Spain – Poland: Polish Pandora’s Box Contains Spain (1-1)
After a goalless draw with Sweden, Spain hoped to find the last piece to the jigsaw puzzle against Poland. But the guests had several tricks to call on, and Spain’s finishing worries persisted. Both teams ended up battling to a result that only heightens the stakes of the final round of group games.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Spain entered this game knowing that it would be a pivotal contest in their campaign. Despite monopolizing control of the ball in the first game of the group stage against Sweden, a lack of killer instinct in the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. saw the team drop two points. Sitting three points adrift of the Swedes before kickoff, a win would be vital to their bid to live up to their status as favorites in Group E and finish top of the table.
For Poland, this match was of equal significance. Ending up down a man and a goal at the final whistle against Slovakia, the away team entered the second set of group fixtures on the backfoot. Watching Sweden edge out Slovakia the day before, getting off the mark here with three points would keep Paulo Sousa’s men alive in the EUROs and put them back in the mix to get into the Round of Sixteen.
Luis Enrique set up the home team in the familiar 4-3-3 system. He then made one change to the starting eleven that faced Sweden in the opening game of the group stage. Though Sergio Busquets was free to return to the squad, the trio playing in the middle of the park last time out started again. The alteration was in the attack, where Gerard Moreno began the game as the rightwinger ahead of Ferran Torres.
Sousa lined up the visitors in a 5-3-2 shape. The manager then brought three new players into the fold. Grzegorz Kyrchowiak was not an option in the midfield due to the red card he picked up last time out, leaving a gap for Jakub Moder to fill. To his outside, at the left wing-back spot, Tymoteusz Puchacz entered the fray, while Karol Świderski joined talisman Robert Lewandowski upfront.
Mixing and matching approaches
In just five games as manager of the Polish team before the EUROs, Sousa had already used several strategies and systems. Thus, it was not a shock to see spurts of high pressing early on in the match.
From their 5-3-2 block, they shifted into more of a 3-4-1-2 system. Świderski and Lewandowski covered the center-backs. Piotr Zieliński then pushed up next to Rodri while his teammates in the middle of the park picked up Koke and Pedri. If the ball went out wide to a deeper fullback, the central defender on the side of the ball then pushed through behind the wing-back to offer cover.
An off-ball scheme with good intensity emerged, but the away team pressed much less as the game went on. The sweltering conditions at Seville told as Poland dropped back off into a 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.
Attack against defense
This matchup was not as one-sided on the possession count as was the case against Sweden, but a dominant game state emerged all the same for the Spaniards. Controlling 77% of the play on the night, they ended up facing a familiar sight.
Sousa tried to use a 5-3-2 formation as a more defensive strategy against England at the end of March. Here, the setup looked a little different, more in the ilk of a 5-3-1-1 formation. This wrinkle arose due to the asymmetry between the front two. Here, Świderski dropped off behind Lewandowski to have access to Rodri, whom Sousa had likely identified as key to the Spanish system on the ball.
As was the case against England, this choice worked out well for the most part. Zieliński dropped off into the center of the midfield, forming a line of three behind the back five. The man on the inside of the wing-back on the side of the ball would shuttle wide, shutting down runs through the channels, while the block was compact on the whole.
Spain then settled into their rhythm on the ball, slowly pushing Poland backward into a flatter block. Crosses came from both flanks, while Dani Olmo and Álvaro Morata looked to link up in the left halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. where the striker favors to drift and then combine with his teammates.
Spain’s 4-3-3 offensive structure against Poland’s 5-3-1-1 block.
The hosts tried and tried, finally blowing the house down twenty-five minutes into the game. Moreno picked the ball up wide on the right and waited for an underlapping Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. run from Koke before cutting inside onto his left foot. The forward then drove the ball at goal but mishit his strike, seemingly letting Poland off the hook.
But Morata drifted in off the back of his marker, passing the ball into the net past Wojciech Szczęsny. The linesmen on the near side raised his flag for offside, chalking off the goal. But after consultation with VAR, the decision switched in the striker’s favor, handing Spain a precious lead.
Chances fell to both sides in the moments that followed. Moreno whipped a free kick wide of the goal from just outside the box. As half time edged nearer, Świderski rattled the post for the Poles, with Lewandowski unable to bury home the rebound from close range.
Knowing that his men would go out of the EUROs if the result stayed the same, Sousa was desperate to turn the score around. Renewing their energy after the break, the Poles went back to having spells of higher pressure, making a signal of their intent.
Sousa’s men also used an intriguing setup in possession with longer spells on the ball. A chain of three was still in place at the back, but it would tilt over far to the right side of the field. To this end, Kamil Glik played like a right center-back in a four while Jan Bednarek shifted into the center of the park.
From here, two primary methods arose to move the ball forward at the flanks. Switches from one side of the pitch to the other changed the focus of the ball circulation to bring the wing-backs into the play high up the field. Otherwise, the asymmetrical overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. offered an ideal avenue to win second balls.
Poland’s extremely asymmetric offensive structure and common movements.
One such scenario saw Poland win a throw in on the right flank. The players worked the ball to Jakub Moder, who spun away from Pedri to find Mateusz Klich between the lines. The midfielder then played a pass out wide to Kamil Jóźwiak, who whipped a cross towards the far post. There was Lewandowski, who towered over Aymeric Laporte to make the ball his and thunder a headed effort into the back of the net. The talisman had come up clutch to equalize in the 54th minute. Game on.
But as soon as the two teams had drawn level, the contest turned again. From kickoff, Spain drove at the heart of the Polish block, finding Moreno inside the box. The forward cut onto his left foot once more, drawing contact from Moder before releasing the ball. The referee did not act straight away, but VAR intervened again to the detriment of the visitors. Picking up a yellow card, Moder had given away a penalty.
Dusting himself down, Moreno then stepped up to take the penalty. His strike from twelve yards was out of the goalkeeper’s reach, only for him to hit the post. True to a striker’s instinct, Morata was then the first to react, making the rebound his. But he, too, was wide of the mark, miscuing his effort to miss out on a chance to double his haul on the night. Spain’s search for the lead would go on, as would the frustrations on the finishing front.
A frustrating stalemate
At the hour mark, Enrique looked to his bench to make the difference. Olmo made way for Torres, who entered the fray on the left of the front three. Seven minutes later, a double substitution followed. Pablo Sarabia replaced Moreno, while Koke made way for Fábian Ruiz.
Torres headed wide from a Marcos Llorente delivery, while Szczęsny denied Morata from point blank range. But Spain never managed to exact the same control they had in the first half as Poland retained an offensive presence in the game. The final whistle signaled another frustrating result as Spain had dropped two more points.
A different challenge, but the same outcome for Spain leaves the team sitting third in Group E. They now must find a way to win against Slovakia, by whatever means, as the knockout stages are on the horizon.
While a win next time out is paramount for Poland too, this display should give a lift to their confidence. Their flexibility can pose teams many issues, leaving Sousa hopeful his players can hit the right notes in a do-or-die duel with Sweden.
We decided to make all of our EURO 2020 articles free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.