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Daniel Wong writes a detailed tactical analysis of the Euro 2016 final, which ended France 0-1 Portugal.
The Euro 2016 final saw the home nation favourites France take on Portugal. France, who played in a 4-2-3-1 for almost the entirety of the match, dominated the match but were unable to put away their chances. Portugal stuck with the 4-4-2 diamond that had got them to the final and put on yet another disciplined display, made even more impressive following Ronaldo’s early exit from the match. Combined with the goalkeeping heroics of Rui Patricio, excellent substitutions, and France’s profligacy in front of goal, Portugal was able to record their first ever major tournament victory. This tactical analysis will look at how the teams set up to play, Portugal’s tactical change, and key substitutions that affected the outcome of the match.
Portugal: Rui Patricio; Guerreiro, Pepe, Fonte, Soares; William Carvalho, Mario, Sanches, Adrien Silva; Ronaldo, Nani (4-4-2 Diamond)
France: Lloris; Evra, Umtiti, Koscielny, Sagna; Matuidi, Pogba; Payet, Griezmann, Sissoko; Giroud (4-2-3-1)
France set up in a 4-2-3-1, preferring to dominate possession deep in the middle of the pitch to create gaps in the Portuguese midfield, as well as creating quick combinations in spaces between the lines and flanks once the ball was moved up the field.
Getting the ball into spaces proved a tough task, one that was made harder following Ronaldo’s exit and the shift into a 4-5-1. In possession, all members of the French midfield would move around and drop back in fluid fashion to create pockets of space between the lines as they recycled possession around the back. The penetrating passes would come from combinations on the flanks between the wing backs and their wingers, or via hard passes into the feet of those in between the lines. Furthermore, as the ball was moved along the back, gaps would open between the Portuguese central midfield, which constantly had to shift from side to side. The French wingers would stay wide until the Griezmann or Payet (who interchanged roles occasionally) in the number 10 position drifted further wide. This would trigger the wingers to come more centrally into pockets of space, where players like Griezmann and Moussa Sissoko would drive forward with the ball to great effect.
Once the ball was in the spaces, France would do one of two things if played into enough space: cut inside for a far post cross (which became the trigger for forward runs from deep into the box), or produce further combinations with players on the flanks resulting in a final cross or cut back into the centre for a shot. Meanwhile, Matuidi and Pogba would move further forward to support the attack.
In defence, France took the modern approach in defending in altering their shape to 4-4-2 when off the ball, with Griezmann joining Giroud in the furthermost line, and Payet and Sissoko dropping into wide midfield positions as part of the midfield bank of four that aimed to play a very narrow game in the centre of the pitch. The pressing would start from either the strikers or from the wider areas, as they looked to trap the Portuguese in the central areas, very much like Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. If the ball was lost in the Portuguese half, Matuidi would power forward to try and win the back as soon as possible, and in doing so created two (albeit missed) chances for the French immediately after making the challenges.
On the whole, it was a strong and fluid tactic; France was able to dominate possession and had the lion’s share of the chances created from their use of possession. By consistently moving the ball across the back four with the occasional drop back to recycle possession from the pivot, the Portuguese midfield regularly became stretched, prompting the change to a 4-5-1 by Santos. Griezmann, playing in the number 10 role on the day, would drop into pockets of space, as well as make penetrating runs from deep into space to combine with his wingers and Giroud. Furthermore, France had a strong target man and aerial presence in the box in the form of Giroud, who held the ball up well, allowed combinations with Griezmann, and had a couple of chances himself. The tactic was not without its faults, as Pogba put in a very timid performance, owing to Deschamps electing to play him in more of a holding role, limiting him from his creative best.
Portugal started off with a 4-4-2 diamond like they did against Wales, and again they refused to change shape in defence. They kept the spaces in the middle as narrow as they could, but were visibly stretched as France began recycling possession along their back four. Because Portugal relied on the wider central midfielders (Sanches and Mario) to press on the wings, gaps inevitably opened up, and when the Portuguese returned to their narrow shape to prevent passes through those gaps, they were exposed on the flanks. In the opening stages, the French enjoyed a lot of success down the flanks, and even when Portugal won the ball back, they lost it almost immediately on the flanks due to the narrowness of their formation.
Then came the shape change. It was almost a blessing in disguise that Ronaldo got injured, as it prompted a change to a 4-5-1, which visibly closed up much of the space that had previously been available. Nani became the sole striker, while Quaresma went out onto the right, leaving the wide pressing duties to him and Mario. However, because they lost the pace and skill Ronaldo provided to the Portuguese counter attack, most of their counter-attacks were fruitless. These counter-attacks mostly came on their right side, with Nani dropping deep while Quaresma and Sanches made forward runs. It was fairly obvious what Portugal set out to do. It was another disciplined team effort, with midfielders consistently dropping back and harrying the French players. There were times where even Nani was chasing players into his own box. As a result, the Portuguese back four was rarely exposed, pushing almost all of the French chances to the outside and giving Rui Patricio a much easier job.
Portugal’s plan was to sit deeper and play on the counter, and many of the Portuguese player’s fitness levels were admirable. When they weren’t, Santos made several astute substitutions to allow his team to continue to play on the counter. The introduction of Joao Moutinho for Adrien Silva was immense, with Moutinho getting the game winning assist and continuing the important role of harrying the French players in possession. Renato Sanches became visibly tired and was swiftly removed in exchange for Eder, which moved Nani out to the right flank, while Quaresma was moved to the left. Eder provided everything that Giroud had done for France: he was an extremely physical target man, who held up the ball well and played his teammates in. This allowed Portugal to consistently clear the ball down the field but still retain possession, as Eder was a player who could hold the ball up as his teammates moved forward to counter. Thus, Portugal were extremely effective at defending and getting the ball forward, and by the end of the match, their fresher midfield capitalized on their beleaguered French counterparts, resulting in Eder’s extra-time winner.
Conversely, Deschamps seemed to lack a plan B and stuck with his preferred formation – an issue made worse due to the substitutions he made. The French were extremely effective in winning the ball back for the majority of the game, but towards the end of the match, it was apparent that the midfielders were utterly exhausted. However, Deschamps elected not to substitute any of the midfielders until the dying stages of the match. For the winning goal, neither Pogba or Matuidi made any attempts to even get back and challenge Eder after he broke free of Koscielny. In contrast, the Portuguese midfield was consistently seen supporting their entire back four. The worst substitution was taking Giroud off for Gignac – by taking off their only effective target man, Griezmann’s final was over. Gignac did alright and hit the post in the 92’, but was unable to hold up the ball and bring others into the play like Giroud did. As Griezmann was at his best playing off others, he was unable to do so and completely faded from the match. Portugal on the other hand used their substitutions fantastically – they dealt with Ronaldo’s exit, kept their midfielders fresh, and gave themselves a target man when the French began to tire.
10’ Griezmann chance: Giroud and Payet advance towards Pepe as part of their press, as Pepe has moved into the wider area. As soon as Payet gets the ball and cuts onto his favoured foot, Griezmann makes a direct run and draws a top save from Rui Patricio.
22’ Sissoko drops centrally and deeper after Griezmann makes a movement towards the opposite flank. This draws William Carvalho and Adrien Silva who were tasked with preventing passes into Griezmann, creating a massive gap that Sissoko drives forward with and shoots, almost tests Rui Patricio – another example of the French game plan.
58’ Griezmann drops deep to recycle possession and runs to the outside, while Kingsley Coman drifts into the space Griezmann has vacated. Coman turns brilliantly after receiving the penetrating pass into his feet, while Griezmann charges into the space, resulting in another chance for the French player of the tournament.
66’ Coman cuts onto his right foot, triggering the deep far post run from Griezmann, who really should have scored – his easiest chance of the match.
75’ Giroud carries out an ‘Arsenal’ run across the Portuguese defence into space, and Coman plays him through, drawing a good save from Patricio. This is a run that Arsene Wenger has almost every single one of his attackers perform in the Premier League.
80’ Eder’s introduction has given Portugal a massive presence in the box and it shows in this Nani and Quaresma chance. As seen, he draws both Umtiti and Koscielny towards him as Nani looked to put the cross in. Furthermore, Koscielny has vacated a large space behind him in trying to apply pressure to Eder before the cross. Sagna sees this and makes a slight movement towards that space, leaving him off-balance for when the palmed-away cross fell to Quaresma. Luckily for him, the Portuguese’s bicycle kick is straight into the arms of Hugo Lloris.
90+2’ Gignac misses the goal that would’ve won France the tournament, hitting the post after Evra’s cross somehow sneaks through. Gignac makes an outrageous cut inside, leaving Pepe hopelessly watching from the floor, but scuffs his shot into the post. Unfortunately for him, it is his only contribution to the game. His miss is made worse by the fact that Griezmann is flat on his heels ball watching as Gignac takes the shot, assuming (like everyone else in the stadium) that Gignac would have scored, and is thus unable to get onto the rebound.
ET 19’ Eder scores the game-winning goal from outside the box after muscling off Koscielny. Moutinho does brilliantly to regain possession for the Portuguese and he passes straight into Eder’s feet to provide the game-winning assist. France’s beleaguered midfield is seen tiredly jogging back as Eder breaks free from Koscielny, with neither Pogba or Matuidi making any effort in challenging or blocking the shot.
Fernando Santos killed two birds with one stone when Quaresma came on, replacing their injured talisman but also vitally changing the shape of the midfield. He kept his midfield fresh and gave his team an outlet through Eder as it became more apparent the match was moving towards extra time predicting that they would be relying on long balls to alleviate pressure. On the other hand, Deschamps persisted with his shape and took off his target man – effectively ending Griezmann’s final. Had Griezmann finished his chances and had Gignac scored in the last minutes of the match maybe the story would’ve been different. Instead, Deschamps was outcoached on France’s big day as Portugal ruined the party and etched themselves into European footballing history.
Written by Daniel Wong