Euros 2020 will be the 5th time that Switzerland will make their appearance in the tournament, having made their first one in 1996. Despite missing out on the tournament in 2012, they came back in 2016 to qualify for the knockout stages. Despite being huge favourites to beat Poland in the Round of 16, they succumbed to their opponents after a penalty shootout.
Vladimir Petkovic would be hoping that his men make it into the knockout stages for the second consecutive time. Though they will have a quite amount of work to do in order to make it into the next stages. They have a competitive group that consists of Italy, Turkey and Wales. With a decent squad at their disposal, Switzerland would be hoping to exceed expectations in this tournament. In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we will be discussing Hungary’s tactics and their playing style. Let’s begin the analysis.
The graph above contains a breakdown of the probable pool of players that might make it into Switzerland’s 26-men squad along with their age and minutes that they have played in the past year. The interesting thing to be inferred is that there are quite a few youngsters (less than 24 years) and just 3 people over the age of 29 years and past their peak days. Among those in the peak years, we see that the players are mostly clustered in two extremes. We see a lot of players have completed their 24th year or 29th year with very few of them in between.
This means that their squad is slightly imbalanced in this even though it looks like they feature mostly players in their peak years. There are a couple of obvious choices from each department. Yann Sommer is going to be their main tournament. In front of him, the obvious defenders would be Ricardo Rodriguez, Manuel Akanji, Kevin Mbabu while the likes of Elvedi and Fabian Schar are also expected to make it into the final squad.
Among the midfielders, Granit Xhaka is going to be their main man in the middle of the park while the likes of Freuler and Michel Aebischer will be partnering with him. The other options could be Christian Fassnacht who is also expected to make the squad. The forward options will be spearheaded by Xhedran Shaqiri while the other options could be Breel Embolo, Mario Gavranovic, Haris Seferovic, etc.
Below, is the probable 26-man squad that Switzerland will be taking to Euro 2020:
Based on the players and Petkovic’s recent lineups that Switzerland used in their World-cup qualification and friendlies, the probable playing 11 will be similar to the one in the image below.
The attacking metrics tell us that Switzerland are not a very dominant team when it comes to playing with possession. Their percentile rank of 28 for possession% means that they average very little possession per game when compared to the other European team at the Euros. But they rank just above the median level for the number of shots taken per match and they are pretty good at being clinical in front of the goal as a lion share of their shots taken are on target (84th percentile rank). But despite notching above-average shots per game they create very few high-quality chances as their xG per match is at 40 percentile rank which is less than an average team playing at Euros which makes it even more clear about their ruthlessness as they have a tendency of converting low probable chances into goals.
Switzerland cannot be seen as a very direct team despite having less possession as we can see they lie around the median when it comes to the “Directness in possession” metric. They tend to use the long ball very less as seen in the chart. This means even when they have possession they don’t look to play it quickly due to their conservative approach. This has often led to teams immediately reorganizing into a low-block against them and they have often struggled to get into the penalty area as seen by their number of touches averaged in it.
Most of their chances come from crosses as they tend to use crosses more with the likes of Shaqiri, Rodriguez being very good crossers of the ball. They also have a very high tendency to engage in offensive duels as they have a percentile rank of 68. Though they don’t win a lot of them as we can see a very less accuracy but this is again due to the fact that they contest a lot of duels.
In most situations, Switzerland would look to play the ball out from the back by inviting their opposition to press. With 3 centre-backs they would look to split their wide centre-backs and their goalkeeper would help the backline by forming a +1 option against the opposition’s press. This would result in a 4 men backline (including the keeper) as the wing-backs would now play higher and create a 2v1 against a player like in the image below where the right wing-back (circled white) is high and along with a forward has created a 2v1 situation.
Their shape in the final third would be a 3-2-5 with the wing-backs joining the forward line and as they would be the ones responsible for stretching the defence horizontally. The shape can be seen in the image below. But often one of the two wide centre-backs would often overlap and find themselves in the wide regions to provide crosses, especially Ricardo Rodriguez.
The importance of Xhaka to the team is very huge about which we will be discussing later. During their attacking phase, his positioning and ability to find players in space is very crucial for Switzerland to move into the final third. We already saw from the chart before that they are very conservative on the ball. So Xhaka’s ability to progress the ball for them is very important to their attack. We can see him dropping as a centre-back in the image below. This means that the player marking him has to commit forward leaving space behind him. This can be used by another player to drop into that space. But Switzerland in this sequence have got it wrong as they have two players dropping with none of them stretching the Belgian defence vertically. Had one player stretched the defence vertically, the other could have used the space in a much more effective way.
Also, as a whole, the positioning of the CMs are crucial if the opposition looks to man-mark CMs. Switzerland usually does this to manipulate the opposition by dragging them out of their position. This opens a passing lane for one of the forwards to drop into and receive the ball as they do in the image below. The likes of Shaqiri can be benefitted from these sequences as he can drop into these central regions and drive forward. If the opposition CB decides to follow him then he can use his trickery to get past him and Switzerland will then have an overload with two other forwards already ahead.
Overall, the underlying metrics say that Switzerland despite possessing some good quality forwards and midfielders have performed on an average level at best. If they need to go past the group stage that has the likes of Italy, Wales and Turkey they need to get their attack firing at their best. The likes of Embolo, Shaqiri, Xhaka and Ruben Vargas are very crucial to their attack succeeding at the main stage.
Looking into their defensive statistics over the last calendar year, we see that Switzerland are less intense when compared to the other teams present in the tournament. They have a very high value for PPDA, which is the number of passes they have allowed for every defensive action they make, which describes their less intense approach during defensive phases. This has directly impacted the number of recoveries they make per game as they have a very low percentile rank of 28 here. Their recoveries in the final third and their own third seem to be less than the averages when compared to the other teams.
But they seem to be contesting in a lot of duels per game as this includes not only pressing and tackling but also other ground duels when they man-mark an opponent. And also to be noted here is that they have very sub-par accuracy in winning these duels as their accuracy is less than an average European team.
Their interceptions stats are decent and are very much above average. This kind of explains their defensive style as they look to get their positioning right and stay in the right position to intercept the ball. This means that mostly when an opponent looks to attack them they do not tend to commit very much and would often look to delay the process as much as possible and win the ball back by blocking passing lanes.
Their reactive approach here means that they also do not make a lot of clearances, which is again a proactive move of defending. This approach means that they have often allowed a lot of shots from their opposition as seen from the chart. Despite that, they have conceded fewer goals overall as they block the shots very well and the likes of Yann Sommer has done a good job in preventing goals.
Switzerland looks to deploy a ball oriented pressing where they look to overload the ball side in most instances and try to force a turnover. Their idea behind the setup is to squeeze the space around the ball and block passing lanes. We can see an example of that in the image below as they have overloaded the flank with 6 players against Belgium’s 5 players.
Though the issue with this form of pressing is that it leaves a lot of space for the opposition on the far side and a single switch by a player to that side would cause a lot of issues. An example of that is given below where Switzerland have a lot of players committed to the ball side but have left huge space in front of the defence as they have left it underloaded. All Belgium had to do was to commit a player to make a dynamic run from deep into that space and a switch to him into that space would have left the defence exposed.
In their low block, they maintain a 5-2-3 system which is quite unusual as most of the teams that use 3-4-3 tend to use 5-4-1 as their preferred low-block setup. The advantage of this, which is seen in the image below is that it ensures no central passes happen from the centre-back. If the forwards were to form a line with the CMs then the opposite centre-backs would have time to carry forward and when the forwards push up to press that would create a dynamic space behind.
Overall, Switzerland are a very good team on the defensive front. They have some wonderful players like Akanji, Xhaka and Rodriguez who form the defensive backbone of the team and provide the team with the solidarity they need. Though systematically they have some deficiencies, their individual players are capable of masking that and pushing the team forward.
We mentioned that they like to defend by delaying the attackers and they mostly look to find the right situations to make recoveries and intercept the ball instead of diving into challenges. They use a similar set of principles even during transitions. The reason why this would be effective is that it could effectively give them the time to have their players, who went forward, track back and form an overload. And also against fast and skilful attackers, this method would ensure that the options for them are blocked while also not providing them with the space to go forward. An example of this can be seen below where the Swiss players are tracking backwards while having the right body orientation so that Belgium attackers don’t have the right options to pass or make runs into.
During an offensive transition, Switzerland generally looks to commit at least 5 players to the attack. It would feature the 2 forwards making central runs, Shaqiri (CAM) would mostly be the one carrying the ball or playing the final pass and the two wing-backs would join the attack and provide the width by making overlapping runs. An example of this can be seen in the image below.
With the pace and power from the likes of Embolo, Seferovic and Vargas with Shaqiri providing creativity for them, Switzerland look to be a very threatening team on the break. Most of their counter-attacks have been stalled or unsuccessful due to decision making in the final third. If they can sort that out, then it would be impossible to stop them in these situations.
Comparing potential Switzerland forwards, who might make into the final squad for the Euros, in the above chart with respect to their goal contributions and ability inside the opposition box. We see that Cedric Itten has averaged the most number of touches inside the box among the Swiss forwards. The Rangers forward has also taken the second most number of shots per game behind Seferovic. The latter too records a high amount of touches inside the box and is only behind Itten.
Veteran Gavranovic is also one of the high performers when it comes to the number of touches in the box per game but he seems to be taking fewer shots relatively. Looking into the Embolo, whom we predicted would be a starter, he seems to be around the median mark for both touches as well as shots. This is obviously impacted by the league in which he plays in as Bundesliga is relatively more competitive than the leagues in which the other Swiss forwards compete. Vargas is very less involved in taking shots and moving into the box, which is expected given that he is a winger.
Comparing their goal contributions, Gavranovic seems to be their best performer with respect to both expected contributions and actual contributions. Closely behind him in both metrics is Seferovic who also seems to overperform his expected contributions by proving to be clinical. Itten seems to be amassing better-expected goal contributions than Seferovic while not being as clinical as the latter. Despite that, he performs better than most of the other forwards and looks likely to book his ticket to the main tournament.
The likes of Embolo and Vargas seem to be behind the mentioned players even when it comes to goal contribution, of course for obvious reasons mentioned before. Despite that Embolo will be the main attacker starting for Switzerland. This is due to his experience playing in a top-5 league and also being young means that his pace and energy could be used effectively in correspondence with Seferovic or Gavranovic’s experience. He has also averaged 5 goals and 6 assists in 30 appearances in the league which is good considering his age and the number of games he has started.
Overall, Switzerland have a decent attack with some exciting young talents and a couple of experienced campaigners. The only concern is that they do not have forwards in their definite peak period with all those mentioned options either entering their peak or are just leaving behind. Only Fassnacht seems to be an option who is in his peak, but his statistics don’t seem to be favourable when compared to the other players.
Among the midfielders, it is clear that Granit Xhaka is their key progressor of the ball and is probably one of the best in the business. We will discuss his ability and importance to the team in detail later but for now, it’s clear that Xhaka is key to Switzerland’s ability to progress the ball from their defensive third to the final third. Closely following him behind is Remo Freuler who has also seems to be a key progressor for his club, Atalanta BC. The two midfielders in our predicted lineup were Freuler and Xhaka. The reason for that is both are quite progressive on the ball while also complementing each other defensively. While Xhaka approaches in a much more composed manner, Freuler likes to be aggressive in pressing and be intense.
Among the others, we see Fernandes and Aebischer being the most progressive passers on the ball. Zakaria, one of the highly-rated defensive midfielders in world football, is not very progressive with possession. This is because of his style of play as he is much more inclined towards defensive responsibilities than attacking and passing.
While Shaqiri, who pretty much plays as a forward, is taken into consideration here as a midfielder due to his role as a CAM. He does pretty well in finding teammates with progressive passes but does not record a lot of passes into the final third. This is because of his positioning higher up the pitch as his role is very much responsible for the creation of chances in the final third while the dirty work and linking up the attack and defence will be done by players like Xhaka, etc.
Comparing the midfielders when it comes to goal contributions, Shaqiri easily comes out on top with both expected as well as actual goal contributions. Among the other midfielders, we see Freuler and Aebischer scoring high in terms of actual goal contributions. Both of them are capable of playing as a box-to-box midfielder beside Xhaka, who ranks very low due to his deep positioning on the pitch and the responsibility of staying deep to protect against the opposition’s counter-attacks.
Overall, A Shaqiri-Freuler/Aebischer-Xhaka combination is the best one Switzerland can have and if they need another midfielder who needs to do more defensive work against superior teams like Germany, France, etc then Zakaria would be a very good option to go with. The midfield department for Switzerland is probably their best and they would be very crucial to their nation’s chances of making it into the knockout stages.
Among the defenders, we see that Comert has been one of the best defenders when it comes to intercepting the ball with his very good reading of the game. He also averages more than 11 successful defensive actions per game and is equally good with his challenges and duels. But on the ball, we can see that he lacks the ability to progress the ball with his passes or carry it forward. This is one of the reasons why he has featured very little for the national team and has made only 3 appearances.
Among the other potential starting centre-backs, Elvedi seems to be very good in the defensive metric by averaging around 8 interceptions per game and also averaging more successful defensive actions than Comert. Similar to Comert, Elvedi too is not very progressive on the ball and attempts very few actions. But given that he plays in Bundesliga, his experience playing at a competitive level is why Petkovic prefers him.
Akanji, on the other hand, is decent when it comes to making defensive actions as playing for a possession dominant team (Borussia Dortmund) means he doesn’t have to make many defensive actions in a game but still is probably the best Swiss defender. His value to the team can be seen with respect to his ability on the ball by averaging more progressive passes than any other centre-back.
Ricardo Rodriguez can be seen as a versatile defender with his ability to play as both a centre-back as well as a left-back. Though he doesn’t compare very well with other players statistically his versatility and experience playing at a top level for top teams like AC Milan will see him edge past defenders like Schar in the lineup.
Among the full-backs/wing-backs, Mbabu, right-back, seems to be the best player both in both offensive as well as defensive ability. Petkovic has also recently used midfielder Steven Zuber as a wing-back due to his superior attacking ability on the left side. Overall, Switzerland’s defensive department is stacked with some experienced faces and Petkovic has a variety of options to choose from apart from Akanji and Rodriguez who are expected to be sure starters.
Despite having the likes of Shaqiri and Akanji in the squad, Granit Xhaka will be their key player and probably their best player going into the tournament. While Arsenal under Mikel Arteta had a turbulent 2020-21 season, the Swiss was one of the low-key best performers at the club. We can see his importance as a player from the chart above which depicts his statistics in major attacking, passing and defensive metrics.
According to the chart, he ranks around 95th percentile, among the league midfielders, when it comes to the total number of passes made into the final third per game and what’s more interesting is that his accuracy seems to be one of the best in the league despite such a volume of passes. This shows that he is consistently responsible for Arsenal’s progression from their own third to the attacking third. His forward pass ratio, which measures the percentage of forward passes among the total passes, is also around the 80th percentile. So when compared to the other midfielders present in the league, Xhaka has a very high tendency to attempt a forward pass instead of lateral ones.
The general trend among the midfielders today shows that not being progressive does not mean they are good at being secure in possession and retaining the ball. But Xhaka’s pass completion rate tells a different story as he is one of the best retainers of the ball. His ability to read the situation is one of the reasons why he is able to retain and progress the ball at the same time. He also has the knack of breaking lines and playing valuable passes to his teammates. This is shown by his high value when it comes to the number of through passes and smart passes that he has attempted.
He does not seem to contribute a lot in terms of goals as he takes fewer shots per game which is the reason behind his low xG value. Also, he is more of a deep-lying facilitator for the team and not someone who will be making the final passes for his teammates to score goals. That particular responsibility will be carried by the wing-backs and Shaqiri as Xhaka will be more about bringing out the ball to their feet. It will be very interesting to see his combinations with Shaqiri when the latter drops deep as their chemistry is very crucial to Switzerland’s attack.
His contributions to the side do not stop there as his defensive abilities at the centre of the park are as valuable as his passing. We mentioned before that he is one of the cornerstones of this team’s defence and the proof can be seen from the chart. He is very good aerially as he contests in a high amount of aerial duels and also wins most of them (percentile rank around 75).
His style of play mostly revolves around reading the play and positioning himself at the right place to intercept the ball. This is one of the reasons why he averages a lot of interceptions per game and while also contributing to the team’s defensive compactness. This is why he doesn’t look to contest in a lot of duels and also he seems to be below average whenever he contests where he either loses them or fouls the player (high percentile rank).
Overall, his positives completely outweighs his certain negatives and the stats shows why Xhaka is probably the best Swiss player going into the tournament. Switzerland would be expecting him to be at his best for them to qualify and make it into the knockout stages.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE TOURNAMENT
With Italy in their group, Switzerland would be the second favourites ahead of Wales and Turkey to qualify from their group into the next stage. Unlike last time, where they were knocked very early in the Round of 16, they would be hoping to reach until the quarterfinals stage. It would be then very competitive and difficult for them in the quarter-finals as they will start facing favourites like France, Portugal, Germany, etc in these phases. So with the team that they have a quarter-final exit would be our predicted outcome.