Wales and Croatia played out a 1-1 draw in the Euro 2020 qualifiers at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium. Ryan Giggs’ side earned a crucial point against a tactically astute Croatia side. This tactical analysis will find out how the Welsh battled for a point.
Wales lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ben Davies and Connor Roberts in the full-back positions. Defending the centre for Wales was Lockyer and Rodon, with Ethan Ampadu and Joe Allen ahead of them. Dan James, Gareth Bale and Jonny Williams supported Moore up-front.
Croatia matched Wales’ shape, with Barišić, Vida, Lovern and Jedvaj making up the back four. Kovačić and Modrić started as holding midfielders as Inter Milan’s Brozović missed out through injury. Brekalo, Vlasić and Perišić played in-behind Petković in the striker role.
Croatia block and press
Croatia set-up a block in front of a high sitting midfield. As we can see below, Croatia look to push the ball wide early on in the Wales attack. From here, the away side look to isolate the ball from the rest of the Wales team. Gareth Bale is pushed deep to receive the ball, lessening any chance of a Wales breakthrough.
Croatia take this positioning and chase Wales back, forcing them to start again, and allowing Croatia to re-group their shape and prepare for another attack.
Having forced Wales backwards, Croatia get back into their shape, with Petković marking Ampadu, who is Wales’ most direct link from defence to attack. Croatia’s wingers come inside to block the ball from Joe Allen, Wales’ primary link, and Williams who is Wales’ central creator.
Croatia won the ball back several times by forcing the ball wide, leaving the inside open for a deep runner to take-up. From there, Croatia rapidly close in on the ball, suffocating possession out of the area and back into their hands, ready to counter.
We can see this below, as Bale passes the ball straight into the middle of an on-coming cage, the further two markers close the gap to what is a safety net should the ball be worked through the initial cage, meaning that Croatia own the middle of the pitch.
As we can see below, Wales shifted into a 4-1-4-1 formation when off-the-ball. Croatia’s two holding midfielders are both talented linking players in the form of Modrći and Kovačić. Therefore, Joe Allen pushed up alongside Williams, with the midfield four dropping deep to cover Croatia’s two oncoming creative midfielders.
Wales set-up to separate Croatia’s linking players from the attacking four. Croatia look to work the ball wide. Wales set-up a curved block while Wales’ high defenders man-mark the away side’s dangermen. However, this leaves a big space between the Welsh lines, which is difficult to exploit, but Croatia’s quick football had the ability to do so.
Croatia had to put themselves in a position to penetrate this space between the lines. Croatia’s method of breaking this revolved around Modrći, and it was Wales’ mission to stop it. As we can see below, Croatia look to play out from the back, with Wales’ striker and two midfielders caging Croatia’s linking midfielders, forcing long passes and Modrić and Kovačić to drop even deeper.
You’d think that these tactics would work wonders for Wales, the further Modrić is from goal, the safer this Wales team is from danger, right? Our final piece of analysis would disagree.
Croatia made the best of an inevitably aggressive press on the world player of the year with their unexpected tactics. Croatia looked to stretch Wales’ front-line and put Modrić up against players who are less capable defensively.
Modrić, therefore, drops into the left-back position which allows for the full-backs to push high. The makeshift back-three spread themselves across the length of the 18-yard box, allowing for Croatia to open as many options to play-out as possible.
This worked a treat for Croatia as Wales’ focus on the centre was shifted to aggressively pressing the wide areas.
In the wide areas, Wales deployed a wide block with four of the midfield five involved, leaving an abundance of space in-behind and Luka Modrić free in a deeper position.
Modrić comes to support Brekalo on the ball, as his three supporting attackers are caged off from the ball.
Modrić takes two red jerseys with him, stretching the Wales cage, opening room for those players to move into the centre, as the focus shifts onto Modrić.
Modrić moves the ball back into the feet of Brekalo, deconstructing the Wales block and leaving one marker in Joe Allen, finally opening space for Croatia’s linking players to bring the ball into space and advance possession.
Croatia played in and out of Wales’ cages for much of the night, including their goal. As Croatia’s Brekalo works his way inside, Wales once again put too much focus on the ball, with a couple of players who made-up the Wales cage not doing enough to nullify the threat of Brekalo. This left two free Blue jerseys on the edge of the penalty area, the ball is cut back twice, with the focus on the ball far too much, leaving the goalscorer Vlasić completely open for the finish.
In the end, Wales learned from their early mistakes in putting too much pressure on the ball and being too tight. It took a lot for them to get past a well organised Croatian team, surpassing the cage which became static due to a claim for a foul on the edge of the box. It still took a great pass from Williams to find Bale having split the cage, and the finish was world-class.
Overall, an excellent exhibition of two teams who battled out a very high-quality game from a tactical perspective.