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Ross Eaton writes an in depth analysis of the performances of Ivan Perisic, who was used by Croatia much like a traditional winger during their Euro 2016 campaign.
After a strong tournament on an individual basis, Ivan Perisic has received high praise from pundits, analysts and social media. Perisic has been deployed as a traditional winger throughout Euro 2016, a role which seems to be dying out of the modern game, with wide playmakers being preferred in their place. The Croatian winger has played the role very effectively, causing havoc to opponents of very high calibre such as Juanfran of Atletico Madrid, considered by some as the best right-back in the world at the minute. The role Perisic has played has been fun to watch as well as being an important component in Croatia’s team.
To start with, a brief look at the Croatia system is necessary in order to understand Perisic’s role within the team.
Croatia have their best pool of players in a long time, with their midfield being by far their strongest position. With a player with the quality of Mateo Kovacic being left out, it is clear that Croatia certainly have strength in the centre-midfield position.
The Croatians defend in a system which is utilised to make them tough to break down, though with a degree of intensity, which makes use of the front four who are all very capable pressers.
In the attacking phase staggering is used to good effect, with players looking to occupy all five zones across the field on different lines, mostly to make use of the variation of attributes possessed on either flank.
A 4-2-3-1 formation is deployed. Subasic the GK. At right-back is Darijo Srna, left-back Ivan Strinic. In the middle of those two is usually Corluka and Vida. A 6/8 hybrid double-pivot of Modric and Badelj sits between defenders and forwards. Perisic usually plays on the left-wing of an attacking-midfield trio of Brosovic, Rakitic and himself. Ahead of them as number 9 is Mario Mandzukic.
Defending in a 4-4-2 shape with Ivan Rakitic pushing alongside Mandzukic to form a front two, Croatia set-up in a mid block which as most teams do, focuses on compactness on both axis.
Mandzukic and Rakitic, each positioned in either halfspace, will always pressurise the defence, to which extent is dictated which speed of passes and strength of the opposition’s possessional structure in each situation. The front two will use body shape and intense pressure in the halfspaces to block any passing lanes towards the centre, rather forcing their opponent to pass to the ball-near full-back, who Brosovic and Perisic will stand a few yards off to put them into a false sense of security. As the ball travels to the full-back, Brosovic and Perisic will engage in an intense press in an attack to either win the ball back in a dangerous area, or simply force a negative pass.
With determination, pace and tenacity being well-known attributes of Perisic’s, these are important tools for a good presser. Though one attribute under appreciated for making Perisic a good presser is his intelligence without the ball. Ivan uses body shape excellently to force opponent’s in the direction he wants them to go, often into areas he is aware could be used as a pressing trap, though also used commonly onto their weaker foot.
When defending in his own half, the work ethic and strong running of Perisic is made use of. Perisic is assigned to the opposite full-back and will track him as far as he goes.
This can be a tiring duty, especially against marauding full-backs such as Jordi Alba, who he faced in the final group match against Spain.
While Perisic defends the full-back on the wing, this is a cue for his own full-back to tuck in behind and offer cover in the halfspace.
Though probably the least important phase in terms of Perisic’s game for Croatia, there is still a role to be played by him while Croatia build-up and progress into attack.
When Croatia build from the back in a short-passing move, Perisic isn’t too involved. His role is to hug the touchline. By remaining as wide as possible, this further opens up the centre of the pitch for Modric and Badelj to dictate in and carry the ball through. By stretching the opposition’s defensive structure horizontally, the halfspaces are opened up more, which not only gives Modric or Badelj the space to dictate from either 6 or 8 positions within the left halfspace but also opens up passing lanes, usually to Rakitic, the 10.
Perhaps not normally a situation where there’d be such an important role for a winger, but when the goalkeeper has the ball, Croatia set up for a direct ball which Perisic will play a part in. With the 6 foot plus, strong frames of Perisic and Mandzukic, the pair are often the targets for Subasic’s long kicks.
When Perisic is the target, he will look to win the header and head the ball into the near halfspace where Rakitic or Mandzukic will have moved into. If not, then he will look to flick the ball behind the full-back towards the corner, which he will then chase. This is a very awkward situation for a full-back who now has to attempt to clear a bouncing ball while facing his own goals, with a strong, quick winger hot on his tail.
Undoubtedly the area where Perisic’s best work sparks into life, Perisic is an almost perfect example of a direct winger.
As could be expected a winger with the attributes Perisic possesses, he is very strong in 1v1 situations. To make full use of this ability which often allows Croatia to have qualitative superiority on a wing, his teammates often follow movement and passing patterns which help isolate Perisic to create a 1v1 situation with the opposition full-back.
Although Perisic has bundles of pace, tricks and chops and strong, powerful dribbling in his locker, there is one attribute perhaps not appreciated so much, yet arguably most valuable of all. Perisic is very strong with both feet. This gives him far more angles to work with in terms of passing or shooting, as well as making his extremely unpredictable in wide 1v1 situations as he is equally adept in cutting in or going down the outside. This was highlighted against Spain where Perisic dribbled down the left touchline then as he reached the byline which seemed to kill off any hope for danger, he chopped back onto his right foot and crossed to set up a Kalinic equaliser against the current holders.
As already mentioned, Perisic is a direct winger who loves to go down the outside. This is a very useful movement for Croatia, who more often than not have a big striker in the box in Mario Mandzukic or from time to time Nikola Kalinic. Despite his tendency to run down the touchline, Perisic does show a surprisingly very good degree of intelligence in these situations. When an unmarked Ivan Rakitic is making a late run towards the edge of the box, Perisic will not hesitate to play a cutback to the Barcelona midfielder.
Another situation in which Perisic will not fail to make use of the qualities he possesses is when the opposite winger is in a crossing position. Rather than hanging back outside the box anticipating an over hit cross, Perisic will move towards the back box anticipating a deep cross against a full-back who he is likely to be better aerially than the opponent.
Following an impressive tournament on an individual basis despite Croatia disappointingly falling to surpass the round of 16, Perisic’s role in this Croatian side is no doubt invaluable. The direct nature of the Inter attacker suits the team’s style of play to a tee and his manager and teammates no doubt makes full use of this, by assigning him a tactical role where both he and the team will reap the rewards.
Written by Ross Eaton