Preview football matches weekend tactical analysis

Between The Posts Nations League Preview

Welcome to the Nations League preview of Between the Posts! European club football is now definitely behind us. The Nations League and some Euro 2020 qualifiers are all that remains in terms of European football for the 2018/19 season. The Nations League might seem like a pretty minor event in the grand scheme of things – and maybe it is – yet there are two pretty interesting tactical clashes coming up to decide the winner.


First of all, let’s remind you what this tournament is about. To replace the slew of unnecessary – and quite frankly: boring – friendlies, UEFA has introduced the Nations League.

With some of the Poule A games in particular turning out to be pretty hotly contested events, this seems to have been a great move by UEFA. Switzerland won a group with Belgium and Iceland, while Germany got relegated to the second division. Enough excitement!

The four group winners will now battle out who wins the first edition of the Nations League. There is no European Championship ticket available; all group winners have already secured playoff participation for Euro 2020 by reaching this far. What is at stake, is a big bag of money and of course and the eternal right for a country to be called the first ever UEFA Nations League winner.



Wednesday June 5th


Switzerland – Portugal, 20:45 CET

Portugal are in a weird place right now. The potential is tremendous, but what they have shown in the past few games was extremely disappointing.

The talent is there: Bernardo Silva has slotted into the group of genuinely world class players this season, players of Barcelona and Juventus vie for a starting place at right back, João Félix has been a standout player for Benfica this season, Sporting’s Bruno Fernandes is certainly off to a bigger stage this transfer window and after missing out on the World Cup in Russia, Rúben Neves has conquered a spot in the team as well. And Portugal also still have Cristiano Ronaldo.



Raw talent by the bucketload, yet there does not seem to be an idea or plan on how to play, bolstering all of that talent into a viable strategy. Portugal’s play in possession is unimaginative, as attacking spells often end up just trying to create chances through crosses. This approach has led to Portugal drawing all four of their last competitive matches, stumbling into the finals of this Nations League as they stumbled their way into the European Championship finals in France.

Veteran manager Fernando Santos has fielded a 4-4-2 formation whenever Cristiano Ronaldo was available. In his absence, a 4-3-3 shape has been deployed, one that has worked well at times, because it offered a bit more fluidity and offensive interchangement. With only fullback Danilo suspended for the first game, it is hard to correctly guess Portugal’s formation.

It is difficult to talk about form with an international team, but Switzerland seem to be fine. Their last match was three months ago, and even though they lost two points thanks to a chaotic last thirty minutes against Denmark, their overall play is well-groomed and organized from a defensive point of view.

After briefly flirting with three-at-the-back systems, manager Vladimir Petković has returned to a system with two central defenders once more. Passing hub Granit Xhaka is supported in midfield by the industrious Denis Zakaria. Those two either act the double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation or are supported by Atalanta Bergamo’s Remo Freuler, instead forming a 4-3-3 shape, which is a bit more conservative, as one attacking midfielder is swapped in for the more cautious Freuler.

What to expect from this match tactically? Knowing the style of Santos, Portugal will probably sit back in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-1-4-1 medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. letting Switzerland do the heavy lifting in terms of possession. International football is said to be a bit less complex tactically than club football, and even though that holds truth, there is enough talent on the pitch to enjoy this match, while Switzerland’s possession-oriented play offers a fine juxtaposition with Portugal’s off-the-ball approach.


Thursday, Saturday 6th


Netherlands – England, 20:45 CET

The Netherlands missed out on the two last major tournaments, partly because of a less talented squad, but in part due to clear tactical mistakes. From 2014 until 2017, the Dutch team excelled in U-shape football, When a team has possession on the sides of the pitch and with their own central defenders, this is called a ‘U-shape’, because it resembles the letter U. . defenders passing the ball to each other without any verticality. Off the ball, man-marking was still perceived way to hold off the opponents, while pressing was incoherent. An overall lack of quality in the axis of the field did the rest

It is easy to fault Koeman’s predecessors for these tactical mistakes, but truth be told: the squad was a lot worse than it is now. Jeffrey Bruma or Virgil Van Dijk in the heart of defense makes a lot of difference, guys, while Depay as roaming striker has given the team an enormous upgrade as well.

The biggest upgrade has come in central midfield, however. Now, the Dutch plan when building up is basically ‘give the ball to Frenkie’, which probably could have been thought up by other managers as well. If De Jong is man-marked out of the match – which France failed to do, but Germany succeeded at – the Dutch can struggle to progress the ball up the field.

Even though results in the Nations League have fallen Koeman’s way – especially twice against Germany – there are clear signs that the Dutch team is on its way back to the world class outfit it has traditionally been.

After an exciting summer in which England’s 3-5-2 shape was one of the tactical highlights of the tournament, manager Gareth Southgate has switched to four defenders as well. Presumably because of the emergence of some young world class attackers, a group so exciting it would be criminal to only field one of them next to guaranteed starter Harry Kane.

After ditching the 3-5-2 / 3-1-4-2 system, the 4-3-3 shape is now in vogue. England still build up with a back three however, as Kyle Walker comes inside, the left back pushes up and an asymmetrical 3-4-2-1 of sorts is formed, leaving loads of possibilities for dynamic switches of positions.

In possession, this setup also leaves four or five players behind the ball, meaning England always are protected well against counterattacks, meanwhile not compromising on their offensive prowess.

One of Koeman’s main points of focus has been the defensive transitions, the Dutch now applying pressure when the ball is lost, opposed to slowly jogging back to their own half. Because Southgate has also instilled this principle in his players – and the playing style of the majority of the English players also enforces this – this match has the potential to be a thrilling and intense match.

It should also be noted that a large part of the key players on the field – the boys from Ajax, Tottenham and Liverpool – come off a deep European run and a grueling domestic season. Something to take into account when watching this match; these guys are human. Should be a fun game, though.

Erik Elias (25) is co-founder and chief editor of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys writing about other styles as well. Former youth coach. Scout. 'Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.' [ View all posts ]

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