The final game of the UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifiers was played in Luxembourg City between Luxembourg and Portugal. The visiting team needed a win to guarantee its qualification to be able to defend its title in next year’s tournament. Coming to Luxembourg after a 6-0 win against Lithuania gave the Portuguese high hopes. However, the game didn’t go very much according to plan.
This tactical analysis shows how Portugal had to adapt its tactics due to Luxembourg’s compact defensive structure and the conditions of the pitch, while Luxembourg looked dangerous at times through quick counter-attacks on the wings. This analysis also depicts tactics Portugal used to get the two goals they needed to go through to the final stage of the tournament.
Portugal’s lineup suffered a couple of changes from their 6-0 win against Lithuania that was played 67 hours before. Raphael Guerreiro replaced Mario Rui on the left-hand side, while Danilo Pereira filled in the no. 6 role instead of Ruben Neves. Gonçalo Paciencia sat on the bench for his Frankfurt team-mate Andre Silva to step in as Portugal’s new no. 9.
Luxembourg’s side suffered significant changes from their 3-2 loss away in Serbia. Tim Hall came in at centre-back while Lars Gerson, the starter from the last game, was moved up to midfield for better solidity and structure due to Portugal’s dangerous attacking players. Instead of having five attacking players, Luxembourg opted to have a double pivot, again, to hold off Portugal’s dangerous attacks. As such, Olivier Thrill was dropped alongside Chris Phillips, giving room for defensive midfielder Barreiro Martins and winger Turpel.
Third man runs
Coming to this game, Portugal knew it would be hard to play a quick passing game due to the state of the pitch in Luxembourg. As such, the tactics were adapted to play long balls instead. They used the long passing range of both Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes as the main threat of their attack.
The picture above shows how Portugal wanted to use the two midfielders. The plan was for one of them to drop back to help with the build-up. Both of them are great players on the ball, so it made sense to give them the ball as soon as there was an opportunity. Here is Bernardo Silva coming back to receive the ball from the Portuguese centre-back (picture above). His marker is also pointed out in the picture, being drawn out of position by Bernardo’s movement.
Once again, here is one of Portugal’s attacking midfielders, this time being Bruno Fernandes, on the ball behind the halfway line, looking up to make a long pass to one of Portugal’s strikers.
It’s common to think that playing long balls has no tactical structure behind it, where players don’t know what else to do so they kick the ball up the field in hopes of sending the striker through on goal. However, that was not the case with Portugal. Although Portugal’s tactics showed a 4-3-3 on paper, it translated into a diamond 4-4-2 on the field, with Ronaldo and Andre Silva playing as the two strikers. This allowed Portugal to make third man runs in behind Luxembourg’s defence.
In this picture we see Ruben Dias with enough space to progress with the ball, thus Bernardo Silva stays central to lock his marker and leave a gap in Luxembourg’s midfield block. Raphael Guerreiro, Portugal’s left-back, did the same on the flank. As such, that gap gave space for Andre Silva, one of Portugal’s strikers, to drop in between the lines to receive the ball.
This picture shows Andre Silva dropping to the midfield to receive the pass from Ruben Dias. This movement forces Luxembourg’s centre-back to follow Andre Silva into the midfield, which leaves a huge gap in behind, waiting to be explored by Raphael Guerreiro, who has already started making the run in behind.
This is why the movement is called the third man runs because the third man, not involved in the play (Guerreiro) is the man making the run in behind. This movement can be done with the ball, shown in this example, or without the ball, shown in Portugal’s first goal.
Here we see the same strategy being used. Bernardo Silva is on the ball behind the halfway line. The other Portuguese midfielders are creating that gap in Luxembourg’s block by sticking to their positions. Therefore, Ronaldo has space to drop back to receive the pass from Bernardo.
The Luxembourg defender, thinking he knows what’s about to happen, steps up to try and intercept the pass that Bernardo is going to make to Ronaldo.
Here is another angle on the play. As we can see, the Luxembourg centre-back steps up a tiny bit to intercept the pass from Bernardo to Ronaldo. This image is also perfect to see the gap in the midfield created by the Portuguese to build this movement. However, due to Ronaldo’s action, it created space behind the Luxembourg defence, which is where Bruno Fernandes is running towards.
Bernardo plays a perfect over the top ball into the run of Bruno Fernandes, and he gives Portugal the lead with a beautiful bottom corner finish.
Luxembourg’s patience in attack
The home team didn’t have many chances to score in this game, but that’s also due to the tactics they used in the attack. Portugal’s overload in central midfield meant that Luxembourg had to attack out wide. They knew the Portuguese full-backs would be going up the pitch consistently, therefore they planned to drop back in defence and wait for an opportunity to play a long ball to a flank where either of the Portuguese full-backs had over-extended.
In the image above, we can see the whole Luxembourg team in their half after having won the ball back off Danilo Pereira (on the floor). On the right flank, we can see Ricardo Pereira, the Portuguese right-back, out of position. In turn, the Luxembourgish left-winger can be seen lifting his hands as his team recovers the ball, to signal his team-mates that he’s going to make a run down the flank with no full-back.
This image shows the progression of the play, with the left-winger making the run in that free channel, while Ricardo Pereira is seen completely out of position. This was one of the most dangerous plays from the Luxembourg team.
Once again, we see most of the Luxembourg team in its half, holding off the Portuguese attack. Ricardo Pereira is on the ball, clearly over-extended, and the man he is meant to be marking (bottom left corner) is free to run in behind the Portuguese defence once his team wins the ball. The Luxembourg left-back can win the ball on the flank and immediately sends it over to his team-mate.
Here is the follow up of the play. The biggest issue with Luxembourg’s tactics can be seen in this image. Although they have the ball in a dangerous situation, the Luxembourg attackers are outnumbered from three to five players, which resulted in a switch of play to make time for the rest of the team to push up.
However, the time spent for the rest of Luxembourg to push up also gave Portugal time to pull their team back and organise their defence to win the ball back. This is why Luxembourg were only able to register one shot on target throughout the match.
Second half changes
The second half started the same way the first half ended. A game very well balanced and disputed in the midfield. However, Luxembourg learned from their mistakes in the first 45 minutes and were determined to stop Portugal from playing long balls in behind. Therefore, they pushed their defensive line up. This change can be seen in the game stats. In the first half, there had been no offsides from either team, however, in the second half, Portugal was caught offside four times. The long balls were not working as efficiently.
Consequently, Fernando Santos needed a change. Bringing on Moutinho for Pizzi around the hour mark caused Portugal to change its tactics from a diamond-shaped midfield into a standard 4-3-3 formation, with Bernardo Silva locking onto the right flank, while Ronaldo and Andre Silva interchanged positions regularly. They formed Portugal’s front three.
This picture shows how Portugal was structured after Pizzi left. It’s clear to see Bernardo now playing as a right-winger, while Moutinho and Bruno Fernandes worked as two no. 8s while Danilo still stayed in the defensive midfield role.
The tactical change was complete when Andre Silva came off for Diogo Jota, where he moved to the left-wing, allowing Ronaldo to play the no. 9 role for the rest of the game.
This picture shows that change clearly. Diogo Jota is locked onto the left flank, which not only gave Portugal more width on their attack but also changed Portugal’s attacking strategy from long balls in behind to crossing, thus it was essential to have Ronaldo in the central striker position. This change is shown in the game stats, where Portugal increased its number of crosses from six in the first half, to 10 in the second. Although not a significant change on paper, Portugal’s second goal came through a cross on the right wing by Bernardo to the second post, where Ronaldo found the back of the net.
All in all, the Portuguese accomplished the expected by qualifying to the final stage of EURO 2020. However, Luxembourg should be proud for making this game as hard as it could be for the visiting team, scrapping two goals from a not so notorious performance.
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