Joachim Low, in order to tackle Antonio Conte’s almost unbeatable 3-5-2 formation, decided to change his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to 3-5-2. Germany took the lead through Mesut Ozil and Italy equalized through Leonardo Bonucci’s penalty. In the penalty shootout after the extra-time, 7 kicks failed to end up in the back of the net. Finally, it was Germany that managed to sneak through to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 just like Jonas Hector’s shot slipped under Gianluigi Buffon in the ultimate and decisive kick of the match. Here’s my tactical analysis of the game.
Germany (3-5-2): Manuel Neuer; Joshua Kimmich, Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector; Sami Khedira/Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil; Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez.
Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Alessandro Florenzi, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Mattia De Sciglio; Marco Parolo, Stefano Sturaro, Emanuele Giaccherini; Eder, Graziano Pelle.
Although Germany and Italy were playing the same formations, both the teams had different approached when it came to actually executing their plans within those formations. Italy, while attacking was direct and tried to get the ball to the higher middle third in only three or four passes. Germany, on the other hand, waited and opened space to carry out the attacks.
Germany’s defending – High press, cover shadows and man-marking deep in the half. Italy’s attacking – beating the pressing frontline, bad shape, space opening by central midfielders
Germany high pressed Italy. There were a few man-oriented players in the German midfield and back line. The man-orientation and high pressing coupled with wide movements of Italy’s central midfielders was allowing space in the middle for the Italian attack. Germany, apart from man-marking and a few high press failures, were good at defending – especially with the use of cover shadows to push Italian players to take up bad positions.
Germany was pressing Italian goalkeeper, Buffon, while defending in the attacking third. Muller and Ozil were putting pressure on the wide center backs – Chiellini and Barzagli respectively, by positioning in the half-spaces. Striker Gomez was trying to disrupt Buffon’s short central passing options to Sturaro and Bonucci. To beat this frontline pressing by Germany, Italy was changing its shape as it has done a lot of times in this tournament. The central midfielders – Parolo and Giaccherini were spreading out wide to the wings while the wingbacks –De Sciglio and Florenzi were pushing higher up the pitch.
This article was originally published on outsideoftheboot.com. To read more about Germany’s defending, the use of cover shadows, Italy’s stretching of German midfield, Germany’s change in shape and Italy’s narrow and compactly layered structure, click here.
I was busy last week publishing some tactical analysis on Outsideoftheboot.com website. For this reason, I have not been able to publish anything on my blog.
But no need to worry. I have linked all the three articles written by me for OOTB. Read, share and comment. If you have any opinions, counter arguments to what I have written in the articles, then please feel completely free to discuss with me.
Before going over to the article links, thanks for following me and reading my articles.
Portugal’s 4-4-2 diamond and defending intrigued me, especially the way Luka Modric was contained. Croatia’s lack of creativity and improper usage of players in the playing system has also been discussed.
Just when it was looking as if the game was going to end as a goalless draw, Italy’s Eder popped up and scored a late winner and helped his team to three points. The win propelled Italy to the next round. Sweden, on the other hand, now have to defeat Belgium to keep their hopes alive.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli; Alessandro Florenzi, Emmanuele Giaccherini, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Parolo, Antonio Candreva; Eder, Graziano Pelle.
Sweden: Andreas Isaksson; Martin Olsson, Andreas Granqvist, Victor Lindelof, Erik Johansson; Emil Forsberg, Kim Kallstrom, Albin Ekdal, Sebastian Larsson; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, John Guidetti.
Italy’s defending forces Sweden to attack from the wings:
Antonio Conte’s Italy defended with a 2-5-3 when the ball was in the centre with Sweden’s centre backs, Lindelof and Granqvist, during the attacking build-up. Eder and Pelle were shadowing Sweden’s central midfielders – Ekdal and Kallstrom and were preventing ball progression to them.
When the ball was being passed to the wingbacks of Sweden, Italy was changing to lopsided situational front three. One of Giaccherini or Parolo was joining the centre forwards and pressing the space around the wingback. As a result, the diagonal passing option of the wingback was being blocked and he was being forced to pass the ball back to the centre backs or go over the top.
Italy’s Giaccherini and Parolo were positioning themselves in the half-spaces during defending making it easier for them to defend the diagonal balls and to have quick access to the centre and wings if either of the regions was getting overloaded by Swedish players.
This pattern was very comparable to what Italy did against Belgium the other night.
Erik Harmen’s team was unable to break down Italy’s defensive shape through the middle and were forced to go over the opposition’s shape and thus rely on long balls.
But there were three or four situations in the match when one of the wingers, Larsson and Forsberg, of Sweden tucked in towards the centre and offered a passing option during the build-ups.
Italy’s problems during build-ups:
Italy played with a 3-5-2 ish formation during the attacking phase. The wingbacks – Candreva and Florenzi – were moving to advanced positions during the attacking phase and the formation was changing to 3-3-4. But Italy was never able to really utilise the potential of having players in the half-spaces except while in the defensive phase.
During the build-up from the back, there were two major concerns for Italy according to me.
One was, the wing orientation of one of the central midfielders – Giaccherini was moving to the left wing when the ball was on the left side of the field and Parolo to the right when the ball was on the right side. This outward movement was leaving a big gap in the near side half-space but the forwards were quite far from it so as to exploit. Since the far side winger of Sweden was tucking in, Sweden was able to maintain numbers in the middle. Additionally, Pelle and Eder were poor on the ball.
Italy could’ve gained massively if the near side central midfielder had stayed around half-space. Italy could’ve exploited the space there and could’ve achieved a numerical advantage in the central zones with the help of Eder or Pelle.
Moreover, Italy would’ve been more dynamic positionally. Against Sweden, Conte’s players had a pattern to their attacking build-up. Positional dynamism could’ve helped them in being unpredictable to some degree.
Looking at this from another angle, if Italian players had lost the ball to the Swedish central midfielders in the middle third then De Rossi would’ve been the only player to confront the attacking Swedish players. It would’ve been tough to handle such a situation because of the wide positioning of Giaccherini and Parolo.
The other problem was when Giaccherini and Parolo were remaining narrow, they were positioning higher up the pitch and behind Sweden’s midfield line. This was creating a disjointed shape as Italy were trying to attack. Apart from De Rossi or the wingers, there were no forward passing options for Chiellini, Bonucci, and Barzagli.
When Guidetti and The Zlatan started to track and mark De Rossi, the defensive trio was left with no other option but to go for a long ball and try to test the defensive line of Sweden, which was getting overloaded by Italian players.
Moreover, this was leaving Italian players in such a state of limbo that their positioning was not helping them in conducting midfield recovery press. Sweden, as a testimony to this fact, attacked a few times in the game through the wings as Italy was losing the ball in the midfield. Occupying central positions during the attacks helps in providing depth and helps to press and transition properly after losing the ball.
While Italy’s defensive movements were ball oriented and zonal, it’s wingbacks were position oriented while defending deep – marking either the winger or the wingback, whoever was deeper in the attacking half.
Sweden, on the other hand, followed zonal marking. The Swedes were moving sideways in order to deny access to the centre. Kallstrom and Ekdal mainly focussed on cover shadowing Eder and Pelle to deny them the long balls from the centre backs of Italy. Whenever an opponent had the ball in the center midfield position, Kallstrom and Ekdal were pressing them to force them to wide positions. Forsberg and Larsson had their movements oriented to the half-space since it was allowing them to attack the channels or move centrally as soon as the ball was won back.
Sweden had a tough time trying to find a gap in Italy’s tight defending from the very first line itself. They had to depend on long balls and base their scoring chances on crosses. But Italy had three tough and physically imposing defenders to deal with these. Sweden need to find a way to play through the middle either by using a three man midfield or by converting to situation midfield three – which happened very rarely in the game against Italy. Hamren has to do a lot of tweaking.
Defensively, Italy are very strong and are from no angle are defensively weak. Conte has a good defensive plan and is executing it well. The only areas of concern are their transitions during opposition’s counter attacks and the fact that they don’t counter press. The wide space occupation of the central midfielders is a real concern as it makes Italy prone to counter attacks through the middle.
Another issue is Italy’s attacks. During the attacking phase, the players should be occupying key spaces and positions so as to keep their attacks oriented on the vertical axis. Italy depended heavily on the build-up through the wings, cutbacks and crosses to create scoring chances.
Wales kicked off their Euro 2016 campaign with a win against Slovakia and went to the top of the table as England dropped two valuable points against Russia in the second game of Group B. Gareth Bale scored with a free kick early on in the match. Slovakia equalised through Ondrej Duda. But the parity achieved was ephemeral as Hal Robson-Kanu scored to put Wales in the driver’s seat once again.
Wales, featuring in a major football competition for the first time since 1958, stuck to its manager Chris Coleman’s favoured 5-4-1 formation. Gareth bale started as the striker and was supported by Aaron Ramsey and Jonathan Williams on either side. Joe Allen and David Edwards formed the central midfield pair for Wales. The backline consisted of wingbacks Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter with Ashely Williams, Ben Davies and James Chester in the middle. Danny Ward started in the goal in the absence of Wayne Hennessey.
For Slovakia, manager Jan Kozak preferred a 4-3-3 formation with Matus Kozakic between the sticks. Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica and Dusan Svento formed the defensive four. At the base of the midfield triangle was Patrik Hrosovsky who was supported by Marek Hamsik and Juraj Kucka. Robert Mak and Vladimir Weiss were the wingers and Michal Duris was the striker.
The 5-4-1 of Wales
Coleman sought to bring the best out of his team using the 5-4-1 formation. With Bale up front, the main aim was to feed him with good deliveries – a mixture of both passes through the middle and crosses from the wings.
The 5-4-1 provided Wales with a lot of advantages during the game mainly because of the occupation of the half-spaces by Williams and Ramsey. The importance of this positioning of the two Welshmen needs to be explored in detail and you can find more below.
Half-space orientation of Ramsey and Williams and Wales attack.
The midfield line of Wales in the 5-4-1 formation was not flat and spread out. Instead, it was boat shaped because of the positioning of Williams and Ramsey in the half-spaces.
This positioning helped both the players while attacking since they were able to pass the ball out to all the parts of the field from their respective positions – out to the wings for the wingbacks to cross, in towards the centre for Bale or other advancing Wales players to have a go at the goal or create a goal scoring chance.
Not just Ramsey and Williams but right centre back, Chester and left centre back, Davies were also in the half-space. Although they were deep inside Wales half, their positioning helped in circulating the ball well during the build-ups.
For different scenarios, the positioning in the half-space provided different passes – a back pass to Williams when pressed by Slovakia, a square pass to Chester to shift the play from left to right, a diagonal long ball to Gunter to exploit the space on the far side, short pass build-ups with Allen and Taylor and vertical passes through the half-space to Williams to mount a direct attack on Slovakian defence. There were a few vertical passes played by the CBs through the half-space during build-ups in order to evade the pressing of Slovakian players and bypass them.
Wales players exploited the space on their far side by making diagonal passes to their wingbacks. The wingbacks of Wales were occupying positions high up in Slovakian half. Since Wales were drawing nearly all of the Slovakian players to the side of action, Gunter and Taylor were usually finding acres of space in front of them.
The main reasons why Wales were able to create overloads on one side were – one, Slovakia was narrow while defending. Two, Wales had a player in half-space who was drawing a couple of extra Slovakian players while in possession of the ball.
Again, Gunter free.
The wingbacks of Wales were reverting back to their original positions and changing to back five when Slovakia was in possession. The wingbacks of Wales were moving out of their zones to press Slovakian players. But they never followed the opposition wingers Mak and Weiss inwards towards the centre since they were wary of the Slovakian wingbacks who were in favourable positions to overlap and double up on the Wales wingbacks.
Wales players were pressing high during Slovakian build-ups but were happy in settling back in their 5-4-1 shape to deal with the threat when Slovakia was approaching closer towards final third. Wales were happy to lure Slovakia into traps and press. In the early stages of the game, Slovakia found it hard to maintain possession in the middle mainly because of the involvement of Welsh midfielders in blocking the passing lanes. The midfield line of Wales was narrow in comparison to the defensive line mainly to deny their opponents the access to the central regions.
The positioning of Ramsey and Williams helped Wales in pressing high up the pitch and at the same time not opening up any space in the midfield. Many teams press the entire defensive line of the opponents and use their wingers to provide width resulting in the creation of gaps in the central zones for the opposition players to pass into. But Wales used Williams and Ramsey in the half-space and along with Bale put pressure on the central areas and cut the link between Slovakian defenders and their central midfielders. Slovakia was forced to go around Wales’ midfield in order to mount their attacks.
Since from the half-space, both the wings and centre are equidistant, it is easy for the players who are pressing to move to either the wings or the centre. Also, it becomes quite easy for the whole chain of players to move from one side to another. The four-man midfield chain of Wales was benefited from this.
Here’s a video:
Slovakia rarely pressed high and from the beginning, they were happy in moving back to the original positions to regain their shape and wait for Wales to move into the middle third. Their shape while defending was 4-5-1. The wingers Mak and Weiss followed the wingbacks of Wales till the final third and were passing on the marking duties to the wingbacks. The Slovakian wingbacks never rushed out stop Gunter or Taylor in the middle third. Slovakia generally maintained a narrow shape in the final third.
The way Wales defended gave Slovakia very little to gain from during their build-ups. Skrtel and Durica had their passing lanes through the centre blocked by Wales forwards. So, for the first thirty odd minutes, when Slovakian attacks were being thwarted in the middle, Wales controlled the game.
However, as Hamsik, Kucka and Hrosovsky started to move more towards the outside, the centre backs started to find some options to pass to. This was supported by the Mak and Weiss, who started to move towards the centre. With this, Slovakia was temporarily forming a crude rhombus but failed to utilise it properly.
Wales had a plan and executed it very well. They showed how well a 5-4-1 with half-space oriented players in the midfield line instead of wingers can be used to frustrate opposition teams from having easy build-ups and equally well while attacking. The way Slovakia struggled to adjust themselves for Wales’ shape took time and is a testimonial to how tactically prepared Wales team was.