Rishad Bharucha provides us with a detailed tactical breakdown in the Euro 2016 Round of 16 fixture that ended Switzerland 1-1 Poland (4-5 Pens).
Switzerland (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Lichtsteiner, Schar, Djourou, Rodriguez; Behrami, Xhaka; Shaqiri, Dzemaili, Mehmedi; Seferovic.
Poland (4-4-2): Fabianski; Piszczek, Glik, Pazdan, Jedrzejczyk; Blaszczykowski, Krychowiak, Maczynski, Grosicki; Milik, Lewandowski.
The Swiss qualified from a group that, aside from hosts France, had tight competitors in Albania and Romania. Opening with a slender win 10 against Albania, followed by a 11 draw with Romania, the Swiss showed some mettle holding out to a 00 draw against France. While they haven’t played against teams who’ve been scoring goals for fun, they were reasonably solid in defence throughout.
The Polish siege on the European championship began similarly when they edged past Northern Ireland by a goal to nil. A 00 stalemate against western neighbors Germany followed by another solid 10 result against Ukraine, gave the Poles a passage way to the last 16 in a similarly close group.
Both teams had their marquee players Shaquiri and Lewandowski fit for this game with varying contributions to the tournament so far. Shaquiri was in the midst of all of the best Swiss play, while Lewandowski tried hard but struggled to get on the scoresheet in the competition so far.
Switzerland Offensive Organization
The Swiss built up well from the back, playing swiftly to their full backs and keeping possession under pressure. They were not constantly pressed by the Polish midfield, but they were often pressed when they dwelled for too long on the ball. Xhaka continued his fine showing in the tournament so far whenever he was in possession. He played good diagonal long passes on occasions, but his inexperience under pressure showed slightly, when he failed to stamp his impression on the game.
When he did manage to get the ball to the flanks, the Swiss relied more on direct wing play rather than combining with infield players first. At times when the wingers weren’t successful 1v1, a diagonal pass in the space between the full back and the center back often set one of the midfielders free. Shaquiri seemed to roam freely and often found himself on the end of such passes before cutting back or playing a cross.
The Swiss goal, when it came about, was a thing of beauty. Patient build up through the middle ended up releasing a pass to the left flank leading to a cross. In an effort to control this ball, it was deflected in the air to Shaquiri, whose scissors kick finish beat Fabianksi at his near post.
Poland Defensive Organization
Poland were effective at containing the Swiss midfield, largely denying space to the passing lanes, often forcing the Swiss defenders to pass sideways in their build up from the back. When the Swiss played the ball to their wide players, especially the full backs, there were two Polish players pressuring them in a flash, which would lead to a sideways pass back to the center backs. The Poles were particularly effective with this approach in the first half, when the lack of Swiss movement from infield to the wings reduced the space for the Poles to defend.
The Poles pressed wisely and were able to force Behrami and young Xhaka into mistakes near the center circle and engineer counter attacks. They were also notably quick in transitioning from attack to defence off the ball, a trait vital for a team that wants to be effective on the counter attack. Despite their height advantage over the Swiss, they were vulnerable to passes played over the defence with the pace of the Swiss players to worry about. However, they had enough numbers in most situations to prevent the cross entirely or win the ball in their box and clear it quickly.
Switzerland Defensive Organization
While the Swiss have conceded few goals so far, their defence did look under threat when faced with the pace of the Polish counter attack. They were compact through the middle for the most part, without a great deal of pressure on the Polish wingers. When executed with focus on one’s positioning relative to the players and the ball, this kind of defensive organization would normally work. But in the moment that led to Blaszczykowski’s goal, the Swiss were left ball watching on the left, only for Blaszczykowski to have a shot on goal from the right with little to no time for anyone to close him down.
The Swiss were aerially vulnerable weak in midfield, but had sufficient height at the back with Djourou and Schär. On a few occasions however, poor communication and clearances increased the pressure on the Swiss goal. The Poles often had good movement in the box from players like Lewandowski and Milik, which forced the Swiss defence into several last ditch blocks and challenges in and around the box.
Poland Offensive Organization
The Poles were refreshingly quick in their overall offensive play. They seemed to play with more flair and confidence than the Swiss, which was reflected in their overall speed of play. They combined swiftly in and around the box with short passes to get in behind the Swiss defence, with Krychowiak at the center of most of this tidy build up in the final third. From the start of the game itself, there was an emphasis on switching the point of attack quickly, which sometimes meant two diagonal, crossfield passes in succession. The switch from left to right on the counter attack eventually led to Blaszczykowski’s goal, six minutes before half time.
The presence of Lewandowski and Milik up front provided two possible targets for the Polish wingers’ crosses and central midfielders’ passes to feet, both of whom were comfortable with this kind of service. Lewandowski would often drop into deeper or wider spaces to pick up the ball and showed a great deal of selflessness for a striker who had scored 30+ goals for his club, but was struggling to score in the last few games. Both strikers also benefited from early diagonal aerial passes from the midfielders.
Extra time meant that the game opened up a bit before some amount of tiredness wore both teams down again. The Poles were deserving winners of the penalty shootout, as each one of their players took their spot kicks with aplomb. In terms of overall quality of play and individuals, they might have just edged the Swiss and deserved to progress to the quarter finals.
Written by Rishad Bharucha
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