EURO 2020: Why “integral” Robin Lod could have improved Finland’s attack – tactical analysis
Finland were never expected to make it to the knockout stages of Euro 2020, with it being their first ever international tournament finals. However, expectations were raised slightly after their opening round win against Denmark, even though that was in unfortunate circumstances, as it showed the threat that they pose in the final third when they have opportunities to score. Despite this, their performance in their next game, against Russia, was of a team still finding their feet, never really looking like scoring. One of the reasons for this was their use of midfielder Robin Lod, who prefers to play in advanced positions, but was restricted by Finland’s defensive tactics.
In this tactical analysis, we will look in greater detail at Lod’s game, with analysis of how he fits into his team’s attacking play, and then will look at how Finland could have played to his strengths more in the second half against Russia when they needed to score.
Before we analyse that game, we need to provide ourselves with an idea of Robin Lod’s strengths around the pitch, giving us some ideas to take forward in the scout report. The first aspect of his play to examine is his movement around the pitch.
Here, we see how Finland are trying to play out from the back against Belgium, with Lod turning and running forward as soon as his teammate has possession. Finland wanted to play a counter-attacking style of football in this game, knowing they needed to gain at least a draw to have any chance of progressing beyond the group stage. Lod is a player Finland rely on to get into dangerous spaces around the pitch, and his run here puts early pressure on the defenders, as well as giving his teammate a passing option higher up the pitch, allowing them to attack with more pace and intensity.
Lod’s turn the instant Finland get the ball gives Belgium a choice; they can either close the ball down or block Lod’s run. Therefore, this is one way that Lod’s quick movement helps his team and causes problems for opponents.
Lod plays his domestic football in the MLS for Minnesota United, but has previously played for then-La Liga side Sporting Gijon and Greek side Panathinaikos. This has provided him with experience of different playing styles, meaning he has got used to teammates’ movements, and can combine with them to create opportunities in the final third.
Here, against Real Salt Lake, he makes the pass forward and immediately runs ahead of his teammate, giving the option of the return pass. His pace allows him to get behind defences before gaps are closed off, and this is something we expected to see him doing a lot of for Finland in their group stage games. However, their style of play was completely different to Minnesota’s, meaning Lod had to adapt, as we will look at later.
The best example of how his movement benefits his team is seen in this image, taken from Minnesota’s game against Vancouver Whitecaps. The ball is on the far side wing, with Lod moving through a defensive gap to get on the end of it. He tends to operate in a free attacking role for his domestic side, playing in multiple positions during games and getting into any area where he can affect the game. Seeing him break through defences in this way is not uncommon, and is a big reason for Minnesota’s threat when going forwards.
Alongside good movement comes excellent positioning, and this is another of Robin Lod’s strengths.
We have already mentioned how Lod looks to get into dangerous areas of the pitch at every opportunity. Here, he has found a small pocket of space in the central channel, where he is in a good position to shoot at goal. He isn’t a player who needs a lot of space to shoot, as he keeps calm under pressure from opponents, so this situation almost suits him better than being in open space. Lod favours his left foot, so often looks to move the ball onto that side of his body when shooting, giving him the best possible chance of converting opportunities like this one.
One thing we do need to mention is Lod’s versatility, as he is not only capable of playing in the central channel, but on either wing too, even if he didn’t start the game as a winger. We have already mentioned his free role in the Minnesota team, and this is something we expected Finland to take advantage of, playing the ball into Lod and allowing him to then take it forwards. In this image, he is looking to find a teammate in the middle to cross the ball to, but Vancouver have got plenty of players back to close off the spaces, making it harder for Minnesota to score. However, despite this, Lod manages to find teammate Emanuel Reynoso with his cross, who heads the ball into the net.
This again highlights Lod’s ability to remain calm under pressure, never giving the ball away unnecessarily, and this is yet another reason for his importance on the pitch.
If we look again at Lod in a central role, we can see how he links up with other players around the pitch. When with Finland, he constantly links up with Teemu Pukki, and it is not uncommon to see Lod playing in a false nine role if the former Celtic striker drops deeper to pick up the ball. When Lod is the furthest player forwards, he doesn’t act as a striker, but instead plays as a pivot for his team. This image shows how Lod has received the ball, but instantly flicks it behind for Pukki, in the yellow circle, to run onto behind the defence. This demonstrates how Lod uses his positioning to create opportunities for his teammates, and it is moments like these that demonstrate the threat his team pose when he is on the pitch.
However, where Robin Lod comes into his own is when he is under pressure from opponents. Normally, players panic when being closed down, but Lod loves it, as one of his key strengths is playing first-time passes and getting the ball into dangerous areas before opposing players have had a chance to close them off.
Here, we see how, against Colorado Rapids, Lod is the furthest player forwards, but has his back facing Colorado’s goal, so can’t turn and run when he receives the ball. However, it does mean he can see what is around him, finding the right pass to keep his team’s attack alive. There are three Colorado players behind him, which he is aware of, and this highlights his ability to know when to go forward and when to play the possessional game. We have already looked at how he links up with Pukki in the Finland team, being interchangeable with him, and this image shows how he can play in the same way with Minnesota too.
As a roaming midfielder, Lod has the freedom to come back into his own half and receive the ball from defenders. Here, he has found space between four Belgian players, providing a short passing option for his teammate. On this occasion, there would be enough time for him to turn and pass forwards, with Belgium not tightly marking him, so he has helped Finland to keep possession and build from the back with his decision to drop back here. This also gives opponents something to think about, as they have to be continually reactive to his positioning, meaning they can’t close the ball down. Therefore, Lod’s ability to get amongst opponents is another way he helps his team.
Here, Lod is on the far side of the pitch, playing in a narrow channel and trying to get the ball into a good position to cross into the box. We can see how there are Salt Lake players close to him, but he never loses his composure under this pressure, calmly moving the ball forwards. One of his best characteristics is quick feet and early decision-making, both of which mean he never hangs around working out where to go when in these situations; he already knows what to do. This makes it harder for opposing players to prevent him running into dangerous areas, as they don’t have those extra seconds when Lod is debating the options available to him.
So far, we have looked at three key areas of Robin Lod’s game, but this article is looking at the reasons for Finland struggling to score goals at the Euro 2020 finals, and the fact that they didn’t use Robin Lod in his natural role, particularly in the second half against Russia, when Finland needed a goal.
Finland set up with a low block against the Russians, trying to take a point and give themselves the best possible chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. However, this is not where Robin Lod is best suited, and it showed in his performance. Here, he has two Russian players outside him on the wing, but isn’t sure whether to close the ball down or hold his position. This allows Russia midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, who plays for Ligue 1 side Monaco, to receive the ball under little pressure. Lod is not a defensive player, and yet was being asked to play in a defensive role, and he looked lost during the game as a result, lacking energy and confidence, and it was noticeable when Russia got forwards that Lod generally allowed them to get past him too easily.
When Finland did get the ball forward more, Lod was able to play in his natural role, finding pockets of space around the pitch and giving his teammates passing options. However, as we see here, when he got into good areas, his teammates didn’t use him. Pyry Soiri, who had come on at right wing-back for Finland, could have passed the ball into him here, which would have allowed Finland to drive at Russia’s defence. Instead, Soiri passes back to Joona Toivio, as the yellow arrow shows, making it easy for Russia to stay back and prevent Finland getting the ball behind them.
Finland needed to be more adventurous with some of their play, and this was not the only time in the second half that Lod got into a good area and wasn’t found. Had they looked to play more balls into him, it is likely that they would have created more opportunities and potentially got the goal that they were looking for.
There were a few occasions where Lod made runs forward, running onto balls in the way that we know he likes to. Here, he is in open space, with teammates in the box to receive any pass he puts in, and this is the Finland we didn’t see much of yet needed, but it took them too long to get into this attacking style of play.
Ultimately, the game against Russia was the one where Finland had the best chance of winning, but they didn’t use players like Lod in their best roles, making life difficult for themselves. When they did spread out and get forward more, they didn’t then use key players as often as they needed to, which was another reason that they struggled to break Russia down. Therefore, their negative play was a big reason for them not scoring in the second half.
In conclusion, this scout report has shown that Finland midfielder Robin Lod is an attacking player, capable of operating in any position in the final third. Minnesota United play an attacking style of play, allowing Lod to flourish and be creative, but Finland’s tactics in their three Euro 2020 games, particularly against Russia, didn’t seem to suit him. If Finland want to continue playing like this, then one option would be to leave Lod on the bench and start a more defence-minded midfielder, introducing Lod when they want to be more attacking. However, as mentioned at the beginning, Finland were never expected to do much in the finals, so perhaps we should be happy that they were able to stay in matches for large parts, giving us some interesting contests.