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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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