How Rus­sia Coun­tered Spain’s Pos­ses­sion Game

How Rus­sia Coun­tered Spain’s Pos­ses­sion Game

Spain com­plet­ed over 1000 pass­es in this match, but could only force an own goal over the course of 120 min­utes as they even­tu­al­ly crashed out to Rus­sia on penal­ties. Our guest ana­lyst from the EFL takes a look at how the Russian’s tac­tics nul­li­fied Spain’s pos­ses­sion-based game.

How effec­tive was the Span­ish pos­ses­sion game?

Spain set up with a 4 – 2-3 – 1 through­out the game. Our Sports­code out­put win­dow below shows they dom­i­nat­ed 67.7% of the ball.

Spain com­plet­ed 1112 pass­es to Russia’s 285 and had 172 final third entries com­pared to just 70 for Russia.

In terms of shots inside the penal­ty area, Spain had 15 and Rus­sia only three. 

How­ev­er, the major­i­ty of Spain’s pos­ses­sion was not in areas that could real­ly hurt Rus­sia. Cen­tral defend­er Ser­gio Ramos had more touch­es than any oth­er play­er on the pitch with 186 touches. 

The Span­ish back four passed amongst each oth­er 202 times in the game – indi­cat­ed in the out­put win­dow below by the high amount of back­wards pass­es (386).

Our Sportscode output window shows Spain's clear advantage in possession and passes made.
Spain's shot distribution chart reads as a busy day at the office for Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev.

How did Rus­sia lim­it the effec­tive­ness of Spain’s pos­ses­sion game?

Rus­sia set up with a 5 – 4-1 for­ma­tion. It def­i­nite­ly was not a back three, rather a back five. 

Out of pos­ses­sion, Rus­sia dropped deep with ten men behind the ball. Both wing­backs played like defen­sive­ly mind­ed full backs and the three cen­tre halves did not vacate the cen­tral areas in which Spain have caused so many prob­lems in the past. 

When Spain had con­trol of pos­ses­sion, the Russ­ian back five dropped quick­ly to the edge of their own box with four mid­field­ers screen­ing the defence.

The dis­tance between the Russ­ian back five and mid­field four stayed extreme­ly com­pact through­out the game, mak­ing it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for Spain to have the ball with time and space in their attack­ing third. 

The Russian defensive setup with five at the back.

The Span­ish back four passed the ball between them­selves 202 times. That is just short of the total amount of pass­es that the whole Rus­sia team made in nor­mal time.

This gives a great pic­ture of where Spain’s high amount of pos­ses­sion was actu­al­ly used. 

The dis­ci­plined, deep and com­pact defen­sive shape from Rus­sia frus­trat­ed Spain and min­imised oppor­tu­ni­ties for Spain’s attack­ing play­ers to have any real impact on the game. 

David Sil­va touched the ball only 37 times, that was less than half of any oth­er start­ing out­field Span­ish mid­field­er or defender. 

In con­trast, Ramos touched the ball 186 times and Piqué touched the ball 134 times in defen­sive areas.

Diego Cos­ta, Spain’s cen­tre for­ward only touched the ball 16 times, which is very low con­sid­er­ing the total pos­ses­sion Spain had through­out the game.

Spain's familiar 4-2-3-1 formation was countered by a five man Russian defence, including wingbacks who could break at the chance of a counter-attack.

Where did Spain fail to execute?

One way a pos­ses­sion dom­i­nant team can beat a deep com­pact set up side is to counter attack. 

Spain tried to press Rus­sia high up the pitch, Isco had 37 attack­ing duels in the match alone.

Rus­sia should have been sus­cep­ti­ble to the counter attack in tran­si­tion, but Spain were unsuc­cess­ful at exe­cut­ing this. 

They had 0 counter attacks in the game com­pared to their oppo­nents 4 counter attacks where Rus­sia high­light­ed Jor­di Alba at left back as defen­sive weak­ness pre-game. 

On six occa­sions Rus­sia looked to attack down Spain’s right hand channel.

Spain tried to use wide areas to cre­ate over­loads and 1v1s. 

They did this on a num­ber of occa­sions, how­ev­er Rus­sia con­sis­tent­ly had bod­ies cen­tral­ly, so again Spain were unable to pen­e­trate into an area that could hurt Russia. 

The most pass­es between any two play­ers on the pitch was between Jor­di Alba and Isco (53 pass­es). This shows where Spain tried to hurt Rus­sia, but could not get the ball in space in those cen­tral areas of the pitch. Spain’s goal came from a Free kick won in a wide area by Nacho, Spain’s full back.

Russia saw Spain's left flank as a weakness and attacked there six times in the match.

Mark­ing for set plays was again important.

Set plays played a major role in this game. Spain had 6 cor­ners and 5 free kicks, Rus­sia had 5 cor­ners and 1 free kick. 

Both teams had con­trast­ing styles of mark­ing at set plays.

Spain adopt­ed a man mark sys­tem from cor­ners and Rus­sia used a zone mark­ing sys­tem from cor­ners and wide free kicks. The first goal came from a free kick where­by the defend­er mark­ing Ramos had no idea where the ball was due to his duty to mark a zone rather than a man. 

Wide free kicks:

A theme of this world cup has been defend­ing wide free kicks with a high line. Spain defend­ed with a very high one in these scenarios.

Russia's marking for Spain's goal.
Spain's man marking system from corners.
Spain defending with a high line from a wide free kick.

A com­par­i­son of two players

Despite Spain con­trol­ling the ball for most of the match, Diego Cos­ta was ren­dered inef­fec­tive in this match by the way the Rus­sians defended.

Our Sports­code head to head out­put win­dow shows Cos­ta com­plet­ed five less pass­es than his Russ­ian coun­ter­part Artem Dzyu­ba despite the Russ­ian being starved of possession.

Dzyu­ba com­plet­ed 12 more total offen­sive and defen­sive actions than Cos­ta in the match, with his per­for­mance indica­tive of the work­man-like team effort that the host nation put in dur­ing this victory.

Cos­ta also played more than half of his pass­es back­wards, sig­ni­fy­ing the effec­tive­ness of the Russ­ian defense in stop­ping Spain’s attack­ing play­ers play­ing positively.

Our Sportscode head to head output window compares the contrasting performances of Costa and Dzyuba.

Post-match review

This match was a clas­sic exam­ple of how to soak up pres­sure and take your oppor­tu­ni­ties when they come. 

The fact that Spain com­plet­ed over 1000 pass­es and couldn’t actu­al­ly score on their own accord is an amaz­ing sta­tis­tic and one that shows that Rus­sia has an effec­tive game plan to face the best teams in the tour­na­ment with.

Look­ing for­ward to their quar­ter final match against Croa­t­ia, Rus­sia will again need to put pres­sure on the likes of Mod­ric and Rakitic to min­imise their cre­ative abilities.

Giv­en they man­aged to shut down Sil­va and Isco in this match shows they def­i­nite­ly have the abil­i­ty to do so.

To learn more about how Hudl uses ana­lyt­ics to fuel the mod­ern game, you can sign up to one of our online class­es or check out our pro­fes­sion­al case stud­ies here.