passes it to defence. All his team mates are either covered, or will be closed down even before they receive the ball. Only solution Bale has and uses is to float a cross into the box hoping Robson Kanu or King will get to it before four defenders and a goalkeeper.

This still image illustrates quite well how Wales attacked. Bale had a free role in the team and was able to drift wherever he could find space. King, who replaced suspended Ramsey was coordinating himself based on Bale’s movement. When Bale drifted right he would go left and vice versa. Difference of King’s role to that of Ramsey was that former was occasionally dropping deep to receive the pass and look for two forwards, midfielder running from deep, or one of two wing backs.

Since Ramsey wasn’t there against Portugal, his role was divided by Chris Coleman. Forward runs from deep were left to King, while Bale had often to abandon advanced position and drop deep to pick the ball in middle third as you can see on chart below.

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You can see Bale’s touches in first hald were all over the pitch. Rarely in really dangerous position. It was even worst in the second half

While Wales was trying to organize their game to get in the middle third they were effectively denied space by Portugal. In the end they had to rely to direct balls to forwards which was also largely ineffective and posed little trouble for opposition. Allen and Leadley dropping to help defence bring the ball forward meant only easier job for their opponents to mark remaining Welsh players. Summed up, Portugal did very good job without the ball in denying any opportunities to Wales.

Going forward, Portugal showed nothing new compared to previous games. Adrien Silva, Renato Sanches and Joao Mario frequently exchanged places while Nani was drifting to right and Ronaldo deeper and left. They were largely patient in build up waiting for their offensive players to create space with movement. Occasionally they would send a direct long ball to Ronaldo from defence, but that was largely closed down by Welsh defence.

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Portugal tends to overload left flank and then goes either for cross, short pass or switch to opposite flank for yet another cross

What Portugal loves to do in offence is overload left side of the pitch. They did the same thing during every match and it never really worked. Fernando Soares’ side completely transforms its formation when they get to this zone. In the image above you can see Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo exchanged positions and left back overlapped him and left winger Joao Mario. Sanches and Silva also try to confuse the defence with their movement.

Rarely defence bites this and goes out of shape. However, it allows more space for right back Cedric who is largely left alone on the opposite side. Depending on circumstances, in this case Nani, can chose to pass short and go on with overload, cross for Ronaldo or change the point of attack by passing to Cedric on opposite wing. He is then free to pick his cross while defence tries to shift to other side. This is actually the moment Fernando Santos is looking for as Ronaldo and other runners are able to escape attention of otherwise set defences. The move didn’t work once, however, it is viable option as we have seen by now that Portugal doesn’t need really much to score. A chance or two.

First half finished in stalemate, however, it was Wales’ game plan that didn’t really work. As far as Portugal was concerned, everything went according to plan. After all, nobody expected them to score before Cristiano Ronaldo runs up for first penalty in the shoot out.

A big surprise came in 50th minute as, first, we have found out the role of Joao Mario in the line up. He is obviously there to take set pieces, and two, Portugal scored after corner and cross from Raphael. Wales didn’t have time to digest first goal when, after three minutes, another cross from left was deflected to Ronaldo and his shot was put in the net again by Nani.

From then on, Portugal continued to play the way they always did while Wales tried to invent something. They got to 4-3-3 formation with Bale all over the place but did little to unsettle Portugal defence. While Wales was proud of their team play it was sad to see Bale trying to lift whole the weight of semi finals as he was going up and down the pitch, shooting from most improbable distances… In the end it was Portugal who won the game with team play.

To conclude, both teams came on fairly cautious. However, Wales’ plan didn’t work in the end as Portugal, yet again, did great job defensively while patiently waiting for their opportunity. Wales didn’t have answers in offence, but they didn’t have luck neither.

EURO Quarter finals; FRAvICE analysis: A Deceiving victory

The last of quarter finals at EURO brought us a true underdog Iceland against France which, in the end, showed England how it is done. A comfortable win for home nation, however, might be a tad bit deceiving. Unlike England, everything French did seem to work. They had three shots in first 20 minutes and scored twice. Summed up, It was a very harsh game for brave Iceland that kept plugging when most teams would have just waited for a million of grasshoppers to have invaded the pitch and eat all the grass so the match is abandoned.
Front page of L’equipe, famous French football magazine, published a title “Can we be as stupid as English?” before the match as a reminder to their team. They were under pressure but hadtadd bit more confidencee than their rivals over The Channel. Iceland, on the other hand, came on the pitch ready for another surprise.

Didier Deschamps was aware of quick counters down wings that Iceland loves, not as much for the possibility of cross (although, they would take that) but as an opportunity for Aron Gunnarsson’s throw ins. France wasn’t pressing high and both full backs, Patrice Evra and Bakary Sagna, were particularly careful during the opening minutes not to surge forward too much.

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First rule from Deschamps to prevent an upset; don’t overcommit your fullbacks and leave flanks open

You can see above that Sagna had a tad bit more attacking role on the right in first half but generally both fullbacks, despite their attacking ability, played quite a conservative game. Their role, when France had the ball, was to widen the pitch and spread Iceland defence so offensive players Payet, Griezmann and Sissoko had more space. Only occasionally Sagna would cross from advanced positions (twice) while Evra was more concerned about passing the ball to advanced wide play maker Dmitri Payet or Blaise Matuidi.

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Second rule of Deschamps to prevent upset; keep your defence clean and tidy. Don’t press high allowing them easy counters

Apart not overcommitting fullbacks when on the ball, France was obviously defending without it. Above you see they employed fairly high line at about 10 meters behind the half line. However, they didn’t press relentlessly at all even if Icelandic defenders aren’t exactly comfortable on the ball. Pressing the ball carrier would allow them to get the ball much higher but at risk of giving Iceland opportunity to slingshot long balls for their tall strikers up front and fast transition they are good at.

Instead, Deschamps opted much more patient and controlled approach, as with his full backs when on the ball, letting Iceland find their way through his defensive lines. You can see effect of that bellow. Not having particularly creative players in midfield Iceland had tough time arriving in the middle third and even tougher getting into attacking third. They were left with long balls onto set up French defence that marked their forwards.

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The result of Deschamps’ rules; long balls towards marked forwards

Neutralizing counter attacks with conservative full backs and zonal defending without the ball to prevent confusion in defence were main aims for Deschamps ensuring Iceland is kept at bay. Going forward, however, France had to offer a lot. Basically they did what Belgium wanted to do whole tournament but were unable.

Deschamps played with two defensive midfielders, although Pogba was very keen to go forward, and Payet as a wide play maker on left. While Griezmann was allowed to move freely and Giroud often backtracked to make room for him and Sissoko cutting inside from right. These movements were often confusing for Iceland and created quite a few opportunities. Mainly due to Iceland defending.

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Arrigho Sacchi wouldn’t approve: If you play high defensive line, make sure ball carrier is not able to ping long direct balls to forwards. Or practice off side trap!

Above you can see how high is the Iceland defensive line. They are tight and compact and that is all well and good. However, Arrigho Sacchi wouldn’t approve the behaviour of Forwards Bodvarsson and Sigthorsson. If you are playing high line as Iceland, even if it is as nice and compact as theirs, you leave a lot of space behind the defence, around 40 meters in this particular case. To make this effective your strikers can not simply look at the player with the ball, especially if it is Paul Pogba who has really good and precise long pass.

These passes repeated through the first half and created a goal and a few chances. Combined with cut ins from Payet and intelligent off ball movement from Griezmann and Giroud, these was the offensive plan from Deschamp to supply his strikers. It worked so well it was unfair to Iceland who failed to adapt their pressing game to disrupt it. However, goals came so fast and in quick succession that game was virtually taken away from the opposition team. Not for Iceland, mind you.

They had to be frustrated at half time and wanted to prove it was not what they are capable of. Laagerbaek Substituted Arnasson who had a torrid game with Ingasson and more mobile Finnbogasson came in for fairly static Bodvarsson. They also changed the formation when on the ball. Captain Gunnarsson dropped between two center backs while full backs went higher and Bjarnasson together with Gudmundsson went central to form 3-5-2 which often transformed into 3-4-3 as Bjarnasson and Gudmundsson surged forward in possession.

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Iceland changed their approach in second half and transformed into 3-4-3/3-5-2 while attacking. Good choice, too bad France was merciless in front of goal

More offensive stance from the beginning of second half paid off after 10 minutes but French efficiency was really ruthless and Giroud scores yet again from another set piece. This didn’t dishearten Iceland as they continued with their approach looking for crosses and set pieces and they managed to score six minutes before the end.

France was largely content to preserve energy for semi final with Germany throughout the second half and wrapped the game looking for counter attacks. As Iceland was wide open at times they could have scored more.

To conclude, France had sound plan with direct balls for offensive players as well as quick combination play mainly down left where Dmitri Payet operated. Iceland helped them with inadequate closing down of ball carrier allowing time and space for French to pick their passes into attacking third. France got luck on their side as well since they scored two goals from their first three shots and then added another two goals from next three tries.

Strange game that didn’t give moment of breath to Iceland and might be quite deceiving for France going into the match with Germany.

EURO Italy v Germany: How Loew stopped Italy, an analysis

Highly anticipated Euro quarter final between Germany and Italy didn’t disappoint even if only one goal was scored from open play and the game itself dragged through the extra time and then penalties. In the end Simone Zaza, who made more steps running up for penalty than in actual game, together with Pelle, Bonucci and Darmian sealed the faith of Italy while Jonas Hector brought Die Mannschaft through to the semis.
It wasn’t only the name and reputation of the teams that made the game intriguing. That little bit was added up by two managers who were up against each other and were expected to make few surprises for their counterpart. In the end it was JoachimLoew who came up with tactic that mirrored his opponent to cancel Italy out of the game. Conte had little space for manouver as, already mediocre individual quality of his players, was furtherdepletedd by injuries to Candreva and De Rossi while his back upThiago Motta got suspended.

German manager stated after the game he decided immediately after Italy v Spain match how his team is going to confront Italians. Easier said than done. It was a surprise when official team sheets for Germany came out with positions marked on the pitch. It is always a risk for manager to change the shape of the team in just four days and for such an important game. However, Germany showed its versatility and individual class to adopt so well and counter the team that masterfully countered everyone else, including the defending champion Spain.

Germany had a plan to defend three different situations when Italy had the ball and they all had the same goal. Prevent the ball easily reach either of the forwards.

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First rule of playing against Conte: Don’t let them easily move the ball forward

At goal kicks Joachim Loew set up marking tasks to block passing lanes but also to immediately pressure any player Buffon would hastily pass the ball. This forced Italian goalkeeper to punt the long balls forward where Germany had numerical advantage to win any second balls.

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Second rule of playing against Conte: If they get on the ball in defence, mark the strikers tightly and cover passing lanes to middle zone

Once the ball reached Italian defensive line, and if his team wasn’t able to press immediately, they went to block passing lanes into the middle zone from front. Lot of credit has to be given to Mueller and Gomez as well as Oezil who was joining them in this. You can see above how they looked to cover the midfield letting the Italian defenders on the ball. Although Bonucci and Chiellini are exceptionally dangerous when they are allowed time and space to pick the pass this was fine as last line of German defence had time to man mark Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini who was often playing as third attacker making runs from deep. Wide players, Kimmich and Hector are in half spaces ready to support Kroos and Schweinsteiger as well as their direct match ups. This combination of man marking in last line of defence and passing lane block in the first line ensured two things.

Italy had eventually to punt the ball forward where Loew’s men had a spare man (Hummels in this case) and firmly marked opposition ready to get to any second balls, or risk making a mistake and lose position very deep in their own half.

However, whenever opportunity presented, Germany would press immediately the carrier of the ball with the aim to push him to sidelines and then gang up to take the ball and counter. This wasn’t particularly successful, however, you can see below they managed to tackle the ball carrier six times during 90 minutes of play and intercept it twice in Italy own half.

Even when on the ball Germany positioned itself on the pitch very high to congest the space for Italy forwards who need the space as they drop deep. This worked well for Loew as even when they lost the ball Germany could execute quick counter press to win the ball back high up the pitch.

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Third rule of playing against Conte: Even when you have the ball push high so if you lose it you can counter press quickly and deny space for their strikers who’d love to drop deep before spreading the play down wings

Although we didn’t see too much from Italy in the first half mainly because defensive phase of Die Mannschaft, elaborated above worked so well, Italy managed to show what happens when defence loses concentration for a moment on image below. All principles of German defence failed to kick in and in 43rd minute Italy was allowed unopposed possession in middle zone. Germany had a backup plan but even that failed.

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If all the above rules fail, set up the offside trap but take care of Giaccherini’s run from midfield

As Bonucci picked up a ball unopposed German defence pushed up to make an offside trap successfully leaving out of play Eder and Pelle. However, Kimmich fails to react in time and lags behind just enough for Giaccherini’s trade mark run from deep. Schweinsteiger has forgotten him and was moving out with defensive line to set up off side. Didn’t take long for Bonucci to spot that deep run as it is rehearsed move and hi lofted a long ball over the defence for Bologna midfielder to run on to. Despite a cut back and follow up shot by Sturaro Italy fails to punish rare mistake from German defence.

First half finished as a hard fought battle with Germany more in possession due to Italy playing a waiting game, similar to their first match against Belgium. Die Mannschaft countered this very well mimicking Italian shape and had more options in attack. However, that was cancelled out by great defensive effort from Italy.

While both teams were defending in very similar fashion, except Italy was less eager to press high up the pitch, they attacked quite differently. Above example from Italy is their typical move and their limited squad offered little diversity to what was seen before. It was either long ball from Bonucci to on rushing Giaccherini or for strikers who dropped deep to receive the ball and spread it to wings. If opportunity arose, they would quickly combine to get directly to goal. However, Loew had all those moves well studied and largely prevented.

Germany, on other hand offered much more versatility going forward. Frequent rotations of offensive players had Italian defence constantly on toes. Additionally, Germany didn’t hesitate to move both outer central defenders, Hummels and Hoewedes, up the pitch where Hoewedes would often overload right side with Schweinsteiger, Mueller and Kimmich while Kroos was dropping deeper to help out Boateng.

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Even if Germany pushed their center backs forward, they only broke Italy on penalties

Above you can see how far Hummels went to create overload, same happened on the other side where Hoewedes would go high (although, not with the ball). This high positioning of center backs drained slowly drained the energy from Italian team that had to defend and keep concentration high throughout the match. Finally, Germany scored due to overload on left and cut back for Oezil who wasn’t tracked as he was running from deep.

Italy was lucky to equalize fairly quickly from a lucky penalty but the game essentially change little from second half till the end. Germany was ever more dangerous with numbers and towards the end of 90 minutes Italy switched to 5-4-1 with Eder dropping back to cover for German CB’s going forward.

There were few key areas that shaped the game. First, Joachim Loew who decided to mimic Italian shape in order to cancel it out and, consequently, Germany defence from front. Both teams defended extraordinarily well but Germany did it so well that they defended even when they had the ball. Pushing central defenders high up the pitch allowed them to regain possession quickly with counter pressing when they lost the ball and also provided them with more players in offensive zone to control the possession tiring Italy out.

In the end, limited Italian talent stifled Antonio Conte and his ability to change anything in a way he attacked, he made most with this squad and only penalties denied Italy the chance to progress to semis beating current World Champions.

EURO: Wales – Belgium analysis: Clueless Belgium

After England and Iceland game, we have seen yet another upset in Euro quarter finals as Wales surprisingly easily dealt with heavily favoured Belgium side. Although for different reasons, both favourites got an early lead and failed to progress against “smaller” side. While England succumbed to pressure, Belgium seemed to have no coherent plan how to beat their opponents to begin with.
While Wales came into the match knowing it will be a hard battle they prepared for it, while Belgium seemed confident their quality in attack will be enough to cover for depleted defence. However, it was their attack that really disappointed and not the defence thatconcededd three goals. At times it seemed asWilmotss was playing a match of FIFA on playstation, passing the ball to Hazard and hoping he will dribble it into the net eventually.

However, the game started rather confusing for Wales. Joe Allen lost couple of balls as he passed horizontal long balls, an action that is under “Don’t do it” section in football manual. Apart from dubious passing decisions in possession there was a lot of confusion in early minutes in Wales defensive positioning.

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Wales started off a bit unsure. Theri passing and defensive positioning was dubious at times

Davies is completely distracted leaving Carrasco on side, Bale is pushing forward instead of covering Witsel and huge space behind him with Lukaku and Meunier completely free to receive the ball. In this instance Nianggolan chose to ping a long direct ball to Carrasco. However, he is so late in his decision making that, despite the hiccup in Welsh defence, right winger ends up in off side.

Opening 15 minutes were plagued by Welsh poor defensive positioning and soon after, instead closing down Nianggolan, Ramsey decides to cover the goal. That produces one of the best goals of tournament as Nianggolan hits a thunder strike into the top corner.

At that moment psychology started to influence the game heavily. Belgium seemed as they thought that Nianggolan’s individual brilliance is just a small part of what is to come while Wales actually picked themselves up defensively. On offence they were quite dangerous already.

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After conceding, Wales picked up and controlled the game till the half time

However, above you can see how much more of the ball Wales had between 12th, when Nianggolan scored, and 30th minute when Williams got an equaliser. While Bale initially started on the left side of Robinson Kanu he slowly moved to right as somebody has reminded him there is young Lukaku Junior, Denayer (making his début at EURO) and Hazard who doesn’t track back.

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Belgium had trouble tracking runners from deep and coordinating their defensive line

Just a minute before conceding Belgium allowed one of characteristic counter attacks from Wales you can see that above. Belgium lost the ball and failed to track back into defensive position. Quick play sees Ramsey in possession and, within three touches, Bale is released behind the defensive line. Hardly any of Belgium players are in good defensive position. Hazard is notoriously released from tracking back, Lukaku is completely out of position while the worst is Denyer who can hardly deny a pass to Bale with his body orientation and positioning so close to Alderweireld.

Everything that went on for Wales went over Ramsey and Bale. Bale was crucial moving in half spaces from deeper positions while Ramsey was designated as the link between midfield and attack. This link was so effective due to clever movement by Welsh players, however, a lot of credit goes to Marc Wilmots’ side.

They were defending extremely deep, probably to deny space for Bale’s runs, however that obviously didn’t work as Bale wasn’t playing on the shoulder of the defenders. He was coming from deep to pick the through balls or for solo runs.

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Even when they were in defensive shape, Belgium did a poor job on positioning leaving n umerous opposition to receive a pass

Above you can see how poor Belgium positioning is. Taylor on the ball isn’t pressed by anyone, he has his head high and calculating his options with time. He has Allen, Leadley, Bale and Gunter(on the right touchline out of view) to pick from. Intensity, or lack of, the Belgium defence was appalling. They half bothered to pick up players in their zones of responsibility, defended too deep and let all the time on the ball for Wales to pick their options during whole first half.

At half time it was evident Wales was targeting right flank where Lukaku and Denyer failed to cope with runs of their opponents. They didn’t try at all to disturb Wales’ entering the middle third and allowed easy avenues for Wales to go down right flank.

After initial 15 minutes when they scored, they failed to create anything apart crosses for Lukaku who was lost between three defenders. Only visible attempt to create space was Lukaku dropping deep to open up the space for De Bruyne who was advancing from CAM position. However, that ended in the lap of three center backs. Anything else was up to individual decisions and qualities of their offensive players.

With second half kick off Wilmots made few changes in personnel and their approach to the game. Belgium finally showed intention to close down Wales in their defensive zone in attempt to win the possession a bit higher.

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With second half Belgium started to press high. However, it was again un coordinated and always left a free man

However, this was usually poorly coordinated between Lukaku and rest of offensive trio De Bruyne, Nianggolan and Hazard. Wilmots also substituted Carrasco with Fellaini who was supposed to help Lukaku with those high balls. This brought changes in their shape as well. De Bruyne was moved wide while Fellaini came closer to goal exchanging his place with Nianggolan on CAM position. However, general idea of play didn’t change at all.

As time passed it seemed as intention was to give the ball to Hazard and hope he will do something with it other than get clogged in eight men Welsh wall. Other part of Wilmots’ plan with Fellaini’s presence was to rise the number of Crosses. From 15 in the first half Belgium got to 19 during the second. Only three of total 34 crosses connected. Sadly, there was nothing else to their game. They took away the possession from Wales but failed to do anything with it. Below is still shot of their typical attack.

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With the ball Belgium was as clueless as without it. Crowding the central area and congesting much needed space

Hazard who was playing on the left wing is bunching up with Nianggolan at CAM position while at the same time De Bruyne cuts in from right wing and Lukaku dropping deep. Even Witsel is coming to the party from his covering position. Although Welsh defensive positioning is far from perfect in this instance, they have taken half of Belgium squad out of the game.

In meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch…

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Poor defending and ineffective pressing led to second goal as Bale passes a direct long ball to unmarked Ramsey

Belgium was poor at defending in first half, but with beginning of second, when they started to press higher up the pitch, lack of defensive cohesion became apparent. As Bale makes a long direct pass for Ramsey’s run, Denayer and Fellaini fail to track while Lukaku is occupied with Gunter. Ramsey is free to run into space left behind the defensive line and another poor defensive display lets Robson Kanu to free himself from three Belgians and score.

As time went on Wilmots and his player were ever more nervous and, as they didn’t have sound plan to attack Wales, things got only worse. Changed to sort of 3-4-3 and then 3-3-4 in dying minutes meant only more confusion as players tripped on each other in front of Welsh goal and in the end another break down the right finished off the game.

To conclude, we can point few crucial moments. Above all it was Belgium that went on the field expecting an easy win after they trashed Hungary. However, Wales defended much better and Belgium ran out of luck and space for their star offence to shine. Furthermore, they were appalling in defence which was, kind of, expected, but offensive class should make up for that. If Wilmots had any idea how to attack.

Wales on other hand didn’t have the hardest job defensively as Belgium worked against itself for the most part of the match. With the ball, however, they did amazing job first half as opposition failed to cope with deep forward runs from Bale and Ramsey. Again, Belgium had their part in it as it was defending very deep and didn’t make an attempt to close higher and prevent Wales from getting to middle third. However, we have seen why in the second half. They are just too disjointed when pressing high to be effective leaving even more space for runners from deep.

If anything, as Belgium commited in attack, they left more space for Ramsey and Bale to run behind disjointed defensive lines.

EURO: Portugal – Poland analysis: Portugal better at adapting

There is quite an outrage in media and social networks after Portugal won against Poland and progressed to semi finals of EURO without winning a single game in regular time. Quite unfair, as far as I am concerned, since Portugal is playing within the rules and did nothing wrong. If anything, they have adapted very well to opposition in the knock-out phase much of credit goes to Fernando Santos who is one of those managers that aren’t afraid to change when they see they made a mistake.

Poland came into the match after late winner against Croatia, and compared to that game, were much more willing to decide the game in regular time. Soares wasn’t so impressed with Poland. He expected attacks down the wings and was fairly confident he can block those. Well, until second minute when his right back, Cedric, missed an interception and allowed an assist to Lewandowski. Nevertheless, Portugal remained positive, reacted well and continued as nothing happened.

Poland on other hand came in the match after penalty shoot out with Switzerland full of confidence they can hurt once mighty Portugal team. And they did, perhaps sooner than they had hoped. First 20 minutes they had an advantage mainly as Portugal failed to break the link from defence to midfield due to few factors.

First, there was a lot of transformation going on as Poland progressed into middle of the pitch that Portugal found hard to track. Krychowiak dropped deep and full backs pushed high, while Lewandowski was taking up position of Krychowiak they transformed into sort of unbalanced 3-5-2 in which left winger Grosicki went very high to play as wide attacker along with Milik. You can see this transformation on the still image below.

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Poland transforming to 3-5-2 when in transition to middle third

Whenever this worked, Lewandowski or Blaszczykowski were able to turn with ball and spread the attack to either wing, usually left to Grosicki and Polish transition worked very well in this regard creating lots of problems with crosses and players running from deep.

However, this didn’t last long as Fernando Santos adapted midway through the first half and moved Renato Sanchez to right to disrupt this transition with his physical presence. Portugal was mainly pushing down the left trying to tie together a number of short passes with frequent change of positions from advanced players. Once around the box they went either for crosses by left back Eliseu or combination of passes to penetrate into the box. Doing so, they often overloaded the left offensive zone as even right winger, Joao Mario, Adrien Silva or, later Renato Sanches, drifted centrally allowing space for lone Cedric who would venture forward widening the play and giving an option to switch the point of attack as seen bellow.

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Portugal overloading the left flank

Portuguese attackers are marked with red circles while midfielders are blue and full backs yellow. Image was taken in 6th minute while Joao Mario was playing on left and Adrien Silva on right. However, you can clearly see Adrien Silva also on left while Cristiano Ronaldo dropped back into Silvas’s nominal position. Frequent changes of positions to overload left is similar approach Portugal had taken against Croatia. It also has sense as Croatian right back Srna and Poland’s Piszczek are quite offensive and the latter even more so.

However, despite few crosses, and blocked shots, Portugal failed to do anything particularly dangerous in first 25 minutes. It is the second half of the first period that made Portugal more of a danger to Polish defence. Once Fernando Santos adjusted, and put Renato Sanchez on right side, Adrien Silva in center and Joao Mario left, Portugal was less predictable, more balanced in their approach to goal and more dangerous.

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More balanced attack midway through 1st half as Renato Sanches shifts to right flank

Renato Sanchez wasn’t drifting in center as Joao Mario and Adrien Silva previously did and he offered much more support to his right back Cedric. As Polish defenders didn’t have only one player to take care of in that area, passing on the right became much more precise and convincing as you can see on the diagram above. After all, Portugal manages to connect few quick passes that release Renato Sanchez on edge of the box and his long shot ends in the net.

Despite the equalizer, Poland manages to recover and the half ends in, statistically, fairly even match despite Poland creating more dangerous chances down the wings on counter attack than Portugal managed with their short passing game.

Poland upped their game at the beginning of second half, at least in sense they had more possession on the ball. This was mainly due to better positioning in their defensive zone which allowed them to take the ball into middle third of the pitch with fewer problems as Portugal pressing was largely ineffective due to better spacing. However, this brought little to their game as Portugal was largely able to negate them any significant chances, while being able to threaten nonetheless.

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Renato Sanches in RB position covering Grosicki who disappeared in seconf half

You can see above how Poland managed to break the Portuguese pressing, however, they found them self without passing options. While this transformation to 3-5-2 was working to a point in first half, you can see that in second period with Renato Sanches on right, things closed down for Poland. Even if in this shot Sanches is out of position, he is actually covering for Cedric who went up the field to close down. A move Joao Mario rarely did which was a reason that Grosicki was able to maraud high up Polish left flank.

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Although Poland started the second half with more of the possession, their preffered left wing was innefective and attacks shifted to right wing in second half

Above you can see how Polish game down the left slowly winded out during the second half shifting to right as the time went on. However, they failed to find same incisiveness they had in first period and game slowly went in favour of Portugal after 70th minute.

It is roughly the same time Portugal formation changed to more of 4-3-3 with Cristiano Ronaldo as lone striker while Renato Sanches and Nani occupied wide winger roles. With Quaresma entering the game in 80th minute, the marauding Sanches changed to middle again while Quaresma remained on right till the end of the match.

Whether it was this tactical move midway through the second half that shifted the game, fatigue or fear of losing, Poland failed to get the grips on it and failed to adapt. Adam Nawalka reacted to Portugal domination by changing his defensive shape to 4-1-4-1 as you can see bellow.

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Midway through second period Portugal changes to 4-3-3 and gains upper hand, Poland goes on back foot and 4-1-4-1

Neither of changes produced significant advantage however, Portugal seemed more comfortable with the ball and ready to take any chance. While the team was, Cristiano Ronaldo certainly wasn’t since he missed a few before the game went to penalty shoot out.

To conclude, Poland had an edge in the beginning but Fernando Santos adapted very well to neutralize right wing by moving Sanches there which disrupted Polish flow and produced a goal for Portugal at the same time. Even if Poland got possession at the beginning of second half Portugal adapted well enough again by changing to 4-3-3 and remained in control of the match till the end.

While it was pretty even encounter, credit has to be given to Portuguese manager who did right moves and looked more interested to score than Pollocks.

EURO2016: Italy – Spain 2:0, analysis: Conte makes two key moves

First big match in knock-out phase at EURO saw an extraordinary clash between Italy and Spain that, as today newspapers notice, finished an era of Spain football dominance in Europe. Both teams came in after losses in final minutes of group stage last matches, however with different attitude. As one twitter user noticed, “Italy almost considers it bad manner to push in a match that means nothing to them”. Spain, however, the reigning champions have a mentality to win every match and win it with class. No doubt loss to Ireland meant little to Italians while Spain was a bit shaken after losing first time in Euro since 2004.
While Italy has already shown they can defend in the tournament while patiently waiting for a goal by long passes to two center forwards from defensive line, Conte came up with a surprise for Spain. A surprise Furia Roja didn’t recover until about 70th minute.

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Unlike previous games, Italy  actively searched to retain the ball in own defensive third to negate possession to Spain and did so perfectly

In group stages Italy had 51 pass in defensive third, however, for match against Spain they upped the passing in front of Buffon goal by 20 per cent. More over, they had 4 misplaced passes on average in that zone during group stage. However, in the first knock out match against Spain famous for their pressing from front, they didn’t have a single misplaced pass.

This was a huge surprise for Spain and completely threw them out of their comfort zone as they are not used being unable to recover the ball, and what was even more hurting, they aren’t used not having the ball longer than it is required to take the throw in.

That was exactly what Conte was hoping for when he decided not to shy off from possession battle, a practice no manager had tried since Inesta took that number six shirt in Spain dressing room a decade ago.

This back third possession trick Conte pulled out served two goals. Firstly, Spain didn’t have the ball and couldn’t hurt Italy with their possession. Second goal of Conte’s approach came as a result of well achieved first goal. Spain was obviously shaken from unexpected situation where they couldn’t get on the ball. As a result, as time passed they became ever more nervous, de concentrated and unsure as what the match will bring while they, as champions, should win nonetheless.

To make things worse for Spain, their opponents executed perfect pressing in offensive zone. Italy wasn’t as much interested in winning the ball high up the pitch (while that would surely be a bonus), but more concerned how to disrupt the distribution into the middle third where Spain attacks get formed.

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Disruption of transition into middle third, a second key aspect of Conte’s approach and a novelty compared to group stage games

Above you can see a typical situation where Spain isn’t allowed easy transition of the ball from defence into middle third as all passing options are covered. Instead, De Gea is forced into uncharacteristical punt. Key players here are two forwards who are marking Busquets and one of the central defenders while the other is picked up by Giaccherini or Parolo, depending on which side is the ball. At the same time Italian wing backs, Florenzi and De Sciglio are positioned to get in time to cover the full backs.

How effective this pressing was are telling the statistics. While in first half Spain averaged 196 passes in middle third during the group stages, against Italy they were missing roughly a third of those passes. Another fact is striking, while their passing average in middle zone during group stage was 93 per cent, against Italy Furia Roja was red of fury as they got only 85 per cent. This might still be very high for your average team. However, combined with 30 per cent less passes made, almost 10 per cent more mistakes and almost identical possession, it had to be frustrating. Even if players on the pitch weren’t aware of the numbers they felt them in their heads, in their feet and in their conciousness.

Key points of Conte’s approach to a match against defending champions were in this two things. On the ball, retain possession in defence to minimize opposition possession and off the ball, disrupt the distribution of the ball to middle third.

Once on the ball and through the Spain pressing Italian game didn’t significantly change compared to their group matches. They still went for direct balls to one of the center forwards, usually tall and strong Pelle who could hold up the ball and pass it either to his partner Eder or to one of the wing backs who would then put the cross in. Important roles while on the ball had Giaccherini and Parolo who drifted wide to further liberate space in the middle for dropping center forwards or to overload the wide areas and make life easier for overlapping wing backs.

Little really changed deep into the second half when after 70 minutes Italy started to drop off till the point at 80th minute when Conte essentially dropped wing backs to full back position for more solidity in defence. By that time Spain was already so disrupted they couldn’t do much. If you look at @11tegen11 diagrams you can see how much different Spain approach was. More due to Italian game than their volition. There was a huge hole where once stood links between Busquets, Ramos, Iniesta and Fabregas. Essentially, the link between defence and midfield, a famous half back Busquets was outplayed from the game compared to a match against Croatia six days ago. As a result Silva, Fabregas and Iniesta have much less ball at their feet while their attacking positions are higher in the lap of Italian block.

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Spain was denyed the middle third and it shows as the link between the lines, Busquets, is completely cut off  Diagram source: 11tegen11.net

Although famous for their movement off the ball and precise short passing, Spaniards were in disbelief after game developed so different to what they are used to and Vincent Del Bosque failed to adapt. In the end once again a tactical genius of Antonio Conte prevailed and it will be interesting to see how he prepares for Germany. Since Die Manschaft plays somewhat similar to Spain, it shouldn’t look too different either. However, Germany will have a strong tall striker to battle in the middle of Azzurri defence and much more diversity in their approach to final third compared to Spain.

Germany too German for Slovakia – an analysis

Sometimes you stumble upon a game of football where usual rules of minnow having always a chance just doesn’t apply. Die Manschaft was so overpowered and early goal didn’t fool them at all. They kept plugging and took themselves so seriously that Slovakia could do very little on the day. Germany was huge favourite in this match up and prepared as such.
They went for high pressing in offensive zone and despite not being able to win any significant advantage in terms of scoring chances, they did manage to disrupt ball distribution of Slovakia team very well.

Once Germany got possession they relatively slowly went up field controlling possession and taking their passes wisely. After all they are blessed with two center backs, Boateng and Hummels who can distribute ball and once Joachim Low decided to put Gomez in CF slot, they were dangerous from all positions.

The versatility of their attack is impressive. They can go on solo runs via individual quality of Draxler, Muller, Ozil… Creativity of players such as Kroos, Ozil and Muller allows them to use vertical through balls… Off the ball skills of Muller, Ozil, Draxler serves them well to receive those balls… Potent full backs allow them to overlap and overload wide areas as well as cross for tall and strong Gomez that is still a class striker. He might lack technical ability to play wall balls, but there are Ozil, Muller and Draxler to compensate.

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Everybody participates in German play, a true team effort

They don’t just have those possibilities, they also use them. Germany is extremely versatile on the ball and they can hurt you however they want, or, wherever you are weak. If you take a look at the diagram from @11tegen11 above, you can see ball usually travels via Kroos who is playing sort of deep lying play maker, but you also notice Germany is using all players in roughly equal manner emphasising that versatility. They go left, right and centre. Lone player who seems cut off is Mario Gomez. However, his role of designated finisher is the reason. When Goetze plays false nine role that changes, but that kind of approach puts them in cul de sac position too much as they try and pass the ball in the net with so many creative players upfront. With Gomez their game looks much more clean and efficient.

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Above is an example how far two centre backs go with Hummels and Boateng deep in Slovakia half. Slovakia defence is all set up in two banks of four but off ball movement of Kroos, Draxler and Muller is quickly disrupting well positioned defence and Hummels can chose where to pass as defenders are occupied by number of opposition players that exchange positions.

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A team can defend these movements so long as it is keeping its shape. Above you see what happens once a defensive shape collapses. Slovakia Right winger Kucka failed to block the pass or mark the overlapping Hector and at this point the Slovakia defence collapses. Hector plays it quickly into space for onrushing Draxler coming from inside. In meanwhile, Horovsky has to cover for Pekarik who had to cover for Kucka. Once Draxler is one on one with Horovsky he uses his skills to go past. Collapsing defence chain reaction continues as now Skrtel has to step up and cover for Horovsky, This leaves Gomez in front of his marker Durica and as Skrtel is late to close down Draxler, German CF has little trouble to put Germany two nil in front.

It all happened some 35-40 meters away and quickly escalated to goal after only one mistake that Draxler used really well to go by his marker and pass it for easy finish.

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Above you can see how high RB Kimmich plays widening the field. This allows Muller to come deeper and inside, looking for his forward runs between the defenders breaking through the pentagon created by his team mates. Notice how whole German side shifts as Ozil goes wide in place of Muller while Draxler pushes inside to allow more space for Hector (out of picture) to receive the ball without pressure.

Slovakia could do little against their opponents on the day. Early goal and impeccable movement as well as high pressing constrained them to look how to survive. Once Germany was firmly set on result they came out much more cautious in the second half and Slovakia tried to change their fortunes. Their manager Jan Kozak decided to break German dominance in midfield. Substitution of Weiss by CM Sestak meant that Hamsik is free to go more forward. Although, Slovakia retained retaining 4-3-3 formation, Hamsik didn’t play as wide as Weiss and Kucka came more central as well. This allowed Slovakia to control the central zone better letting the Germany have wide areas.

However, Germany changed their approach in second half. Their Full backs didn’t go so aggressively forward while Boateng and Hummels occupied much deeper position. Additional security was given to Kross who was often sitting between centre backs in possession.

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Above is an example of more conservative German play with RB Kimmich and LB Hector playing much deeper while Ozil is making horizontal movement between the lines to search the space for a pass. Although Slovakia looked more lively the third goal and, again, poor marking at corner, allowed Draxler to score the third goal which made the game effectively over. Slovakia didn’t have nor quality nor will to make any significant change to the game.

Only changes that were made were those that saved Khedira and Howedes from receiving the yellow card that would make them unavailable for quarter final.

While in theory minnows can upset favourites, that needs quite a few additional factors. Poor day of opposition, luck, an extraordinary defensive performance, an inspired player… Slovakia didn’t have anything and confronted highly professional German teams that knew what to do and how to do it.

Croatia v Portugal analyisis: Croatia had better players but lesser manager

Sometimes you lose a game, because you are unlucky, and sometimes because you are inept. That is the short story of a long hard fought battle Croatia and Portugal played in last 16 match at EURO. Having 17 shots and not a single one on goal, might be unlucky in some cases. It might also mean that one of the sides basically didn’t know what it was doing. Or whatever it was trying, was trying the wrong things. As the stakes are huge in knock out stage both teams came on the pitch determined not to get caught in possession allowing easy chances. They were both disciplined in defence and applied little to no pressure on opposition defence line. Initially, in possession, Croatia was looking for long balls from defensive line to Ivan Perisic who seemed a good target for such approach with his 1,87 m against 15 centimetres lower Southampton right back Cedric.

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long passes to Perisic in the first half

However, this didn’t work well as Perisic was quickly crowded out by Portugal defence or there were not enough Croatia players to pick up the flick-ons and profit from this mismatch. Combined with these high balls to Perisic, Croatia was using every other possible occasion to channel the play down either wing as you can see in their 1st half offensive zone passing.

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Poor use of midfield and ineffecting wing play from Croatia in 1st half
However, as they were still quite cautious not to get hit on counter, full backs Srna

and Strinic didn’t go far enough to create overload in wide areas so Portugal dealt with them easily. Below you can see a good example of Portugal defence as the left winger Andre Gomes closes down Srna allowing Raphael to worry only about Brozovic Adrien Silva can position himself to pressure either Brozovic or Modric while Rakitic ‘s run is already under attention of William. Defensive line, in fact whole Portugal, is positioned as in defending schoolbook and they indeed played team defence throughout the game.

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Team defence from Portugal
Below shot shows huge space in centre midfield as Rakitic pushes forward out of the picture. Space vacated by him isn’t used as both, Modric and Badelj, were firmly anchored on centre line since Croatia is channelling their play through the wings. This way they lose natural 3 on 2 advantage in this area and, as they are too cautious to commit full backs forward, they don’t create any sort of overload in spaces they actually want to attack. Whole Croatia idea of offense was playing into hands of Portugal. Even when they managed to put some crosses in, and they were only eight (two successful), Fernando Santos cleverly replaced agile Ricardo Carvalho with slower but stronger and taller centre back Jose Fonte. Combined with Pepe, those two dealt with everything Croatia could offer in first half.
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Croatia game plan didn’t include using of midfield center zone

Portugal was all to happy to defend and was fairly successful doing so. While Croatia had to change something as they had the ball but nowhere near danger zones, Portugal had to wait and react. And indeed Croatia came out of dressing room more eager to do something. For the beginning they started employing much higher pressing. Thing we have seen in the game against Spain that gave them few chances through balls recovered higher up the pitch and that cost them the goal after poorly executed pressing on Spain defensive line.

Additionally, Srna and Strinic pushed forward while Perisic went more central, although still in left wing slot. Despite this more aggressive approach, Croatia still remained true to their long diagonal balls from Corluka or Modric for wingers to get into dangerous position. Not surprisingly, in second half they had the same number of long passes as in the first half when they tried it 26 times. This says that despite more aggressive full backs the main game plan that produced only three low quality shots didn’t really change. You can see below how Croatia is still unwilling to use most dangerous zones of pitch.

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Even in second half Croatia is stubborn to put in ineffective crosses  abandoning the middle

What changed was number of crosses that Croatia doubled in the second half. The result was again the same and lot of low quality shots were made resulting with more frustration.

However, really significant change came from Portugal. As Croatia went for more dubious quality pressing, suddenly spaces opened for Portugal. Their passing went more direct, in a way as a result of higher pressing that made for rushed clearances. However, as this pressing often wasn’t executed well, it offered better quick long passes. Noticing this, Fernando Santos made two crucial decisions. He put in 18 year old Renato Sanches and changed his shape from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 with wide wingers Nani and Qaresma. While Sanches was disrupting Croatian game with his physical presence wide wingers occupied vacated spaces of Croatian full backs that pushed up.

The second half situation is really best illustrated by comparison of Portugal offensive passes during 90 minutes of the game. You can see that in first part of the game Portugal was focused mainly down the flank where Cristiano Ronaldo was dropping deeper. Even those passes that came from right were largely aiming at him. However, the second half debunks the idea of Portugal as only one man team.

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Change of formation and approach mid through second half

If you look at above diagram you will notice two things. Most obvious shift of point of attack to the right. This is due to more attacking play of both Croatian fullbacks, but also as targeting the weakest link in Croatia, Lazio reserve Ivan Strinic. The other important change compared to 1st half is the nature of passes. Suddenly there are a lot more of direct long balls into central and wide areas. This, however is due to Croatia poor pressing and great reaction from Fernando Santos who changes shape and uses whatever Croatia was giving him.

In the end, the goal came after Strinic was caught in possession deep in the Portugal half and again the man of the match, Renato Sanches, pops up to run whole length of field before passing to Nani on the edge of the box.

To conclude, the key to the game was Croatia and it’s stubbornness to (poorly) use the wings abandoning the centre of the pitch despite the obvious talent there. As an effect of this, Portugal coach makes change in shape and uses strong Renato Sanches to disrupt that little movement of ball in the middle that Croatia made. Also, Cristiano Ronaldo finally playing disciplined game for the team. As a last words… No doubt this was adaptive Fernando Santos’ winning over stubborn one dimensional Ante Cacic.

Thanks for reading!