James Rodriguez returned to the starting lineup for Colombia against Poland as they came into the match after having lost to Japan in their opening group game fixture. While his obvious quality is known to everyone, James’ inclusion in the side had a positive effect on a number of his teammates, noticeably Juan Quintero, as the tactical positives from his inclusion helped Colombia to a comprehensive 3-0 win over Poland. I shall look to discuss on how and why James Rodriguez holds the key for Colombia in this piece.
Colombia’s shape and the general setup for possession:
Jose Pekerman has always favoured the 4-2-3-1 in his tenure as the Colombian coach and it was no surprise to see him stick to it with the arrival of his star talisman into the lineup. The surprising feature was that of James’ position on the pitch, with the attacking midfielder taking up the left side of the three AMs playing in behind lone striker Radamel Falcao. Quintero maintained his position as the #10 in the side, which was a surprise considering that James thrives in the #10 position and was the star man for Colombia in the previous World Cup campaign from that position.
Juan Cuadrado has a very important role in this setup as he is the main source of crosses into the box from the right hand side, for Falcao to attack. He acts as the main outlet in the side, with the Colombians looking to buildup through the centre and isolate Cuadrado on the right, before putting him through down the flank for him to run onto.
Colombia push their fullbacks high up the pitch to provide width as they are a side that thrive off crosses. They play high tempo football once they enter the opposition half and are very direct in terms of their progression into the final third. Though it stated on paper that Rodriguez would play on the left, he rarely stuck to the flanks on the side and instead patrolled the half spaces and the Zone 14. Care was taken so as to not interfere with Quintero’s positioning there as the two players adjusted their movements perfectly to balance each other.
Each player occupied their respective half spaces most of the time, James on the left and Quintero on the right, with one of the two making runs into the centre when the other had the ball. Quintero in particular kept dropping deep for James to run into the space he had vacated, assuming a deeper role than his illustrious counterpart.
Two #10s and interchanging fluidity:
As stated above, there was a lot of movement and roaming from both James and Quintero. Both of them seemed to have the same role in terms of possession. Both looked to play the final ball into the box, or spread the play out wide. But this was moderated to some extent, with James assuming the role of creator-in-chief while Quintero assumed a deeper creating role. Either player, depending on the ball near side, would drop deeper to receive and advance the ball. James’ positioning meant that Mojica, the Colombian left back, could occupy a high position on the left flank, compensating for the width that Rodriguez did not provide on the side.
Quintero has been Colombia’s best player of the tournament so far, with bright performances in both their games. He is a good creator and also a good ball carrier. His decision making can be questionable at times, but nevertheless, he tries to make something happen and pulls it off more often than not. These attributes have been moderated and put to complete use with James’ inclusion in the side. Quintero dropped himself deeper, allowing James to patrol the Zone 14 while he often tried to link up with James and come up with some quick, combination play.
Quintero sometimes acted as a 8 when Colombia built play out from the back, resembling a 3-2-4-1/3-4-2-1 in attack with Barrios dropping himself into the backline while Quintero dropped into the 2 along with Aguilar/Uribe to advance the ball into the second and final third. It is interesting to note that James positioned himself on the right half halfspace at times to help with ball advancement based on the situation in such circumstances.
Colombia’s structure for counterpressing and retrieval of second balls:
Colombia are unafraid of crossing the ball, even if Falcao is the only target inside the box. Instead, they focus on wining the ball back in and around the central zones when Poland clear the cross. Quintero and James, once again lead the first line of pressure in this regard as they hog the central zones in hope of receiving the ball and playing Falcao through, or even go for goal themselves in such circumstances.
The other instance here would be where James plays the cross from the halfspaces, where he is more likely to find the target being one of the best players in the world in this regard. These situations do not demand that big a focus on counterpressing, something that Pekerman will be keen to work on if they are to avoid any potential counterattack against Senegal.
It must be said that the unavailability of Carlos Sanchez(red card in the first match) and Aguilar(injury in the 28th minute in this match) affected Colombia in this regard, but Poland were very wasteful and lethargic, thereby failing to make Colombia pay for this.
It was always a given that Colombia would perform better with their best player back in the starting lineup. What goes under the radar is the fact that he brings a lot of tactical stability to this side and makes them unpredictable in many ways when they are in possession. Quintero, who had a very good first game against Japan from a deeper central midfield role, was allowed to thrive with James taking up some of the creative responsibility off him. There was reduced attention on Quintero as well, which allowed him to express himself and play his natural game. All in all, the arrival of James Rodriguez back into the starting line-up had a positive effect on the whole side, which was aptly reflected by the scoreline.