FC Krasnodar – FC Porto: Porto Far From Their Best, Yet Take A Deserved Lead Home (0-1)

Although not at their best in their first official game of the 2019/20 season, FC Porto and their pressing and counterpressing style still proved to be an adequate antidote to Krasnodar’s possession game. Ironically, the winning goal was found during their worst period.

Tactical analysis and match report by Sergio Sampaio.

Playing such a crucial game this early in the season is far from ideal. For any team participating in the Champions League Qualifying Rounds, the difference between making it to the group stage, with all the prize money that comes with it, and failing to do so, can massively impact a club’s short term future. 

For FC Porto, a team used to make the Champions League every year, it is an even more uncomfortable situation, as there is already considerable pressure not to fail. It’s a situation they brought onto themselves, as Sérgio Conceição admitted in the pre-match press conference, as his team blew a seemingly comfortable lead in the league last season, finishing behind Benfica. 

This “punishment”, however, would not have happened not that long ago, as Portugal were in the top six of the UEFA Country Ranking for six years. As a result, they got to send two teams directly into the group stage and a third to the qualifiers. They lost that status two years ago after being overtaken by… Russia. Portugal have hopes of retaking that extra Champions League spot from Russia this season, meaning this already crucial game gained even more significance.

Krasnodar are debutants in this competition. Founded in 2008 by the billionaire who owns Russia’s largest retailer, they are arguably the most interesting project in Russian football. Unlike other billionaire-led clubs in the country, investment was not focused on big star signings hoping for immediate success, but rather in the academy which includes a network of several football schools spread across the Krasnodar region. Krasnodar’s rise has been steady and it looks like, contrary to cases like Anzhi, they have what it takes to reach the top and stay there.

Murad Musaev – suspended for acting like the main coach while lacking the appropriate license in the Europa League last season – made a few changes to the side that almost beat Zenit last weekend. Changing from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, Rémy Cabella was moved from the wing to his preferred attacking midfielder role, Wanderson returned from injury to play on the wing as Younes Namli kept his place on the opposite one and Marcus Berg started instead of Ari up front. 

Tonny Vilhena and Ruslan Kambolov formed the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. and the defensive quartet from last season of Sergey Petrov, Aleksandr Martynovich, Uroš Spajić and Cristian Ramírez featured ahead of promising young goalkeeper Matvey Safonov. Youngster Ivan Ignatyev suffered a last minute injury and joined the also unavailable Yury Gazinsky and Viktor Claesson.

The also suspended Sérgio Conceição – in this case for delaying the beginning of the second half against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals – started with his usual 4-4-2 shape, with debuting Agustín Marchesín on goal, Wilson Manafá, Pepe, Iván Marcano and Alex Telles in defense, Danilo Pereira and Sérgio Oliveira in the central midfield, Romário Baró on the right, Jesús Corona on the left and Moussa Marega and “Tiquinho” Soares up front.

FC Porto assert early superiority

Last season, Krasnodar played the best football in Russia; only a short squad lead to some inconsistency in results that potentially cost them a direct Champions League group stage qualification. However, their possession style is rarely countered in the form of pressing in Russia, as they often play out from the back without resistance. When they are pressed, it becomes apparent that some players are not comfortable and suited to this philosophy. This was already the case against Zenit, and against Porto it was even more noticeable.

As Krasnodar tried to play out from the back, Soares, Marega and a third player – Corona, Baró or Oliveira – would stay close to the center-backs and the dropping Kambolov and easily force a long ball. On the other side, something similar happened, when Porto tried to build from the back. Porto however don’t mind it as much, as even when their strong forwards don’t win the ball – or their midfielders the second ball – they have a chance to counterpress, After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. one of the strongest parts of their game. In fact, this created the ideal conditions for Porto to gain the upper hand and have more of the ball. Only poor decision making in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. prevented them from creating more chances.

Example of Porto pressing Krasnodar’s attempt to play out from the back. Ramírez is the freer man, but by the time the long pass reaches him Baró was pressuring him. The ball ends up being forced back and then Kambolov hits long.

Still, the only chances of the first half went Porto’s way. Early on, Soares was found inside the box, but his shot on the turn was blocked. The biggest chance, however, came on the 13th minute when a somewhat long battle in midfield that could be better described as a ping-pong of headers was chested down from Kambolov to Vilhena, but Sérgio Oliveira quickly anticipated it and then delivered a perfect pass for Marega who had a golden chance with only the goal in front of him, sending the ball wide.

Krasnodar find and explore Porto’s weak right flank

Krasnodar grew in the last fifteen minutes of the half, as they seemed to realize Baró was compromising Porto’s defensive transition and leaving the right side exposed. Between his role of coming inside in possession and Porto’s focus in counterpressing, he would often take too long to reconsolidate and balance the team defensively. Responsible for defending the right in Porto’s defensive 4-4-2 formation, often he would be nowhere near too long after possession had been lost. Cabella started drifting more towards the left to combine with Ramírez and Namli to create numerical superiority and Krasnodar enjoyed good progression from that side in their best phase of the half. No real danger to Marchesín’s goal was created as a result of it, however.

Zone 14 passmap FK Krasnodar FC Porto 0-1 Champions League

Porto regain control with second half adjustments until fatigue kicked in

It was clear that a good portion of the half time’s instructions were dedicated to Baró, as his positioning had been corrected. Unfortunately for the talented youngster, he was booked early into the half and was replaced by Luis Díaz. The second half was a repeat of the first, with Porto dominating but being ineffective in the final third and collecting only minor chances.

In the last fifteen minutes, however, Porto looked more and more fatigued, and Krasnodar grew in the game once again. The difference in preparation between the two teams was clear, with Porto playing their first competitive game while Krasnodar already had four league games under their belt. Porto could not maintain their intense style, pressing and counterpressing was less effective, reconsolidation in defensive transition was slower and Krasnodar started finding spaces. Although Porto had been superior for most of the game, it felt that if they were going to win this game, they had to be leading already and now they’d take the draw.

It was in this stage that Krasnodar created the biggest chance of the game. With Luis Díaz failing to track back Petrov, the fullback was found with plenty of space on the right, cut back to Cabella who took a shot for a monumental save by Marchesín.

Ironically, it was in this period that Porto ended up scoring the winning goal. Zé Luís was fouled just outside the box. Sérgio Oliveira bent the free kick over the wall as Spajić rushed back to try and intercept the ball but succeeded only in disturbing his goalkeeper.

Expected goals pitch plot FK Krasnodar FC Porto 0-1 Champions League


The better team for most of the game won, but it will still feel like a harsh defeat for Krasnodar. Overturning this result at the Dragão stadium against a better prepared Porto seems like a very tough ask, even though we have seen crazier comebacks in recent years, especially in this competition. Still, if they keep improving every season, as they have, we’ll see them in the Champions League group stage sooner or later.

FC Porto are going through a forced transition, as they lost no less than four starters, two of them for free. The debuting Marchesín and the returning Sérgio Oliveira and Marcano all gave good performances, while Baró showed the aforementioned problems defensively, but is a talent of tremendous potential. Considering the importance of the departures and the limitations imposed by the Financial Fair Play, Porto ended up with a pretty strong squad full of potential and depth and I have a feeling the starting XI by the end of the season will be very different from this one. With this win they take an important first step to achieving the first goal of the season: reaching the group stage.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. 

Sérgio Sampaio (30) is an amateur football analyst and author of the blog Segundo Volante (segundovolante.com). You can find him watching, and perhaps writing about, all kinds of football: more likely to watch an Europa League qualifier in the summer than friendlies, only to then complain about the quality of the game. He abandons reason when it comes to believing FC Famalicão will play European football in his lifetime. [ View all posts ]


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