After beating the Faroe Islands by 4-1, Spain played another game. This time they played against Sweden at home, without their manager. Robert Moreno took charge on the touchline. However, the chosen squad, tactics and training performances were still monitored by Luis Enrique. They made a lot of changes in this game and six players were from Barcelona or Real Madrid. They did not underestimate Sweden.
Sweden did not have a star player comparable to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who quit the national team. In the last game, they beat Malta where they also played a strong team. Most of them played against Spain as well. In this tactical analysis, I will show you how Spain dominated the game.
Spain was missing their manager Enrique on the touchline, but the Spaniard still decided the line-up. Spain used their classic 4-3-3 formation. Most of the starting players did not participate in the previous game. Daniel Carvajal replaced Jesús Navas, he played an important role in the game. Experienced Sergio Busquets formed the midfield trio with new international players Dani Parejo and Fabián Ruiz. Isco and Marco Asensio started the game alongside Rodrigo.
Swedish manager Janne Andersson instructed his team to play in a 4-4-2 formation. The team possesses some Bundesliga players such as Emil Forsberg and Ludwig Augustinsson. They also have experienced players like Marcus Berg and Sebastian Larsson.
Midblock of Sweden
Sweden did not intend to press Spain in this game. Instead, they defended in a 4-4-2 system with discipline. The midblock was set in their own half to prevent Spain penetration. The midfield line formed by Albin Ekdal, Victor Claesson, Larsson and Forsberg were required to move as a unit to protect the defensive line. When the ball went to a side, they moved to that side together to force Spain to pass back. The benefit of this system was to prevent Spain from overloading a side. At the same time, they protect the central areas. This could prevent the Sweden goal being threatened since they tried to keep the ball away.
The below image illustrated the defensive structure of Sweden. Carvajal received the ball at the right side. Parejo was running towards space behind Claesson. However, the Sweden players already contained Parejo. Even an additional player ran to a side, Spain did not win numerical advantage down that flank. It was just a 2v3 situation. Therefore, Carvajal did not take a risk to pass to Parejo. He passed the ball back. Sweden successfully stopped Spain from creating chances.
Below was another example of Sweden defend approach. Here Iñigo Martínez had the ball. The Sweden midfield line already blocked the passing lanes in front of Martínez. He could not deliver the ball to the left as the trap was set by Sweden players already. He could not pass to the midfielders since they were covered as well. Martínez had no choice but to move the ball away that area. The build-up process was disrupted by the midblock of Sweden players.
Spain kept the ball comfortably
As mentioned, the Sweden forwards Berg and Quaison did not press Spain. The Spain players easily formed a Rondo circle to move the ball. They also overloaded the central areas. This created absolute numerical superiority and a very stable build-up phase. They would not lose possession easily. As a result, Sweden players did not win any possession back in their attacking third in this game.
The below image illustrated how Spain to stable their build-up. Martínez, Sergio Ramos, Parejo, Ruiz and Busquets positioned themselves like playing Rondo games. These players easily outnumbered the Swedish forwards and enjoyed a 5v2 numerical superiority. Therefore, Berg and Quaison did no harm in this phase. Also, with the composure and techniques of Spain players, they could move the ball smoothly to build-up. Therefore, in this game, Spain had 74.3% of possession.
The reason Swedish midfield line did not push high to cooperate the forwards was Isco and Asensio. Both players were not natural wingers and they liked to stay in spaces between the lines. They do not want to take risks, allowing Asensio and Isco to receive the ball between the lines and face the defensive line directly. Therefore, they were happy to form a midblock.
Spain attack sides wisely
Given the defensive approach and the setup of Spain, the home team attack sides with full backs. Asensio and Isco were not traditional wingers, they tended to stay inside. Therefore, Spain had to use their full backs to provide width. They utilised the weaknesses of Sweden’s approach. Since the Swedish midfielders were defending tight, a weak side could easily be created. All the Spain players should do is to force the Sweden players to a side, then quickly shift the ball to their weak side. At that moment, the full back could have time to cross.
Below was an example to explain. The Swedish midfield line remained compact. Spain just tried to hit the left flank with Jordi Alba and Isco. All yellow shirts were dragged to the left side. When the ball was passed back to Ramos, he drew the attention of Sweden left winger Claesson. Asensio occupied the half-spaces to make Augustinsson confused. At this moment Carvajal was freed with time and space at the right side. Augustinsson could not just leave Asensio and press Carvajal since Asensio was beside him. Allowing Asensio to receive the ball in that position could become a goal-scoring opportunity of Spain. Therefore, the Swedish could only allow Carvajal to receive the ball. This helped Spain to create opportunities. Carvajal had nine crosses in this game.
Counter-pressing of Spain
Spain dominated the game, not only because of their numerical advantages and techniques to control the ball. In this game, the Spain players executed brilliant counter press as well. The purpose of counter-press was not necessary to win the ball back immediately. Forcing the opponents to play predictable passes was also good counter-pressing. The Sweden players tended not to take the risk to pass on the ground if their teammates were marked. They tried to throw the ball upfield directly.
The below two images demonstrated Spain’s counter-pressing. The first image was the moment Spain lost the ball. Just four seconds later, Spain reacted well and blocked the nearest options around the ball. Four Spain players marked their opponents. Even their centre forward Rodrigo moved to press as well. Mikael Lustig did not have a choice to pass to the centre. He had to clear that ball. Spain won it back, possession regained.
Below was another example of Spain’s counter press. In that instant, Spain lost the ball and the players reacted very well. The ball carrier Lustig was pressed. Rodrigo moved to close off the centre back. Four Spain players marked three Sweden players in the midfield. At the same time, Sweden left back Augustinsson did not move forward to provide an option for his teammate. Again, Lustig left no choice but to play the ball upfield. With Ramos’s brilliant aerial performance in this match (he won 6 out of 6). The ball was easily regained. The counter-press of Spain played a big part in this game.
Why Spain cannot score in the first half?
Spain could create their chances down the flanks, but they still cannot take the lead in the first half. It was because of the movement of players. When the ball was at the flanks, some Spain players would like to make fake runs to lurk at the edge of the box. As a result, Spain did not have numerical advantage near the six-yard box and the players were difficult to pick up the cross.
The below image was a case. Jordi Alba wanted to hit a cross. However, Parejo and Isco were stepping out of the box. They were expecting a cutback. In the box, only two players left. When the ball was passed back to Isco, the Sweden players could come out to play an offside trap, as well as blocking the shot of Isco. The Sweden players contained Spain’s attack well to eliminate the threat. In this case, at least one of Isco or Parejo should run into the box to distract the oppositions. Now the effort was in vain.
Spain exploits the space to score
In the second half, the Spain players exploited the space to score two more goals. The second goal was a penalty from Álvaro Morata. The penalty could be attributed to space exploit by Spain players as shown below. Jordi Alba drew the attention of the Sweden players to move towards him. At that moment Martínez could make a pass to the red area created. Morata dropped to receive the ball and get won the penalty. In the first half, Sweden managed to keep their shape and these chances did not appear.
The goal of Ruiz was a combination of individual skills and space exploitation. Isco took on the oppositions. At that instant, three players were around him. The Sweden players lost their defensive shape again and space was created behind the Sweden midfielders. Then Ruiz could exploit that space and bring the ball forward. He assisted Mikel Oyarzabal to score the third goal.
Despite missing their manager on the touchline, Spain players still looked motivated to play a good game. This could tell from their willingness to execute the counter press. In the whole match, Sweden only got one shot on target. This squad possessed experienced players and young talents. There’s still time for Enrique to try more players or any new tactics. After the game, Spain went on top of the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers Group F with four wins.
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