Robert Moreno continued his 100% start in charge of Spain’s national football team after their 2-1 victory away to Romania in this Euro 2020 qualifying game. In another vintage performance from the current group leaders, Spain dominated possession and the proceedings against a Romania side that still has a chance of qualifying for next year’s tournament in 2nd place. This tactical analysis will provide an overview of the tactics used by the respective sides and an analysis of how Spain were able to dominate the game in such a fashion. This analysis will also look at what Romania may have been able to do differently to come out of this game with more than just the solitary goal.
Spain deployed experimental personnel in a traditional 4-3-3 system with younger stars like Dani Ceballos and Fábian Ruiz enjoying impressive outings on their early introductions to the international stage.
Romania, in turn, lined out in a conservative 5-3-2 formation designed to crowd the space available to Spain in the final third and give the home side options on the counter-attack with two strikers up front.
Spain’s diamond in the early build-up
A key factor to Spain’s domination in this game was how easily they played around Romania’s first line of pressure. In order to play around Romania’s strike force, the Spanish side formed a diamond during the early stages of their buildup, featuring Kepa in goal, the two centre-backs and Sergio Busquets in the holding midfield position.
With this numerical overload, Romania’s strikers were reduced to being redundant members of the defensive shape. The easy manner in which Spain played around their two strikers left Romania’s midfield unwilling to press higher up the pitch for fear of being played around in a similar fashion and leaving their backline exposed. This meant Spain enjoyed consistent and easy access up to the halfway point of the pitch.
This easy access up the pitch enabled Spain’s domination due to the fact it condensed the Spanish outfield into the opponent’s half which benefitted Spain’s counter-press as well as ensuring Spain had plenty of forward options in possession. This also forced Romania to start their attacks from deep and often in underloaded situations.
The options Spain were able to create for the player on the ball inside Romania’s half helped to ease their circulation of possession in these high areas of the pitch. This helped to keep Spain’s possession fluid and at a tempo they could use to disrupt and stretch Romania’s defensive shape, particularly against the three they left in midfield.
Fábian Ruiz dominates the half-space
Ruiz put in a man-of-the-match display in a disciplined and elite performance that saw the Napoli player help dictate the vertical orientation of Spain’s possession. Operating in the half-space channel on the right side of Spain’s midfield, the midfielder gave Nicolae Stanciu an impossible task of limiting the Spaniard’s influence on the game. Either by dropping deep to receive the ball or pushing forward to combine on the flanks, Ruiz ran rings around his Romanian marker and manipulated the opponent’s midfield until they were powerless to prevent the Spanish progression.
By dropping deep, Ruiz achieved multiple objectives, firstly, stretching Romania’s midfield line as Stanciu moved to press him. This would open up gaps to pass through or allow Ruiz to take on his man in a 1v1. Secondly, by dropping deep, Ruiz would provide the safety and security in allowing Jesus Navas to move up the field and provide the width which would stretch the Romanian defensive line. This would create the gaps for the likes of Paco Alcácer and Rodrigo to run in which Ruiz was free to play into, having worked himself some space by moving deep in the above fashion.
Ruiz’s movement in this game created so many options for the Spaniards. The gaps his movement generated enabled other creatives like Ceballos to drop into off the backline and disrupt the flat defensive shape of Romania’s defenders. This inspired performance by Ruiz provides the vision for the lifeblood of the Spanish midfield for years to come, and the midfielder has every chance of cementing a starting spot before next year’s tournament.
Alba and Navas a constant threat in the final third
With their narrow midfield line and back five, Romania seemed willing to sacrifice a lot of space out wide for the likes of Jordi Alba and Navas, yet this only further played into the home side’s downfall in this game. Allowing the likes of Alba and Navas easy access up the pitch allowed Spain to flood the centre with the likes of Ceballos and Rodrigo which only helped to optimise Spain’s attack. This move provided them with pace and trickery down the flanks as well as technical ability and creative vision inside the final third. The pace of Alba and Navas proved to be vital in the creation of Spain’s goals in this game.
This high up the pitch, Alba and Navas could utilise their rapid acceleration to get in behind the Romanian backline and into the penalty area. Because they were defending so deep and with their narrow midfield easily stretched and pulled apart, Spain were regularly able to play their full-backs into these dangerous spaces, from which Spain were able to win their penalty in the first half and where Alba could square to Alcácer for the winner.
Romania passive in defeat
From the offset, Romania never really gave themselves a chance to earn anything from this game. Their passive and conservative formation forsook the entirety of the attacking and midfield half to the Spanish invasion whilst also not giving themselves the opportunity to disrupt or upset the Spanish game plan. The tempo for Romania’s performance was seemingly dictated by their strike pairing whose laissez-faire approach to cutting off the supply to Busquets resigned their team to a tough evening.
Upsetting the space allowed to Busquets was the only chance Romania’s formation gave them of disrupting the opposition from dominating the game. Having sacrificed the flanks as well as leaving their midfield hopelessly outnumbered and outmanoeuvred against the fluid Spanish, it really was unforgivable how little effort the strikers made to take Busquets out of the game.
Especially considering just how experimental this Spanish side was, Romania certainly had weaknesses to attack and exploit had they set up differently. Setting up with two strikers wasn’t the worst idea for Romania considering the spaces that Navas and Alba would leave behind them. Diego Llorente, in particular, struggled down the right with Navas proving to be a defensive liability, often forcing Llorente to abandon his position to cover for the winger. The result of this led to one time where Andone was left unmarked in the centre of the box to head home for Romania’s only goal of the game.
Romania however, simply needed another body in midfield to provide extra cover for those who had to support Romania’s wing-backs from being overloaded by the combinations of Rodrigo and Ceballos with the overlapping runs of Alba and Navas. These extra numbers down the flanks would help contain the Spanish onslaught and give Navas and Alba more to think about before charging up the field. This would also force the likes of Ceballos and Rodrigo to temporarily provide the width at times which is less suited to their playing style as well as serving to control the Spanish central overload.
Romania simply surrendered too much to Spain in this game- be that space on the pitch, the initiative or the tempo, and they were routinely punished for it. Navas’ suspect positioning off the ball did at times threaten to derail the Spanish advance, even leading to Llorente’s red card towards the end of the game, although Romania lacked the quality to truly punish the away side for these mistakes.
In more positive reviews, this Spanish side seemingly hasn’t dropped a beat so far under Moreno and should comfortably qualify for next year’s tournament where their depth and versatility should make them a threat late into the competition. Fábian Ruiz, in particular, put in an impressive performance and will prove to be one to watch for his international side in time for Euro 2020.
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