EURO 2020: How Wales’ impressive defence negated Switzerland’s improved attack in the second half – tactical analysis
Euros 2020 is underway and we have already seen some interesting clashes so far from a tactical point of view. Group A has seen all the 4 teams play one match each with Wales and Switzerland holding out to a draw against each other.
Wales lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with a midfield trio of Joe Allen, Joe Morrell and Aaron Ramsey. The forward line consisted of Manchester United’s Daniel James, Real Madrid loanee Gareth Bale and Kieffer Moore.
Switzerland, on the other hand, went with a midfield of Freuler, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. Despite Rodriguez expected to be playing as a left centre-back, Petkovic went with him at the wing-back while Schar was given to play as a central CB.
Wales’ compact structure frustrates Switzerland
Switzerland’s 3-4-3 system was countered by Wales with a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 system. They pretty much set up in a mid to a low block that mostly wanted to have a central coverage that stopped Switzerland from progressing the ball centrally. We can see that in the image below where they formed a concrete shape behind Switzerland’s defence. Their main priority was to give very little space at the centre of the park.
As a result of this, Switzerland’s defenders weren’t able to find their midfielders in between the lines and in space. We can see the likes of Xhaka and Freuler dropping very deep to get themselves involved in the proceedings. Also, a thing to be noted here is that apart from Akanji the rest of the Swiss centre-backs are not comfortable in possession. This means that Xhaka still had to drop to bring the ball out. We can also see Freuler occupying a very wide position and away from his usual central position to make himself available for the pass. This means that the likes of Shaqiri has to drop into the position where he is supposed to be and by dropping deep his presence higher up the pitch is missed.
This often meant that Switzerland had to play around Wales’ shape initially and very few instances where they were given the chance to break the lines but Wales were more proactive in defending them immediately. We can see an example of this in the image below where to access Xhaka, Switzerland had to play it around to Rodriguez to access the Arsenal midfielder. Another thing to note here in the image is Mbabu’s positioning high up the pitch. His positioning vertically is fine as he is high up the pitch but horizontally he is very close to the Wales left-back, Ben Davies, and not very wide which means, a switch to him could be accessed by Davies too.
Switzerland then slowly made some changes to their tactics to improve its progression of the ball. The first thing was to use one of their forwards to ensure verticality and pin both the Wales centre-backs. This means that the other forward has the license to drop deep and form overloads in the midfield. With the midfield already having a 3v3 battle with Shaqiri dropping and Allen following him an additional player dropping meant that the Swiss were able to get a 4v3 superiority. We can see a 3v2 situation in the example below where Embolo has dropped deep and is not followed by Allen since he was already engaged by Shaqiri. These small changes started to help Switzerland as the first half progressed.
Sometimes they were also able to work their way from the flanks and looked to exploit the slightest of gaps present in the Wales defence. Often the wing-back would receive the ball and sometimes he would have the opportunity to play a pass into the interior of the pitch. This would often be aided by some dummy runs by forwards, where they would also drag players off position and move them to open passing lanes and spaces. In the example, we can see that Shaqiri (white circled) has made a dummy run and dragged a player with him. This gives an opportunity for Rodriguez to play a pass into the interior regions. But Switzerland doesn’t commit players in between the lines to receive and Rodriguez’s pass was intercepted.
In another such example, we can see Mbabu this time in the wings but Wales players around him do not close the passing angles to the central regions and leave it open with poor body angles. He plays a straight pass to Seferovic, who holds the ball well and takes a shot.
Switzerland target Wales centre-backs
At the end of the first half, Switzerland finally found a way to exploit the Welsh centre-backs. They decided to place their centre-forwards close to their centre-backs and ensure that the Welsh CB were marking them and were attracted to them. When they dropped, the Welsh CBs were also forced to drop deep and follow them. This vacated space was then used well by the other Swiss forwards. We can see that in the image below as Seferovic dropping deep meant that Rodon followed him and Embolo now can attack the space in a 1v1 with the other CB.
The lead up to the corner which resulted in their goal also came from a similar fashion. In the second half, the Swiss centre-backs were more adventurous and willing to drive forward with the ball. As we can see in the example below, Akanji drives forward and plays a line-breaking pass to a dropping Seferovic. He drags Rodon with him and releases Embolo 1v1 with the goalkeeper which leads to the corner.
The corner is also something that has to be scrutinized as Wales’ marking system was very poor. They deployed just two zonal markers and four-man markers. One forward (Daniel James) was deployed higher up the pitch for a counter-attack. While two men stayed closer to the set-piece taker in case of a short corner situation. The issue was pretty much regarding the zonal markers as there is not a single player behind Embolo marking zonally. When one of the Swiss players makes a run to the near post, the entire Welsh defence is attracted to him and the man-markers are not in the right position to engage in the zone that Embolo is. Due to this, Embolo easily overpowers his marker with no other player challenging to score the goal.
Another interesting change they made to ensure that central progression was Switzerland started to build out from the back and looked to bait the Welsh players in pressing them higher up the pitch. This opened gaps in their midfield as the defence did not look to push higher up the pitch to press. We can see an example of this in the image below.
Wales benefit from Switzerland’s passive plan after taking the lead
Switzerland, after taking the lead became more passive by allowing Wales to dominate the ball and afforded them with space instead of killing the game. This was also the period where Bale became much more involved in Wales’ play as he dropped deep and was insistent on getting onto the ball frequently. He would often switch the ball to the other flank as Wales would look to overload the right flank and hit the underloaded left flank using the likes of Daniel James like in the image below.
Naturally, Switzerland when out of possession looked to mainly force Wales to their left-flank as due to the inferior quality on that flank when compared to the likes of Bale and Roberts. We can see that in the image below where they have let Davies have the ball and drive forward knowing that he won’t be much of a threat in the attacking sense.
Like Switzerland, Wales also scored from a corner and it was a combination of good strategy by Wales as well as a sub-par marking scheme from the Swiss defence. Again a lack of zonal marking in the six-yard box whereas they had six men marking four Wales players inside the eighteen yard box. This meant that the two players were redundant staying in the same zones and also the movements of the Welsh players inside the box once the corner was taken meant that they were dragged unnecessarily and left in no man’s land. Also, Moore, the scorer, makes a very curved run to evade himself from his marker and get a free header.
With the xG being 1.4-0.5 in favour of Switzerland, they would be ruing the missed chances that could have won them the game. Wales, on the other hand, would be content in getting a point after going down early in the second half. While Switzerland will be in Rome to take on group leaders Italy, Wales will remain in Baku to play against Turkey next.