Switzerland – Denmark: A dramatic Danish comeback crowns a thrilling second half (3-3)
Switzerland dominated the majority of the game, grabbing a three goal lead in the process. They looked very solid in a conservative style of play which allowed them to bypass Denmark’s pressure. But things took a turn in the final stages of the game. Denmark pushed forward in hope of a consolation, and Switzerland started making defensive errors. In the end, Denmark had erased a three goal deficit in just twenty minutes and came away with a point.
Tactical analysis and match report by Daryl Gouilard.
Both Switzerland and Denmark are very interesting sides to watch right now, with interesting similarities. Their squads are a mix of young prospects, world-class players and rising stars, and both got eliminated from the World Cup at the round of sixteen in a rather cruel way. Since then, things have gone better for Vladimir Petković’s side as they reached the semi final of the Nations League. They also started off their Euro qualifiers campaign with a comfortable win against Georgia.
On the opposite side, Åge Hareide’s side also shows signs of improvements. They came out on top of their Nations League’ group and secured promotion to League A. But for some reasons, they allowed Kosovo control the majority of time in their friendly match four days ago. Fortunately, Christian Eriksen and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg showed up at the right time to secure a draw for Denmark.
Switzerland changed their formation from a 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2 shape. The three men defense consisted of Nico Elvedi, Manuel Akanji and Ricardo Rodríguez. Steven Zuber played at left wing-back while Kevin Mbabu was on the opposite side. Denis Zakaria was the third Mönchengladbach’s player to be included in the lineup. He was joined by Granit Xhaka and Atalanta’s Remo Freuler to complete the midfield. Up front, Breel Embolo and Albian Ajeti provided the threat towards Denmark’s goal.
Switzerland’s deep 5-3-2 formation against Denmark’s high pressing 4-2-3-1 shape.
Denmark continued with the familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Veteran Simon Kjær replaced Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen to form the back line with Mathias “Zanka” Jørgensen. Jens Stryger Larsen was chosen to replace Peter Ankersen at left back. Henrik Dalsgaard continued to be the first choice on the opposite side. Thomas Delaney was included in the lineup to face his teammate Akanji, he started alongside Ajax’s key player Lasse Schöne. Martin Braithwaite switched to the opposite side as he left his spot for Leipzig’s Yussuf “Yurary” Poulsen. In the middle, Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen replaced Lukas Lerager to play in the playmaker role. Last but not least, Nicolai Jørgensen beat Kasper Dolberg and Christian Gytkjær for the lone striker spot.
Switzerland’s dominance in the first half
Both teams entered the match with contrasting tactics. Denmark played direct and immediately adopted a high press in order to win the ball high up the pitch, Switzerland sat back in a compact block and tried to play out from the back.
Denmark’s wingers would follow Switzerland’s outside center-backs and Jørgensen would mark Akanji. Initially, Denmark enjoyed some success with this system, in which they also relied on long balls from the center-backs to start attacks. However, in spite of all their early efforts, they failed to create any early scoring chances.
Switzerland adopted a conservative style of play right from the start. Petković preferred a slow approach to try and find a way through their opponent’s press. Switzerland tended to build from the back, using Elvedi and Akanji’s passing ability to start attacks. The two most frequent modes of distribution were either long towards Ajeti or wide along the flanks.
Xhaka’s distribution at the heart of Switzerland’s passmap.
Out of possession, Switzerland formed a compact 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. Xhaka would drop deep and act as a shield in front of the defense. Meanwhile Freuler and Zakaria were responsible for marking Denmark’s central midfielders, preventing them from making long passes towards Poulsen or Jørgensen. At times Embolo joined the block to form a situational 4-5-1 defense. Ajeti stayed forward as an outlet for counterattacks.
Denmark faced a lot of problems against this structure. Unable to play through the strong Swiss midfield, they were forced to play long passes and a majority of those were easily dealt with by the Swiss center-backs. Akanji and Elvedi’s aerial superiority was key to this system. They also provided pace to track back and cover for each other. Their strong defensive performances allowed Rodríguez to join the attack and he would act as another passing option for Zuber. The Milan man had almost the same responsibilities as Zuber, making crosses and take long shots whenever possible.
Switzerland successfully prevented Denmark from reaching Sommer’s goal in the remaining minutes of the first half. And as an expression of their dominance, Freuler had scored the opening goal.
Similar scenario to start the second half
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first. Denmark continued to struggle to find a way through Switzerland’s formation. Switzerland kept control of the possession and created more chances.
Switzerland mostly kept their structure in place, beside subbing Rodríguez off for Loris Benito. Benito was expected to provide solidity to that structure and reduce the Poulsen’s impact. But this substitution nearly backfired, as Benito quickly made an error which allowed Denmark to come close to an equaliser.
In the 48th minute, Benito was due to mark Poulsen, but he stepped out of the line to prevent a potential Jørgensen long shot. Instead of shooting, Jørgensen noticed how Poulsen exploited the vacated space, and played a through ball. Poulsen’s run was a fraction early and he was called offside.
Other than that, Switzerland’s structure was solid and they continued giving Denmark’s strikers a headache. Switzerland got their second goal in the 66th minute as Freuler assisted Xhaka for a well struck effort from outside the box
Denmark had no choice but to push forward in numbers, and they started to create more chances. Sommer’s excellence kept the home side’s two-goal lead intact, for the moment. Things kept getting worse for the away side, as Switzerland found their third goal ten minutes later. A Danish man-marking error allowed Embolo to cap off Akanji’s header with an overhead kick.
Denmark responds to the three-goal deficit
Any hope of a comeback would seemed unrealistic for Denmark fans at this stage of the game. But in football, nothing is certain until the final whistle has blown. Hareide instructed his players to overload their opposition’s half, looking to take any shot possible.
After a splendid performance throughout the first seventy minutes, this is when Switzerland’s defensive structure began to show its weakness. Denmark started to exploit Benito’s weak substitute performance by instructing Poulsen to run into the space behind him. Poulsen received support from Dalsgaard, who prevented Zuber from helping his teammate out.
Denmark overloading the Swiss defense, with Poulsen making smart runs in behind Benito.
Denmark’s first goal came from a free-kick that was conceded by the Young Boys’ defender. On Eriksen’s delivery, Akanji missed his interception and allowed Jørgensen to reach the ball and score from close range.
The second Danish goal came four minutes later. Benito decided to step out of the line to close down Eriksen. He left Poulsen in an advanced position for the second time, and this time the Leipzig striker was not offside. Mbabu broke the offside trap by standing several yards lower than his teammates, which allowed Poulsen to make the run.
The equalizing goal came deep into injury time, and it had an element of luck in it. Desperately trying to force something with repeated launches into the box, finally a crowd of Danish players was able unsettle the Swiss defense and a chaotic situation resulted in a close range header from right back Dalsgaard after Sommer had missed the ball. Denmark completed a three-goal comeback in the final twenty minutes of the game.
Switzerland managed to outplay their opponent by operating from a strong midfield in their 3-5-2 formation. However, the events near the end of the match cost them two points in the end. Based on their performance for most of the game, they will cause troubles for their future opponents, especially in the upcoming semi finals of the Nations League.
For Denmark, you can say their efforts paid off, with a little bit of luck. They were the underdog throughout the game, and being unable to play through Switzerland’s strong defensive block, they failed to create any significant chances before that comeback. Qualifying for the European Championship is their ultimate mission, and although this away point is a very good result, the performance was not. Hareide has a lot of work to do to improve his side and make the most of their talented players.
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