Zidane adapting to Barcelona providing the result for Real; Barcelona v Real Madrid match analysis

In last two years El Clasico was very kind to us. With four goals on average it was a match that kept us all on the verge of our seats. However, the game played at Camp Nou on Saturday seemed to have two different teams disguised as top Spanish sides.

Yet, if we consider the circumstances, it is quite understandable why we have seen two timid teams that were more interested in outsmarting than outscoring each other.

Real Madrid came into the derby match without an away loss since December 2015 and in impressive form that saw them win five matches in row. Barcelona, on the other hand, was already behind great rival by six points. Worse than their points summary were the performances they have put together recently. Three draws in last five games and very unconvincing ones.

Therefore, Luis Enrique had to be cautious going into the match that could see him nine points behind the top team of the league. The form and difference in points meant that Zinedine Zidane could afford himself the luxury of repeating the strategy from recent derby match against Atletico Madrid.

SLIKA 1.jpg
Although Real seems in control of the situation, Barcelona has numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch

Real sat deep and reluctant to press Barcelona high unless it meant chasing down back passes. They opted to stay deep and wait their chance on counter attacks as we can see on the image above. Lucas Velazquez had an important role of tracking back and helping to deal with Neymar.

SLIKA 2.jpg
As Isco and Modrić leave their position in the line, space opens for 4v1 situation in the middle of the central area

However, initially this provided a lot of space for Barcelona. If we look the same image from hosts’ perspective, we see quite a different picture. Due to low pressing intensity Barcelona could come into the middle third with relative ease. Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s defensive work rate isn’t the best, that meant Blau Grana could get a numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch simply by rising one centre back. To deal with it, Isco and Modrić needed to step up which lead to an overload in the central area. Kovačić was left alone to deal with four Barcelona players and lot of space due to Real Madrid relatively deep defensive line.

SLIKA 3.jpg
Before Real got their act together, Barcelona was able to reach the dangerous part of the pitch relatively easy breaking the central defensive line

We see another variant of play Barcelona employed to find space in front of the defence. As opposed to the first image, two central midfielders do not engage in press on ball carrier. Therefore, Busquets has enough time and space to find Neymar as he cuts inside.

However, Real adapted quickly by rising the defensive line which eliminated the space in front of the defence and creating a lot of it behind.

This was a calculated risk by Zinedine Zidane as he eliminated dangerous space in central areas hoping his defence will be able to deal with Neymar and Suarez. While this isn’t usually the case, Zidane was proven right in this instance. Partly due to quality of his defence, but largely due to great work of midfield that sealed off the passing lanes through the middle. Even Messi, who was playing quite deep and central to help the ball circulation in middle third, couldn’t do much about it and Barcelona was left relying on rather desperate long balls into the path of two strikers.

bar lpass.jpg
Barcelona long passes comparison show the effect of Iniesta in the squad during the second half

 

Above we see long ball comparison for Barcelona during the first and the second half. It is obvious how the hosts were frustrated by good defending from Real Madrid. One lucky goal later and with Iniesta on the pitch, Barcelona looked much like the team we all know.

To an extent this was due to their decision to abandon long balls and try to play around the defence. However, Zidane reacted to goal by making his team more attacking and that meant more space for Barcelona.

As Casemiro replaced Isco, the Brazilian midfielder took over all the defensive duties allowing Luka Modrić to go more offensive which made huge holes in Real defence especially during transition from attack to defensive shape. In that period Barcelona should have probably increased the lead but they needed more confidence to finish off their chances.

As the game was nearing the end Zidane introduced Asensio and Mariano reverting to sort of 4-2-4 in hope to get an equalizer which they eventually managed to do.

To conclude, Barcelona will be far less happy with El Classico than their rivals. They were unable to deal with great defensive work of their opposition and couldn’t find their rhythm until Real opened up. They failed to capitalize on their chances and didn’t manage to shut the shop either. A pattern that repeats all over the last month and doesn’t spur confidence in the rest of the season. Real, on the other hand, didn’t really need the victory but has shown great character to get back into the match they controlled most of the time. Well, at least if we consider they came to defend and look to score on the counter. They defended formidably indeed and while they didn’t score on the counter they didn’t compromise strong position they had before the match. If anything, their confidence can only grow with the goal in the last minute of an away game against the biggest rivals.

Advertisements

Isco and Bale – the key to victory over Atletico. Atletico v Real Madrid match analysis

This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.

 

The last Madrid Derby at Vincente Calderon stadium didn’t finish only with a surprising result but also provided various tactical surprises. While it is difficult to judge if Zinedine Zidane made the tactical changes to his team due to numerous injuries, it is sure it worked.

Despite the extraordinary form Real has shown this season, they didn’t come to Vincente Calderon as favourites. “Finally, we play against Real as equals” stated Diego Simeone before the match. His confidence added pressure on Atletico which proved too much to handle in the end.

While Simeone had luxury of whole squad, Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane was riddled with injuries ahead of the game. Toni Kroos, Alvaro Morata, Casemiro and Pepe weren’t available while Sergio Ramos amd Benzema were still not available for full match.

Zidane didn’t have exactly the best players available before the big game. However, he knew he could go in the match with more patience than Simeone. He used this fact t his advantage and brought out very fluid side that was hard to mark even for great defending outfit as Atletico.

Real tried to keep secure in possession and not being exposed by too advancing full backs. Additionally, Kovačić was seldom playing in an advanced position essentially staying in line with centre backs for even more protection. Crucial for Real game plan was, however, Isco. Playing against such an organized defence Zidane recognized he needs a clever player in midfield who will unbalance the defence with off the ball movement.

slika-1
Isco drifting into pocets of space and finds a bag of it

Above you see Isco as he drifted deep into right half space to pick up the ball from defence. Due to his good off the ball movement he has time to turn, face the goal, and decide where to distribute the ball.

While Isco was free to move around as he saw fit, Real needed more to break the rival.

slika-2
Marcelo-Carvajal-Vazquez stretching Atletico defensive unit to create space in the middle for Isco and Bale’s horizontal runs into the center

Above you see how Real wanted to break Atletico, although, at this instance it was unsuccessful since Juanfran anticipated Bale’s movement. However, you can observe the general idea behind it.

Full backs form a wide line with two centre midfielders to keep Atletico forwards and middle line occupied. Vazquez holds the touchline in very advanced position to keep Luis Felipe engaged. This positioning on the pitch serves to stretch Atletico as far as possible diagonally while opening space in the central area for 4v2 situation. It was on Bale and Isco then to use individual skill and break the middle defensive line of Atletico.

 

Ideally, Cristiano Ronaldo should have been on the left side to make Juanfran less eager to close down Bale giving him more space to turn. This particular move was broken down by Altetico but visitors still had enough men behind the ball to cover.

Although Atletico has great defensive organization that many teams around the world try to emulate, flexibility from Real was slowly eroding their confidence.

It was difficult to follow what formation was Real playing when in possession since Bale and Isco were constantly moving horizontally trying to unsettle the middle line of Atletico defence. However, this movement and exchange of positions from these two players were the reason why Atletico failed to cope with Real in the end.

Once Real got the lead and was playing with more confidence and even less risk, flexible game plan proved even more successful.

Atletico was struggling to keep the visitors during the first half. While their pressing game up the pitch was largely fruitless, they made series of clever tactical fouls to stop the counter attacks from their rivals.

While first half Real was perhaps a better team, Atletico still had the plan going forward.

slika3
Fernando Torres drifts to left taking his marker Varane with him. After a back pass to Koke space opens between two center backs for third man run which is used by Nunez.

Atletico creates overload on left side where Luis Felipe, Carrasco and Fernando Torres drag Carvajal and Varane to the touchline. This creates opening between two centerbacks. Since Kovačić and Isco look the ball carrier Nunez has time and space to get into the box. Unfortunately for Real, although Nunez often cut inside, situations like this were too few and far between.

With the beginning of the second half Atletico seemed more aggressive in their high pressing and reluctant to surrender. However, a mistake from Savić effectively killed the game of. By the time Simeone made changes the game was already gone. Hosts were pushing to get one back but that meant taking more risks against an opponent who already gave them trouble great movement.

In conclusion, it was Zinedine Zidane who absolutely dominated this match up. While Cristiano Ronaldo probably played the best game of the season, the key to great victory was Zidane and his decision to field Bale on the left side alongside Isco. Those two were crucial for unbalancing probably the best defensive team in last five years.

TACTICS: An insight into the Inside Forward tactical role

It is no secret that biggest football stars aren’t just players. They earn as much shooting commercials as playing football. Cristiano Ronaldo is selling us anything from underpants and deodorants to cars. Did you ever ask yourself why is that? Popularity comes with success and various brands employ footballers to sell us their products. It is very much the same with tactics. The whole football world wants to emulate successful teams. This past decade, it was Barcelona so everyone wanted to play like them including the Spanish national side.

As teams throughout the world strived to be as successful as Catalans, we have seen the rise of popularity of 4-2-3-1 formation with wide strikers. Their success made a worldwide trend in football and today most of the teams use the same formation and even roles. It is, therefore, worth to take a look at the role that is widely employed at all levels and see what makes it so important and popular.

Inside Forwards: Arjen Robben, Thierry Henry, Nolito, Neymar, Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo

Essential attributes: Decisions, off the ball movement, acceleration, technique, finishing.

While the 20th century was dominated by prolific wingers, today it is difficult to find one in any of the top teams. In the modern game, it is the full-back’s job to bomb forward and put the crosses in from wide. Where winger used to rule, today you will often find an “inside forward”. Think of Thierry Henry in Barcelona or Robben at Bayern to get an idea.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said: “It’s funny when I see centre-forwards starting off in the middle against their markers and then going away from goal. Strikers going inside are far more dangerous…”

While inside forwards emerged within 4-2-3-1 formation, they have different roles in different teams. They are players who are either two-footed or play on opposite side of their preferred foot. This makes it hard for inside forward to cross the ball but his assignments rarely include crossing. The main job of an inside forward, or inverted winger, is to use his acceleration and technique to take on their man and drive towards the goal.

Tactically, Guardiola’s inside forward provides a challenge for the full-back that is marking him. When his team is in possession, inside forward needs to stay wide to keep the defense stretched. This makes gaps between the defensive line wider and more exploitable.

slika-1
Guardiola’s IF Nolito is holding the touchline to spread the United defence. The attacking midfielder, Silva is making a run from deep into the undefended space

Above you can see Guardiola’s Manchester City in possession. Nolito is playing an inside forward role and you can see how important it is for him to keep discipline and stay wide. His positioning means Manchester United needs to stretch their defense which is then exploited by Silva. Off the ball positioning and teamwork is essential for a player in this role. If he was a bit hastier and wanted to score, he would go inside and cancel the option of a pass to Silva.

Once on the ball, inside forward needs the technique and dribbling combined with acceleration and good decision making. All these come together since he needs the ability to go past the full back that marks him. Once away, he can shoot since his stronger foot has a wider angle on the goal, or pass to one of the teammates.

From the tactical side, good inside forward provides a challenge for any defense. His movement from wide towards the center creates confusion in the defensive line. This comes from a fact that an inside forward is first marked by a full back. But, once he moves more to the center, responsibility for marking him becomes a gray area.

If the defense isn’t well coordinated and lacks communication, inside forwards can create all sorts of problems since the full-backs need to make difficult decisions in the short time window. Do they shadow the forward’s run inside?

gif1-fb-tracks-if
A text book example of situation in which the Full Back decides to follow the Inside Forward

Above you see a situation where a full-back decides to track the inside forward. This creates space for the onrushing opposition full back who has acres of space to either cross the ball or pass it back into the central areas.

GIF 2 FB covers FB.gif
A text book example of situation when the Full Back decides to leave an Inside Forward to his team mate while covering the opposition Full Back

The second GIF demonstrates a situation where full-back decides to pass the inside forward to his center back and tracks the run of full back. However, this creates a potential overload on top of the box.

Obviously, full backs do not defend alone but as a part of the team which makes it harder for forwards. For that reason, a good inside forward must be able to make a decision quickly as to exploit any hesitation, slip of concentration or misunderstanding in defense. Only then physical attributes such as acceleration and pace come into play.

While inside forwards have different tasks and responsibilities within different teams, they all pose a same fundamental dilemma for the defense. This is the main reason why coaches love to use such player on the pitch. Come back to see the next part where we will examine another important role often used with inside forwards. The false nine.

 

The article originally appeared at Fieldoo , a service for connecting footballers, agents and football clubs.

CL: Borussia v Real Madrid, read what late changes made the difference

Highly anticipated clash between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid ended peacefully but didn’t provide football quality that was expected despite four goals scored.
Teams came on the pitch with quite different baggage. While Borussia scored 20 goals in last four matches it seemed everything is clicking in Thomas Tuchel’s side. They even won last three clashes against Spanish heavyweights on their stadium. However, BVB was missing Marc Bartra, Marco Reus and Sven Bender, all important players.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, came to Germany after two draws and severe problems were reported among the front three. If you count that two very important players like Casemiro and Marcelo are also out injured, it didn’t look good for Spaniards.

Problems with injuries and between Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale coupled with poor recent form and fact Real plays away, urged Zidane to opt for more cautious approach relying on quick counter attacks.

Borussia, on the other hand, encouraged by recent form wanted to cut Real off early.

borussia-real-madrid-weigl
Everything evolves around Weigl in Borussia. However, Ginter provided a Great performance running from deep into middle third. Too bad Real was good on defence and Borussia front line didn’t have their day

Above you can see Borussia in early stage of the match. Rarely you can see a whole team so high on the pitch, and it is even more stunning to see it against Real Madrid. What strikes is that Borussia is inside quite a small space since both full backs are sitting very narrow. While it allows for quick short passing it also gives opportunity to opposition to close down quicker and with fewer players.

Everything in Tuchel’s side evolves around Weigl who is in deep lying playmaker role and truly connects the defence and attack. However, he is heavily supported by Ginter who is surging forward almost in line with Weigl.

ginter-borussia
Although Weigl is the man that connects BVB lines, it is Ginter’s offensiveness that provides an extra player in Tuchel’s team

Above is a map of all touches on the ball that Ginter has made during the match. With 117 touches he is above all other BVB players and represents a true ball playing defender. It isn’t just touches that makes him important part of the team but his forward passing as well. His insertions deep into the middle third is also a reason why Schmeltzer is often playing a bit more centrally than a full back normally would.

However, few quick and direct passes Real managed early in the game urged Tuchel to drop defence below half way line. The match was fairly even in the opening quarter until Real scores afte quick break and Borussia gets firmly on the ball and possession.

The way teams played didn’t really change much until Real scored again. Tuchel started to move things more rapidly as Borussia was very slow in build up which allowed Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to get back in position and assist three central midfielders who did great job forcing 30 interceptions and turnovers.

As time passed Tuchel changed Schurle for quite poor Goetze, but real change came when Pulišić and Mor came on the pitch. They were more direct and their dribbling and speed meant Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to get back and effectively help the defence. Tuchel did well with his subs as they provided an equaliser since Real couldn’t cope anymore with pressure fresh players provided.

To summarize, both teams had sound plans for their offensive game. Real was fortunate to have scored and could keep on defensive looking for their attacking players to counter while Borussia was always under pressure. In the end great speed of decision and technique from Mor and Pulišić really turned it around for the hosts to make both teams happy. Real got yet another draw but Modrić, Kroos and Rodriguez proved they could cope with highly offensive opposition even without Casemiro.

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.

fra defence 1st 2nd half comparison
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.

ronaldo not tracking back.jpg
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.

france blocked.jpg
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.

ineffective press.jpg
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.

payet tracked.jpg
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.

 

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.

PORTUIGAL defending.jpg
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.

bale  coming deep.jpg
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.

bale touches.jpg
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.

portugal overload.jpg
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: 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.

poland transforming to 352.jpg
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.

por overload left.jpg
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.

port passing comparison.jpg
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.

poland out of options in attack.jpg
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.

passes and crosses 1st  and second half pol comparison.jpg
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.

por att 433 pol def 4141.jpg
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.

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.

long passes to perisic 1st
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.

croatia 1st half offensive third passing
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.

portugal, team defence.jpg
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.
croatia not using center pitch.jpg
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.

74 cro not using center space going for ceoass.jpg
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.

direct balls portugal.jpg
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!