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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.