Copa Sudamericana Final went to Argentina this year after a 3×2 aggregate win for Independiente over Brazilian Flamengo.
The first match was the key and despite Flamengo managed to score first, they weren’t able to cope with a very good positional play of the Argentinian team. How exactly they approached the match you can see in the analysis below.
To sum it up, Independiente used their wide players to stretch the defensive unit. The space that appeared between the defensive lines was then used by fullbacks on inverted runs through half spaces. Barco and Meza, two most creative players (plus Benitez) were looking for space in the central corridor.
Flamengo defended with two banks of four and had a difficult time to cover the width. This was also due to their two front players, Felipe Vizeu and Diego, who didn’t do a lot to help out the rest of the team.
That was it, in short, check out the longer version to get a better idea how Independiente confronted the first leg of Copa Sudamericana against Flamengo.
Beefsteak is part of the cow while football is made of mistakes… That’s how Guardiola comforted himself after Barcelona served him with four goals. How many mistakes Guardiola made himself is difficult to judge. However, it is certain he will not abandon his philosophy. Ball playing goalkeeper is fundamental part of how he wants his teams to play and that won’t change. Goalkeeper, however, eventually might.
Barcelona is in trouble in the back line and as game progressed, Pique and Alba both had to be substituted. Despite that, Guardiola kept De Bruyne in nr. 9 spot until 78th minute when he finally introduced Aguero. Too late, however. But decision to have De Bruyne instead of his best striker from the first minute was driven from the way Guardiola wanted to confront Luis Enrique. Aguero was consciously sacrificed as De Bruyne was fundamental part of Pep’s game plan.
While the ball was at the feet of Ter Stegen, City was very high up the pitch. However, they didn’t press. They made sure to keep passing lanes in central areas covered and prevent Busquets, Rakitić or Iniesta to come deep and pick the ball. This forced Barcelona players into predictable passing from goalkeeper to one of the center backs and then to full back. That was the trigger for aggressive closing down.
Above you see the moment Barcelona passes to Mascherano on the right side. Once the ball was near the byline City attacked in packs in the constrained space. De Bruyne was crucial here as he has mentality and physical ability to shift from left to right following fast tempo Barcelona is able to produce in the defensive line. Furthermore, he is able to press intensively and then track back. Characteristics Aguero lacks although he might be better finisher.
How hard it was for Barcelona to cope with this intensity from the attacking line we can read from possession. First quarter of hour teams were split equally on the ball. However, most indicative is that players who spent most time on the ball among hosts were Ter Stegen and Umtiti.
Above you see very good passing diagram from @11tegen11 and how this approach from Man City influenced Barcelona. Busquets, normally one of the most influential players and one who’s job is to connect defence and midfield was almost completely cut off. Their game suffered as well since Iniesta and Rakitić struggled to get on ball. Guardiola’s intent to seal off the midfield was quite a success. Instead of Busquets it was Digne and Mascherano who had to connect the lines and that is in big part thanks to De Bruyne’s mobility and hard work.
Despite solid performance that denied Barcelona the space and time in most dangerous zones, hosts managed to get into the lead after bizarre string of luck and Messi’s composure and determination. First Fernandinho slipped far away from goal and left the ball to Messi and few seconds later already won ball rolled right around penalty mark.
At that moment Messi was still surrounded by Otamendi and Silva, but both of them expected to go on counter as the ball was already won. Less than a second later, Messi was already celebrating his first goal.
From that moment Barcelona takes the initiative for following 15 minutes which was the time City needed to get back into the match. Although there were no significant tactical changes, the visitors upped their game and managed to finish the half creating few promising chances themselves.
When second half kicked off it was expected that City would continue to search for equalizer since Barcelona didn’t do anything significant. However, another bizarre moment came in 51st minute. Any other goalkeeper in any other team would leave defence to deal with lose ball 20 yards from his goal. However, Bravo is brought to be a ball playing goalkeeper so he went to do his job and – failed miserably. Poor pass into the feet of Suarez meant a prompt shot at goal that Bravo attempts to save and rightly gets sending off for hand ball outside the box. At that moment game was practically over.
Despite very ugly result in the end, City did well in terms of stifling Barcelona. While first goal was rather unlucky, red card is direct product of the way Guardiola wants to play and it determined the final result. Most certainly Guardiola will not change his philosophy as ball playing goalkeeper is fundamental to the build up play, but he might try to find another keeper.
Inter has shown great character to overcome Juventus in what was supposed to be the last match in charge for Frank de Boer. After poorish start to season Inter lost at home to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Europa League and in a game that Massimo Allegri described as “real test of Juventus’ title ambitions”, they had to face reigning champions in Derby d’Italia.
While Ivan Perišić was doubtful as he got minor injury during the week, de Boer had rest of his preferred squad available. Eder filled the Croatian winger spot and Dutch manager was good to go. On the other side Allegri rotated his Champions League squad as both wingers, Evra and Alves, were substituted with Liechstensteiner and Alex Sandro while Lamina was replaced with Miralem Pjanić and Higuain with Mario Mandžukić. In defence Allegri decided to shift Barzagli for Benatia so five out of 11 new players found their way into the biggest match in Italy.
While both teams went out fairly cautious, Inter seemed more determined to close down their opponents. Although they didn’t press all over the pitch they did prevent easy distribution from the back.
Above you can see how de Boer tried to minimize attacking threat from front. All easy passes are blocked off or, at least under immediate pressure. This forced Buffon to play long balls which were lost quite frequently.
Aside preventing easy transition to middle third, Inter also disrupted the rhythm of their opponents rendering them unsure of their game plan.
This, combined with good team pressing in middle third, put pressure on Juve players which resulted in a lot of misplaced passes and lost second balls. At same time, it offered opportunities on the break for Inter.
Above you can see the diagram of lost possession for both teams between 15th and 70th minute and it clearly shows how well Inter pressing worked as they managed to force Juventus into losing the ball 14 times. If you add the interceptions which are also result of good team pressing it gets even worse for current champions. Inter losses six balls but manages to get it from their opponents 14 times. Including the 78th minute interception from Candreva who finds Icardi that crosses the ball for winning header from Perišić.
All the match had nothing to do with attacking patterns but was won and loss without the ball. Inter aggressiveness is shown in fouls made as well. They went particularly hard especially on Dybala who gets tackled hard in the first minutes just as a warning he will not be allowed to move freely.
De Boer did very good to motivate and pump his players for the match and they had responded very well in a difficult moment for the team. Dutchman’s first idea was to prevent Juventus from moving the ball freely and his team followed him brilliantly. They closed down goalkeeper short distribution and then went hard as a team on closing down the midfield.
Any attacking from Inter was secondary as they relied mainly on long balls down the wings or, equally quick, direct passes to Mauro Icardi. However, they never committed huge numbers forward as their plan was to wait for Juventus and go quickly forward.
Above you can see such quick transition where ball gets to either full back who then goes for quick direct ball to winger. Juventus was good as always in transition so these balls were largely dealt with. What really killed them off was losing possession.
To conclude, both teams went on the pitch with idea not to lose the game. However, it was Inter who had more will and character on the night and they knew how to stop Juventus from building up their passing game. From there they relied on quick transition and direct attacking.
Although Juve scored first, Inter kept plugging and showed great determination to overcome difficult situation the club got in. Massimo Allegri didn’t have an answer to opposition’s pressing and usual game plan of combinations on right side with Dybala didn’t work as team struggled to get the ball there. They did muster a trademark goal when Liechstensteiner scored after a switch of attack from right to left, but those situations were too few to overcome determined Inter side which deservedly came from behind showing some great team spirit.
Opening of new main stand at Anfield Road and record attendance since 70s was a perfect stage for Liverpool clash with holding champions Leicester. Both teams had a shaky start to the season and found themselves in the wrong half of the table before the game. This fact made an already important match even bigger as both managers wanted to get on track and catch up with top teams.
Claudio Ranieri plugged the hole that opened when Nampalys Mendy got injured with Daneiel Amartey. Surprisingly, he omitted striker Islam Slimani who was signed for 30M. Luckily, Kasper Schmeichel recovered from hernia injury and was back to form a line up that won the Premiership last season. Without Kante obviously.
Although there is nothing new in way how Leicester plays this season, high tempo direct football with lots of long balls to Vardy, Klopp decided to replace injured Dejan Lovren (and Ragnar Klavan) with rather small Lucas Leiva in center of defence to cope with those high balls. Additionally, he also left out Moreno, probably to give him a rest after a tough spell he went through in recent matches. His replacement, though, was another surprise. A formidable and versatile midfielder James Milner but a player who probably can’t remember when he played left back last time. Despite a gamble with Milner, Klopp’s judgement proved to be very sound as intelligent professional Milner did his job to the highest level despite being up against Riyad Mahrez.
Above you can see How disciplined and well positioned Leicester is in defensive phase. It is their strength from last season. However, there is a dire mistake in their positioning even if they seem to be as compact as ever. Notice the ball in the feet of Lucas Leiva, he is already in the left half space and Okazaki fails to close him down to give his team mates time to shift to the left. A quick ball to Millner finds Leicester compact defence on wrong foot.
This calls for a quick, chaotic, shift from Simpson who goes to close down Milner. However, as Sturridge is keeping Morgan occupied, this gives precious window of split second for Firmino to run into the gap between Simpson and Morgan. Another key player here is Milner who can execute a perfect right footed curled pass into space for Firmino that would be extremely difficult for left footed player and Liverpool breaks the dead lock in 14th minute.
From then on, Liverpool has all the confidence and although Leicester isn’t playing poor, Liverpool is simply brilliant moving on and off the ball.
Above you can see Wijnaldum in possession and despite Leicester being set up in good defensive block, Liverpool midfielder still has time and space to safely pass the ball towards one of his open team mates. If you take a closer look at positioning of Liverpool players you can see they are set up to break the opposition by quickly passing through them while Clyne is keeping change of point of attack as an option. This is normally not enough to break such a formidable defence. However, off ball movement of home team combined with flair made it possible for Liverpool to completely dominate the first half.
It wasn’t only offensive phase where Liverpool excelled in a match against holding champions. The way they played without the ball was as much important for control of the game since they prevented any threat to their own goal.
Above you can see a chart of forward passes Leicester has made in first half. Only 47 percent of those found their target and literally none of them was into the dangerous positions. The problem Leicester has, and will have throughout the season if they don’t change something significantly, is they have no plan “B”. Direct, high tempo passing to Mahrez and Vardy can work as long as the defence manages to keep the clean sheet and opposition keeps attacking. Once Liverpool established complete control of the match Ranieri’s side had obvious trouble getting into any kind of scoring position. It took a poor touch from Lucas Leiva, a horrible sideways pass to Mignolet, to get Leicester back into the game and give them courage they could still do something.
The second half saw much more engaged Leicester that was closing down well but as time passed and they committed more men forward Liverpool was always more dangerous from counter attacks and in the end they punished the guests twice more to see out the match. While Leicester has serious problem in lack of different approach to their normal long ball, Liverpoo has shown the glimpses of a team they could and will be by the end of the season. At this phase they still remind of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle of mid 90s when they were chasing title by outscoring their opponents. As Newcastle back then, Liverpool at the moment is joy to watch when they are on the ball. However, they still lack consistency to keep their defensive game for 90 minutes but since they don’t need to chase European glory, they will surely have time to work on that as well.
It is never good to lose two in a row and it is especially bad if it happens to be first two games of the season. Arsenal and Leicester were both risking that faith before their clash at King Power stadium in Leicester. Neither of managers wanted that as hit on confidence could be determinant on current campaign in Premiership.
While Claudio Ranieri had his best players all available for the match, Arsene Wenger had to bench Mesut Oezil and Olivier Giroud as they aren’t fully fit after EURO. However, he got Laurent Koscielny back in defence and Granit Xhaka in midfield while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took place from Iwobi on right wing and Santiago Cazorla replacing injured Wilshire in attacking midfielder role. In comparison with match against Liverpool last week, Arsenal was stronger in defence and deep midfield position.
Although Kante went to Chelsea, Nampalys Mendy seems a good replacement and Leicester is strong in defence as they have always been. To counter that strong double block of four defenders Wenger occasionally employed Bellerin and Monreal to come inside instead of hugging the line.
Above you can see Monreal drifting inside which left Oxlade-Chamberlain alone on the wing. However, as Cazorla has already left his attacking midfielder slot there are no runners from deep to further disrupt the Leicester’s defensive block. The fact that Coquelin and Xhaka were strictly tasked to cover for counter attacks and not to venture forward didn’t help Arsenal cause. However, we have already established that the goal was not to lose second match in a row so that is understandable.
While Arsenal had the advantage in ball possession in first half it seems their fluid movement of front players didn0t really work against Leicester. At point seemed as Sanchez had free role as he was often drifting into Oxlade Chamberlain’s space while Cazorla also moved laterally. Instead of creating confusion in Leicester defence at times it looked more like disorganized attacking that didn’t really threaten the hosts.
Excellent chart from @11tegen11 provides an insight in Arsenal offensive play and you can clearly see Xhaka was playing sort of deep lying midfielder and a heavy involvement of both full backs. The left side is clearly more active as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and Cazorla are often drifting left to overload opposition. However, lack of runners from central area doesn’t destabilize the defence and there is very little to show for all the running.
Above you see Coquelin well closed down but real problem Arsenal has is that they are plying into hands of Leicester despite all the possession they have. Sanchez and Monreal are too narrow helping the defensive line stay compact and close enough to support each other. There is at least 15 yards of space on left flank Monreal and Sanchez should really use to stretch the defensive block and open up gaps for fast players such as Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to run in. Additionally, positioning of Cazorla is completely out of place. Even if Coquelin wasn’t closed down, he would never be able to receive the pass and all he is doing is bringing defenders closer to Bellerin who is already in tight spot.
Second half opens up much differently as Leicester gets their pressing much higher up the pitch and closes down Arsenal really well. Suddenly it is the visitors who can’t get on the ball and Leicester high tempo gets Arsenal in lot of trouble.
You can see above how high pressing by Leicester really worked. Man on the ball doesn’t really have an option but to clear the ball aimlessly. As second half progressed Leicester won lot of balls high up field to launch quick counter attacks. If direct approach for Vardy couldn’t be used the ball frequently went to right side and Mahrez who would then go either one on one or search for a crossing option.
As game was quickly going out of hands for Arsenal, Wenger replaced Cazorla with Oezil while Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted with Giroud and Coquelin went out to be replaced by Wilshire. This meant Oezil got more central role while Wilshire was more keen to make forward runs compared to Coquelin. While this might have worked in first half with Leicester sitting deeper, it didn’t really work last 15 minutes as hosts were high, closing down well and Arsenal didn’t have fast players as Oxlade-Chamberlain to exploit the space.
To conclude, Arsenal was way too cautious in the first half with two holding midfielders and while they had the ball Leicester was all happy to rely on quick breaks. Second half went all wrong for Wenger as Leicester players were always first on the ball and sprung attack after attack. In the end both temas will be satisfied with a point as that was the idea before the game.
No doubt Arsenal and Liverpool played a match of the season at the Emirates on Sunday. It remains to be seen how long this title will hold, however. Season opener is always a tricky affair as no one wants to lose, luckily, both teams went for a win and the match didn’t disappoint.
Arsene Wenger had some tough time deciding the starting line up as he was missing six players. Welbeck, Mertersacker and Gabriel were injured while Oezil, Giroud and Koscielny are still not in shape after EURO. In defence he had little to chose and new signing Rob Holding made a début paired with unproven Calum Chambers. Only real surprise was on left wing where another unproven player, Alex Iwobi, took place ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting line up. All in all, Wenger was forced to pick severely weakened central defender pairing while deliberately sidelineing Oxlade-Chamberlaine.
Similar problems in defence had Juergen Klopp who was missing new signing Joel Matip due to injury while Mammadou Sakho was out of squad for breaching the discipline during the pre-season. Last year’s starters James Milner and Daniel Sturridge were also missing. However, unlike Wenger, Klopp did his shopping during the summer and had new signings Ragnar Klavan, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane to replace injured players. By the end of the match it will prove decisive as all players that made a début for Liverpool proved crucial for victory over Arsenal.
As expected, both teams opted for high pressing game from early on. You can see above four Arsenal players locking down six Liverpool players which lead to a lot of problems for visiting team. At times Liverpool had trouble getting out of their defensive zone having to rely on long clearances more than Klopp had hoped for. This might be the reason Wenger went for Iwobi instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain as Nigerian is much harder worker thus more useful chasing down opposition defence. Whole lock down on above screenshot is down to Alberto Moreno who is way too central congesting the space and making it easier for Walcott to mark himself and Klavan. As this is not bad enough, his poor positioning clogs the midfield as Wijnaldum is directly affected by Moreno’s positioning so he is restricted to occupy more central position as well.
Wijnaldum’s role, as well as Henderson’s is to drop deeper when Liverpool is pressed high and help them establish numerical advantage to transition the ball from defensive into middle third. Whole Klopp’s idea gets destroyed by poor positioning from left back.
While high pressing triggers Wijnaldum’s and Henderson’s runs deep, deeper opposition triggers forward runs from full backs as you can see above. Liverpool has a solid base of two centre backs and two midfielders who create a box to control the transition into middle half of the pitch with numerical advantage. While width is achieved by pushing the full backs high, wingers Coutinho and Mane get into central positions to occupy the centre backs. This image also tells an important role Firmino plays for Klopp. He has relatively free role to roam left and right.
As match progressed in deeper in the first half Arsenal scored after Henderson lost the ball deep into his half to Alex Iwobi who assisted Walcott. Five minutes after the goal were best football Arsenal offered in the match with crisp passing and quick runs from central players, particularly Aaron Ramsey. However, Liverpool regained their composure and put their foot on the game rather quickly. After a masterful free kick in the injury time they were back and second half looked very promising.
Although Liverpool pressed high in first half, they did it with even more energy after the second half had begun. Only four minutes into the second half comes the moment Klopp will be especially happy about. As you can see in picture above, Liverpool positioning in attacking third is very much same as in second still shot, albeit on the left side of the pitch this time. Free roaming Firmino changes places with Coutinho and passes him a ball from left into the central area. Coquelin and Elmeny fail to close him down and Chambers is forced to leave the defensive line opening space behind. Skilful pass finds Wijnaldum who exploits that space and Liverpool is through. Subsequent cross from Wijnaldum finds his partner in midfield and Lallana who scores with great finish.
Although skills to pull the move off are down to players, the move itself is conceived and done by Klopp on training pitch. At that point Liverpool stole the ball from Arsenal and controlled the game completely. While Arsenal tried to get back with more pressing Klopp’s team employed more direct balls and threatened even further. Quarter of an hour later they were three goals clear of hosts and it looked like the match was over.
Despite the fact Arsenal managed to get two goals back, Liverpool wasn’t really in danger of letting points go. Well, it was, but not from well executed team play by Arsenal. In conclusion, Liverpool showed they play as a team more than Arsenal does at this early stage. Also, the quality of players Klopp brought in, compared to those Wenger could muster together, was too much for London team.
France won the EURO after all, and convincingly so, albeit it was U19 EURO. In a final match played against Italy on Sunday they completely outplayed Italian future stars winning four nil. Unlike main national team in recently finished EURO, France U19 demonstrated they knew what they wanted to do with and without the ball. “Under” tournaments are often a window into the future and France showed it has nothing to worry about in coming years. Players such as Jean-Kévin Augustin (PSG), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), Ludovic Blas (Guingamp), Amine Harit (Nantes), Clément Michelin (Toulouse) are all the names you should expect in next two years to amass double figure transfer fees.
As their older counterparts, Italy did surprisingly well to reach the final beating England in semi final (fun fact, three own goals were scored in this tournament and England profited from all of them). They were underdogs but Italy didn’t go on the pitch at Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim thinking about defence.
However, poorly judged pass to change the point of attack from left back Dimarco was intercepted outside French box and within five seconds ball found its way at feet of the best scorer of tournament Augustin who perfectly received it on the turn which allowed him to use his strength to get in between two center backs and proceed one on one with goalkeeper and score. A magnificent show of technique, strength and composure from PSG striker. There was little Italy could do once they were caught out of possession and out of shape.
Main idea of France was to stop build up play from Italy and they did it in quite an interesting way. While they were attacking in common 4-1-2-3 shape, they defended in 4-1-4-1 with defensive line set very high. However, with only one striker, Augustin, they didn’t press Italy. Instead, France tried to cover the space and block the passing lanes and did it perfectly.
As defensive line was very high, almost on the center line, Italy had very little space to operate. France compressed them in about 20-30 meters and covered all passing angles. This resulted in most of short passes being intercepted allowing skilful wingers Blas and Mbappe to show their one on one skills posing constant threat once Italy gave away the ball in middle third.
Above is the illustration of French defending although it is not taken in perfect t moment as France was usually a bit higher. However, even if France didn’t position themselves in perfect manner, you can see all the advanced passing lanes are closed or man marked and everything that is left for Italy are three options. A back pass to defenders, a long hopeful pass to forwards or a diagonal pass to change the flank and point of attack. When Italy chose the last option they conceded on counter attack. Hopeful pass to forwards resulted in easy swept balls by the defence… All in all exactly what France head coach Ludovic Batelli wanted.
Italy was allowed to play passes between their center backs but not to advance the ball in the middle third. Paolo Vanoli, the Italian on the bench of their U19 team wanted to create numerical advantage in the middle with quite a strange move. In possession, Italy often transformed from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 since potent Inter left back Federico Dimarco was surging forward to play as a winger while left winger, Alberto Picchi would go forward, while Fiorentina striker Simone Minelli would drop deep to create a spare man in middle of the field.
However, as you can see in above image, this didn’t really work. Even when Italy managed to enter the middle third without losing the ball they were covered and change of formation didn’t fool French defence. Intelligent positioning of defensive midfielder and France captain, Tousard prevented Minelli from being a threat and receiving the ball while concentration from right full back Michelin meant Dimarco was well tracked and Picchi was picked up by center back Onguene rendering all Italian moves futile.
Since all lines towards French goal were closed Italy relied on long passes from center backs to forwards or cross field balls from one wing to another. Neither were particularly successful and allowed time for France to shift the defence. Effectiveness of French defence is proved by fact that goalkeeper was forced to first save late in 80th minute.
While Italy had a plan to break France that clearly didn’t work. France, however, didn’t rely only on counter attacks, although Italy gave them plenty of opportunities since their passing was horrible due to French great defensive shape.
Beside counter attacks France often tried to overload one flank and then dispatch the ball to the opposite. While themselves had little trouble with similar tactic employed by Italy, their opponents struggled heavily. Main difference was that Italy didn’t play with defensive midfielder and defended in 4-4-2 shape. Lack of 5th man in midfield showed throughout the match since France was often changing sides unbalancing the Italian defence.
Before the half time France scored once more as right back Michelin entered space vacated by right winger Blasi who eventually headed the Michelin’s cross from point blank range. Apart from Italy trying to press higher in the early minutes of second period, the game didn’t change at all since teams came on the pitch after the half time.
Playing 4-3-3 in possession, France had a numerical advantage in the central area and main problem for Italy was lack of defensive work from their forwards who didn’t drop back to support their midfield when France was on the ball.
As you can see above, this meant France always had a passing options in central area. Furthermore, as they played only four in midfield when defending, marauding French full backs were able to stretch thin defence even further while, at the same time, allowing their wingers to occupy more central positions and give more work to Italian defence.
By the end of the match France scored two more goals and Italy never looked like being in the match.
To conclude, main goals of France were to obstruct Italian transition into middle third which they did with high defensive line and disciplined, packed, midfield congesting Italy in 25 to 30 meters of space. From there on they would pick up the loose balls and counter. On offence, France showed disadvantages 4-4-2 formation when defending against 4-3-3. Since Italy failed to respond and drop one striker deeper to help the midfield, France had all the options in central areas as well as wide since their full backs stretched the defence allowing quick changes of point of attack which four man didn’t manage to contain whole game. Although France is better team, feeling remains that Italy didn’t prepare well for what is coming to them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.