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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Change of formation and approach mid through second half

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Brexit and what happens to football

No doubt Brexit will influence the English football but it will also shake whole football world. Not only Europe, but world. Top players will move for top money and that will be an occasion for rich investors in Arabia to further their influence in Europe or we could even see a super league rising over in China.

It might be strange or unthinkable at the moment but football has been a multi-billion industry and if all restrictions associated with Brexit roll over to football the money will look to move to more pleasant surroundings.

For two decades Premier League was patiently building its image of European and world’s top football league. After erratic 80’s the politics made the circumstances in which football is again as marketable as vacations in Maldives. Football became a prime product attracting every investor from Russian oligarch, over Arab oil moguls and everyone in between. With all that money came the best players, stadiums, derbies…

More than third of players in Premiership wouldn’t get work permit

It all becomes less attractive suddenly. More than a third of Premier League players will become foreigners and will not be allowed to get the work permit any more. In fact, last year, a BBC study found that “more than 300 European players in the Premier League, Championship and Scottish Premiership would not qualify for work permits under the rules governing non-EU players. Last season, only 23 of the EU nationals in the Premier League would have met those criteria, with the likes of Dimitri Payet and Anthony Martial unable to secure work permits”, says the study. It also reveals that “only 23 of the 180 non-British EU players currently playing in the Championship would get work permits… Remarkably, none of the 53 non-British EU players in the Scottish Premiership would qualify for a permit on the basis of their international career alone”.

source: BBC Sport

While some of the top players will remain, most of them will have to find another place to play their football. This will produce a chain event as TV stations will be reluctant to pay 5.2 billion pounds (as the current deal stands) to show less than top world players. With less money, the game will be less attractive even for those top players to remain and English game might soon drop into vicious spiral. If that is actually good or bad for English football, that is completely different story we won’t be tackling today.

If Premiership can’t get the stars it won’t get the money

“Revenue is clearly tied to the quality of players that the Premier League is able to present to viewers on TV and in the stadium, that is why big broadcasters are paying billions. If those EU players weren’t present, the value of the broadcast rights would be significantly diminished”, said Dr Babatunde Buraimo from University of Liverpool Management School to The Telegraph. That is precisely why all the Premiership clubs openly sided to remain in the Union while Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chairman, argued that “it would be “incongruous” for him to back the UK leaving”, reports The Independent.
However, rules for non-EU players that are currently valid, might be changed.


UK could relax them to attract the new stars into English game as they aren’t your typical immigrant and earning a lot gets back in form of taxes. “However, it may be difficult for such an agreement to be put into place because footballers are considered workers in law and it may be the case that they cannot be treated as a special category”, said Dr Gregory Ioannidis, a senior law lecturer from Sheffield Hallam University when speaking to BBC.
As everything with Brexit, even the influence it will have on football in the UK is unclear and won’t be resolved in any short future. There will be time to adapt, the problem is, if it takes too much time, all the money that currently circulates in English football might seek safer surrounding.

European football is dependent on Premiership money

The pressure is not only on English football. A lot of money is getting over to the continent. Huge transfer fees Premiership clubs were paying for international stars were a significant income for leagues in Germany, Spain, France… everywhere.
“Last summer the English top division spent close to $226 million (220 million Euros) on players from the Bundesliga, most of whom are German nationals or from other EU nations. As things stand these players are free to move from Germany to England with very little red tape getting in the way. Should Britain leave the EU, it would be far harder to sign such players. All of a sudden, Bundesliga stars would be far less appealing to the cash-rich Premier League clubs.”, says an article on Deutsche Welle.

Football is too big and heavily dependent on English league. Teams all over Europe will find the financial survival much harder without the money that comes from Premiership and this will leave space for new openings if things aren’t sorted in reasonable time.
In the end, Premier League will find the way to attract stars, the question is how many? Are they going to be enough to keep huge TV rights incomes? If not, football world will change as investors will seek to keep the revenues selecting some other top European league for cash cow. And who knows what China is planning?

EURO 2016: Italy – Sweden post match analysis on Italy

After great display against Belgium, there was a lot of expectation on Italy to confirm the first win with another good performance. On the other side, Sweden failed to win the “easiest” game against Ireland and was under pressure to get at least some result before the last game with one of the tournament favorites Belgium.

However, Italian manager Antonio Conte didn’t succumb to hype and didn’t feel he needs to prove anything. His sole aim was in line with Italian tradition and that was to get the result and result he got. His counterpart on Sweden bench, Erik Hamren almost got what he wanted in what was labeled the most boring game of EURO so far.

I can understand that feeling, but games at this level often aren’t played for fans but for result and literally, in the end, Italy got it. Apart swapping Darmian with Florenzi Conte didn’t change anything in his game. If there was any significant change it was playing even more cautious than against Belgium when in possession.

While Bonucci often surged upfield with ball in first match, this time Conte ordered him to be more disciplined. After all, Sweden got only Ekdal and Kallstrom in central zone of midfield and Italian manager was satisfied with numbers advantage there. There was really no need to risk with Chiellini pushing forward when in possession as it was the case in match against Belgium who fielded three classy players in center field.

The other change in gameplan Conte employed was more pressing on opposition defensive line. While against Belgium he was satisfied to wait for a counter or a good long ball, Italy accepted the role of favorite in match against Sweden and pushed the defensive line a tad bit more. Not enough to compromise whole defensive shape, though.

In all other parts, the gameplan was identical to first match. It was all about long balls from De Rossi, Bonucci and Chiellini. They went either diagonally to wide players pushing high up the pitch or to Pelle and Eder. The idea was always the same. Once the diagonal ball went to flank it would be crossed in front of goal.

long passes ita
However, those long passes largely missed the target as Pelle failed to cope with Swedish centerbacks which led to his substitution in the end. As shown in the diagram above. Italians had a bit more luck with diagonal long balls, but subsequent crosses were again out of reach for Pelle. In fact, only four out of 16 reached the target and two of them came after corners.

Italian game with the ball really wasn’t working as intended by the end of the half, but that was the same as it was in the match against Belgium until it actually worked and opened up the game. However, Antonio Conte was more interested in not losing the game than winning and he knew Sweden needs the points more. As he was sound in defense and Sweden was as much as impotent in attack as Italy, he decided to wait and play the game as he played against Belgium waiting for that long ball or that cross to finally connect.

lopta s  l boka na desni - ita

This is typical Italian attack after the long ball has been played either, directly to wide backs Candreva or Florenzi, or passed to them from centerfield. Arrow shows where could Italian midfielder move if they were really interested to keep the ball. However, that would mean compromising defensive shape and open up to possible counter-attack. A thing Conte really wanted to avoid even if that meant way less chance to threaten the Swedes.

It was a game where both teams weren’t really prepared to lose. Italy covered space and made futile any attempt from Sweden to effectively cross or pass vertically, while Italy felt secure they won’t let any goals in and happy to wait for their chance. That came very late and proved Conte was right while Sweden might have regret the points lost they really didn’t do enough to endanger opponents.