In the first qualifying leg for the Champions League, Norweigan side Rosenborg BK faced Irish side Linfield F.C. This match, regardless of its niche in the hierarchy of the Champions League, served great importance to both teams. Out of Linfield’s appearances in the Champions League, they have never gotten past the second round of qualifying. Moreover, in the year 2010-11, it was Rosenborg who ended up knocking out Linfield.
As such, both teams had history and visible tension between them. With the stakes of the Champions League present, this match was bound to be great for supporters. In this Champions League tactical analysis, we will show you the tactics and the consequent analysis of each team.
Manager David Healy lined up The Blues in a 4-4-2 while Eirik Horneland lined up Rosenborg in a 4-1-4-1. The only change from either side was Rosenborg replacing Samuel Adegbenro for Gjermund Åsen.
Rosenberg’s look to use wingers and fullbacks to attack
Right from the get-go, Rosenborg looked to attack their opponents. One of the main ways Rosenborg looked to accomplish this was to use through their unique relationship between fullback and winger.
This relationship changed based on situations in the game, however, these situations can be categorized into two broad categories: When Rosenborg was in the buildup and when Rosenborg were in the opponent’s half.
We will analyse each of these situations as the relationships in these situations were formative onto the match.
Rosenborg’s use of fullbacks and wingers in the buildup
When Rosenborg were initiating build up, they did so in textbook fashion. Their four-man back-line would separate to take certain positions. The two fullbacks would separate from the centrebacks and go slightly higher up the pitch.
The two centrebacks would separate themselves to situate themselves onto the boundary between the central corridor and the halfspace. This was done as it allowed them to pass easier to the fullbacks or to the midfield.
Moreover, in efforts to aid the defensive line, one of the midfielders would drop deep and situate himself between the two centrebacks.
Additionally, Troillongan made sure that this pattern was repeated near the halfway line. This put pressure on Linfield as Rosenborg were just threatening to push and attack their goal.
From here, Rosenborg initiated their relationship between fullback and winger. Normally, in many possession based teams such as Rosenborg, the fullback situates himself high up the pitch. In these normal teams, the fullback finds himself on par with the attacking line.
However, Troillongan made their fullbacks situate themselves between the midfield and attacking line. In addition to this intermediate position, the fullbacks were also expected to hug the touchline. In some cases, the fullbacks were almost outside the pitch!
This positioning of the fullback opened many possibilities and created many issues for Linfield.
The first problem was that the extremely wide and intermediate positioning of the fullbacks made passing to them extremely safe as Linfield players could not cover that much distance in the duration of the pass. This meant that even if Linfield were pressing the centrebacks aggressively, the centrebacks could always find an outlet.
Another problem that arose was that if Linfield players attempted to mark these wide fullbacks, spaces would open up in the entire central corridor of The Blues. Moreover, since Linfield were in a 4-4-2 formation, any attempts by the wide men to mark the fullbacks would leave only two Blues players to defend against the Swedish midfield.
Here we see the narrow structure of Linfield. Notice how they have left space open in the half and wing spaces. If one of the midfielders goes to track the fullback (shown in white), then there will be a huge space in the middle.
Additionally, due to the presence of the forward, the fullback cannot come up and press the Rosenborg fullback. As such, this leaves the fullback in acres of space (as shown in yellow) and time.
As such, Linfield often allowed Rosenborg to pass towards the fullback. The Blues only decided to pay attention to the fullbacks whenever they had possession of the ball, a tactic that proved to be the undoing of Linfield.
By doing this, Linfield would vacate spaces in the central corridor. A quick pass back to the centreback and all of a sudden, the Norwegian team would find a numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch.
However, the full damage was only done when the winger started building the relationship with the fullback. With the fullback widely positioned, one would expect the winger to follow through in the same manner as to facilitate vertical progression.
In an interesting tactic, Rosenborg had their wingers situated narrow. This forced the opposition fullback to come in narrow. If he assumed his normal position, he would leave the winger free in the halfspace.
This strategic positioning of the winger and fullback allowed for special movements that allowed Rosenborg to launch attacks with one or two passes.
Whenever one of the deep-lying midfielders or centrebacks came to the flanks, the fullback made a straight run inside the central corridor. At the same time, the winger would move in the opposite direction, going to the wing flank.
This movement allowed the centreback to directly find the winger. This was because when the fullback went into the central corridor, it vacated the space on the wing. Since Linfield had decided they would only mark the fullback when in possession, the fullback was free to make this movement. Often times, with this run, he would drag a midfielder to ensure that the pass reached its intended destination
With the wing flank now vacated, the winger could come into space. Moreover, the opposition fullback couldn’t follow as it would create a space between the centreback and the fullback.
As such, they had no chance but to leave the winger for a few seconds. By this time, the winger had the ball and could directly attack the fullback.
Here we see the ball carrying player progressing upwards. Accordingly, the fullback moves from his position and goes inside. As one can see, it opens a passing lane to the winger. Moreover, since the opposition fullback has reacted to the situation, the winger has some space and time to turn and directly attack the defence.
This simple movement was repeatedly used and allowed Rosenborg to quickly launch attacks out of nowhere.
Rosenborg’s use of fullbacks and wingers when in opponent’s half
Rosenborg, when in the opponent’s half, employed a slightly different strategic positioning of these the fullbacks and the wingers.
In the buildup scenario, the fullback was situated in a wide and intermediate positioning. Whenever Rosenborg were slowly pressing the defence, the fullback would often situate himself on par with the attacking line.
This positioning forced the Linfield to often set up a five-man back line. While this would suffice in controlling the fullbacks and wingers, it gave up space in the central corridor. As such, while Rosenborg could not attack through the half and wing spaces, they controlled the centre.
With this control, they could patiently draw back Linfield as they pleased and look for through balls and chipped balls to the wingers and strikers.
This picture is an example of such how Rosenborg would recycle possession and launch chipped balls. Here we see the key three players (shown in yellow, white, and brown). The winger (shown in white) holds his narrow position. This prevents the fullback from moving out to the fullback.
As such, the fullback (shown in brown) can make a curved run and situate himself behind the defence. From here, the midfielder (shown in yellow) can make a through pass into the halfspace (shown in light green). While this move is certainly offside, movements like these were repeated with the midfielder finding the player onside.
The fullback, from this dangerous position, can make cutbacks and curving crosses that can result in a goal.
However, the relationship between the fullbacks and the wingers did not stop there.
Whenever Troillongan recycled possession, the relationship between these players allowed some of the other attackers to shine.
With a five-man backline, there was congestion in the defensive line. Recognizing the congestion in the defensive line, the winger would try to go as close to the striker. This, combined with the fullback’s already wide positioning, made great space between the centreback and fullback.
Instead of the usual winger or fullback run into this space, one of the midfielders would make a curved run into this space. With this run, it allowed Rosenborg to play creative through balls that sliced through the Blues’ defence.
Here we see the triangle being formed by Rosenborg. The fullback and the winger are far away (shown in dark green). This huge space occurs in an instant and as such another midfielder is able to make a curved run into space (shown in yellow). With one single pass, Rosenborg can eliminate four Linfield players and directly attack the goal.
Another way the fullbacks and the wingers helped prosper Rosenborg’s attack was through a simple triangle formed with one fullback, one winger, and an advanced midfielder.
Swift interchanges with the fullback and the advanced midfielder could release the winger into space behind the defensive line.
This trio also helped Rosenborg’s attack by having one player being put narrow. The midfielder would wait for a diagonal run behind the defence and as such, play a chipped ball.
Another way this trio would combine would be through the fullback going towards the touchline. This would open up a diagonal passing lane to the winger who could make a curved ran. The midfielder could thread the ball and all of a sudden, Troillongan would find themselves with a one-versus-one.
The position of the fullback (shown in red) forces one of the Linfield players to not press. As such, the winger can make a curved movement and get past the cover shadow of one of the players. This movement opens a diagonal passing lane for the winger to be in. Notice how this pass will set up the winger in a 1v1 with the opposing fullback.
Aside from these relations, the wingers and the fullbacks provided maximum width that was used by Troillongan to create crosses. The most central midfielders would often look for curving and wide runs of the either of the wingers and fullbacks.
Here the narrowness of the defence allows the fullback to make a diagonal run into the halfspace. The ball-carrying midfielder can launch a through pass to the halfspace and all of a sudden, with one pass, Rosenborg has eliminated all of the defence.
In addition to creating crosses through wide runs and positioning, the fullbacks and wingers created spaces for their teammates to cross by simply switching their positions, whether those are horizontal or vertical.
This simple switch forces the opponent to wait a few seconds as if they follow these players in these movements, they will lose their defensive positions. This quick second of hesitant and caution from the defenders allows for a pocket of space to be created.
Here the players in white keep moving and this causes the Linfield defenders (shown in red) to lump together in one place. This means that the wing flank is undefended and as such, the person in yellow can make a run and receive the ball in a lot of space and time. From here, he can make a pinpoint cross to the strikers.
The Blues’ attacking organization fails to threaten Rosenborg’s defence.
Contrary to the possession-based system of Rosenborg, Linfield opted for a more direct route to goal. One of the first ways this could be seen was due to them not using a build-up pattern. In contrast to Rosenborg, The Blues, more often than not, opted to launch a ball to the midfield.
The goal was to not win the first ball but to rather the second ball. This would, in short passes, allow The Blues to traverse a huge distance and gain possession in the opponent’s half.
From here, the plan was to striker curving long balls to the three forwards. These forwards were right on the shoulder of the centrebacks and as such, the intended plan was to have a quick counterattack.
However, there were some problems with this approach. The first stemmed from the passing accuracies of The Blues. While, at times, their passes were crisp, often times their players did not have the most accurate passes.
This meant that the goalkeeper’s long balls would not reach their target and the curved long balls were poorly timed resulting in offsides. These poorly timed passes also meant that the Rosenborg defenders got to the ball before the actual Linfield attackers.
Unable to progress through, Linfield tried their luck on getting a throw-in Troillongan’s half. While this strategy did allow them to get close to the goal, it did not help them convert their proximity to actual chances. A mix of poor decision making and inaccurate passes stopped their progress.
Having lost the first leg by two goals, a comeback for Linfield looks unlikely. Seeing a confident Rosenborg steamroll them in the first leg, morale will be low. Healy will look to fixing his team’s attacking organization if the Troillongan want to have a chance at fighting back. On the other hand, Rosenborg will look to maintain control of the next leg and relax. Having comfortably dominated The Blues, manager Horneland will look to protect his players from any further injuries and to see this first round out.