Poland – Argentina: Argentina Advance Against Passive Poland (0-2)
Argentina showed some improvement over the structural issues they have faced in possession so far in the tournament as they advanced into the knockout rounds here. Their opponents Poland played an extremely passive game and contributed almost nothing going forward, allowing Argentina to dictate play easily throughout.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Poland were top of Group C prior to this match after drawing with Mexico on the opening matchday, then beating Saudi Arabia last time out. They lined up in a 4-4-2 shape here, as Matty Cash, Kamil Glik, Jakub Kiwior, and Bartosz Bereszyński made up the back four. Krystian Bielik and Grzegorz Krychowiak were in central midfield, while Piotr Zieliński and Przemysław Frankowski were wide. Up front, Karol Świderski joined Robert Lewandowski.
Argentina recovered from their opening day shock against Saudi Arabia to gain a hard-fought win over Mexico. Lionel Scaloni selected a 4-3-3 shape here, as Nahuel Molina and Cristian Romero returned to the defensive line alongside Nicolás Otamendi and Marcos Acuña. Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernández and Alexis Mac Allister made up the midfield trio, while Ángel Di María and Julián Álvarez flanked Lionel Messi in attack.
Argentina’s structural improvement
Poland sat in a low-block in their 4-4-2 shape during this match, pretty much regardless of the game state. Even when they were behind, they were still in a qualifying position, and therefore looked to conserve their goal difference by trying to keep the defense tight.
Argentina’s set up against this was similar to previous game, but with a slight tweak which improved their play. The main improvement was in the occupation of the number six area, as Fernández played as a more orthodox number six rather than dropping into the defensive line as Guido Rodríguez had done in the last game.
Argentina were more connected in possession than they had been in their previous two games.
This improved the connection from defensive to midfield lines. They still often formed a chain of three in the backline, but this time it was through Molina remaining deeper as part of the rest-defense, while Di María held the width on the right. Molina still overlapped sporadically to join the attack, but more often remained deeper.
Acuña on the other side once again was the main occupant of the left wing for Argentina. Mac Allister played in the left halfspace, often getting himself between the lines, while De Paul played flexibly, offering himself as an extra connection alongside Fernández but also making plenty of forward runs.
The ability of De Paul and Mac Allister to make runs into the penalty box was important since Messi often dropped deeper, meaning that runs beyond him were needed. Messi was able to pick out a couple of good passes to Acuña on the left, as Mac Allister and Álvarez’ presence in the left halfspace fixed the Polish defenders in this area, creating space on the wing.
Argentina were pretty dominant in the first half, although it took them a while to start really creating chances. They were given a great opportunity through Messi’s penalty to go ahead in the first half, but his shot was saved by Wojciech Szczęsny. The teams therefore went in level at half time.
A comfortable half
The stalemate in this match did not last for long after the break though, as Mac Allister scored for Argentina within a minute of play resuming. His goal showed the importance of the runs into the box that he had been making all game, as he was able to meet Molina’s cutback and steer the ball past Szczęsny.
Poland had made two changes at half-time, bringing Michał Skóraś and Jakub Kamiński in to replace Świderski and Frankowski. The two substitutes played in the wide positions, as Zieliński moved into the number ten role. Their strategy did not really change though, even after going behind.
Argentina continued to dominate against a deep block, but also decided to bring their own substitutes in to add defensive security. Di María was removed for Leandro Paredes who slotted into central midfield alongside Fernández while De Paul shifted out to the right. Acuña was also replaced by Nicolás Tagliafico at left back. Argentina’s defensive shape in their rare phases without the ball now changed from a 4-3-3 arrangement to a 4-4-2 formation with Messi and Álvarez as the two forwards.
The departure of Di María meant that Molina was now more responsible for providing width on the right, while De Paul started dropping deeper in the right halfspace. Argentina added their second goal with just over twenty minutes left, as Álvarez fired into the top corner from Fernández’ assist.
Even at a two goal deficit, Poland knew that they would advance to the knockout stages via the fair play rule, meaning that they still did not seek to attack. This led to a final twenty minutes in which Argentina were able to easily conserve the ball at a fairly low tempo.
Scaloni switched to a back three for the final ten minutes or so, as Germán Pezzella replaced Fernández. Lautaro Martínez and Thiago Almada also made cameos from the bench, as Argentina saw out their 2-0 win and secured their place in the next round.
Poland advanced to the Round of Sixteen thanks to the points picked up in previous group games, but they contributed very little to this fixture. This could very easily have been a worse scoreline and a tournament exit on goal difference for Poland if Argentina had been more clinical in front of goal. Their flat 4-4-2 arrangement was as uninteresting as it was ineffective, and improvement will be needed if they are to stand up to France on Sunday.
Argentina meanwhile were able to show slight improvements on the possession issues shown earlier in the tournament, although this would need to be tested against a less passive opponent. They will now face Australia in the Round of Sixteen on Saturday.
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