It was all to play for in the last round of the tightly contested group G of the UEFA Europa League. All teams in the group had a chance to qualify for the last 32. Porto needed to avoid a loss, a win would ensure qualification, a draw would only have them progress if Rangers beat Young Boys in the other game in the group. Feyenoord could also still qualify even though the came into the matchday bottom of the group. Feyenoord could only qualify though if they won against Porto and Rangers beat Young Boys.

Since his appointment to become the new Feyenoord manager, Dick Advocaat has guided his Feyenoord side to a seven-game unbeaten run. FC Porto are also in a similar reign of form going on a six-game unbeaten run coming into this match, which set up an intriguing final round group G game.

The match certainly lived up to the build-up, as Porto went 2-0 ahead within 15 minutes before two quickfire goals just 6 minutes later levelled the game for Feyenoord. To finish a spectacular first half on the 32nd minute, Porto went ahead again through a furious counter-attacking move. Both teams put on stellar performances for an atmospheric crowd at the Estadio do Dragao.

Porto won the game 3-2 by seeing out Feyenoord in the second half. I will go through this in my tactical analysis how Porto first took the lead before Feyenoord got themselves back in the game only for Sergio Conceicao’s tactics ensured his Porto side won the game in the end.


UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Porto set up in their usual 4-4-2 formation with Conceicao making three changes to his side that drew 1-1 with Belenenses. Conceicao changed his team in an attempt to become more attacking as his side needed to win the game to ensure qualification. This saw Jesus Corona move to right back to replace Manafa. Uribe and Luis Diaz come into the midfield and Soares replacing Ze Luis supporting Marega upfront.

Feyenoord set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Advocaat looking to keep consistency to his side by only making one change to his side that drew 0-0 with Vitesse on the weekend. Sam Larsson being the change coming in for Nicolai Jorgensen resulting in Luis Sinisterra moving into the middle as the main striker. Larsson played on the left wing with club captain Berghuis on the opposite flank supporting Sinisterra. The Feyenoord midfield, defence and goalkeeper remained unchanged as Advocaat had faith that they would produce a result from the game.

Porto find joy as they go all-out attack

Sergio Conceicao knew a win would ensure qualification to the last 32 of the Europa League. Conceicao was certainly not going to depend on Rangers to do them a favour in the other game in the group as he set up his side very offensively. When in possession, Porto set up in a 2-2-1-5 formation in an attempt to overwhelm Feyenoord. Porto certainly overwhelmed the Feyenoord defence as they committed five (sometimes six) to the attacking line vs Feyenoord’s four in defence. Porto achieved this by playing both full-backs high and wide,  with Diaz and Marega tucking in to play in the half-spaces with Soares occupying the central zone, as you can see in the image below.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Porto’s aggressive tactics caused problems for the Feyenoord defence. What was impressive about Porto’s attacking shape was how the Porto players interchanged positions. Sergio Conceicao has drilled into his players how important this shape is to his team’s philosophy. As one Porto player moves too far out of the attacking line another Porto player fills in and occupies the space left. In the image below, Jesus Corona pulls out of his right-wing position to receive the ball. Almost instantly, Pereria, Porto’s defensive midfielder fills in the space left by Corona to rebalance the attacking shape. Porto’s interchanging of positions was a joy to watch and made it hard for Feyenoord to track as it was so intricate.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Another impressive facet of Porto’s attacking shape was the player’s movement in the attacking line. Porto’s forward player’s movement pulled and stretched the Feyenoord defence which created space and gaps for Porto to exploit. Porto constructed this as one forward player (normally it was Diaz or Soares) would drop deep to receive the ball to feet. This action left space in behind and almost on cue a supporting Porto forward player would make a run out wide to open up more space or run into the space themselves. In the image below, Diaz drops deep to receive the ball, Marega makes a run in behind the Feyenoord defence and out wide leaving a huge gap. Telles who starts the move off continues his run into the space vacated from the two players movement and sets up Porto’s first goal.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Feyenoord’s defensive issues cost them

Porto’s attacking play was magnificent but they were helped by Feyenoord’s issues at the back. Feyenoord tried to match Porto’s aggressive attacking approach with their defensive line being overly aggressive. Advocaat instructed his defensive line to man-mark Porto’s forwards. With Porto’s intricate movement in the forward line, this pulled the Feyenoord defenders out of position and left space for Porto exploit. An example of Feyenoord’s defenders being pulled out can be shown in the image below. All of the Feyenoord defenders get pulled out of position as they try to be overly aggressive. This leaves space in behind for Marega which ends in a chance for Porto.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Feyenoord’s defensive issues were not just the cause of the defensive line an even bigger defensive problem could be found in the midfield. When the Feyenoord midfield line got turned around as Porto attacked and progressed past their line they never tracked the midfield runners from Porto. Feyenoord’s midfield was essentially the exact opposite to their defence and didn’t follow their men which cost Feyenoord two goals. In the image below, Berghuis never tracked the run of Telles who is free and is able to cross the ball resulting in Porto’s opening goal.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Combining the two defensive failings in the defence and midfield lines made it easy for Porto to create goal-scoring opportunities. Porto’s third goal came as a result in Feyenoord’s two lines being inadequate in the defensive department leaving space to exploit and Porto players free. In the image below, Sensi is too aggressive and gets pulled out of Feyenoord’s defensive line Marega can exploit the space left by Sensi in behind. Feyenoord’s midfielder Leroy Fer does not track the run of Octavio who is left free at the edge of the box and his shot is eventually bundled into the goal by Soares.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Feyenoord look to exploit Porto on the transition

Even though Feyenoord were down two goals within 15 minutes of the game Porto were always going to give them opportunities to score as they were set so offensively. When Porto had possession their full-backs were very high and wide, as I mentioned earlier. This tactic left Porto very vulnerable on the counter-attack. The space either side of the Porto centre backs was huge and Feyenoord when they regained possession look to exploit this on the transition. As you can see from the image below when Feyenoord regain the ball there is acres of space for the two Feyenoord wingers to exploit however Porto incept the ball out to Larsson. This was a little warning to Porto what was to come from Feyenoord on the counter-attack.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

In Porto’s build-up play both full-backs took up their position high and wide on the wing early. This saw them rarely get involved in the first phase of Porto’s build-up play. Porto nearly got caught out using this very aggressive tactic as Feyenoord won the ball back high up the pitch. Feyenoord exploited the space left by the full-backs as Larsson received the ball in space. Corona was too high up the pitch to make an effective defensive recovery run. The move ended in Feyenoord getting a dangerous free which Berghuis nearly converted.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

Porto’s cautious second-half tactics ensure they see out the game

Porto went into the break 3-2 leaders. Conceicao could see that his side were giving up too many clear cut opportunities to Feyenoord in the first half. he elected to change his tactics to a more cautious approach. Conceicao first notable switch after the interval was he instructed his full-backs to stay back when Porto had possession. Porto now had a back four that rarely attacked. What that tactical tweak effectively did was stop the threat of Feyenoord attacking on the transition as space either side of the Porto centre backs was now filled by Corona and Telles. In the image below Feyenoord have won the ball back but their main attacking avenue is stopped as Telles and Corona are more defensively minded and have blocked off the space either side of the Porto centre backs.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis

It was not just Porto’s full-backs that became more cautious in the second half. Conceicao changed the shape of his whole side setting them up in a 4-1-4-1 low block, a stark contrast from the free-flowing Porto attacking display in the first half. This was expected as Porto needed to win to ensure qualification and set his team up much deeper and compacted, as you can see in the image below. This made it harder for Feyenoord to break down. Porto’s deep shape however allowed Feyenoord to dominate possession which they nearly capitalised on with two big goal chances in the 66th and 69th minute of the game.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20: Porto vs Feyenoord- tactical analysis


Sergio Conceicao’s tactics to set his Porto side to attack Feyenoord so aggressively was bold but the risk paid off as his team were ahead 2-0 after just 15 minutes. Porto were helped by Feyenoord defensive issues in both the midfield and defensive lines which opened up lots of space for Porto to exploit, as shown in this analysis. Porto had their own defence issue as their full-backs were high and wide up the pitch leaving space for Feyenoord to exploit on the counter-attack. This set up a fantastic five-goal thriller in the first half.

After the half time break, Sergio Conceicao smartly changed his tactics to make his side more cautious by becoming more defensive. Porto’s full-backs dropped deeper to fill the space left either side of their centre backs which was being exposed by Feyenoord’s attack in the first half. Overall Porto sat deeper and defended for the majority of the second and seen out the game as 3-2 winners on the night. Dick Advocaat suffered his first loss as manager of Feyenoord. His task now is to get Feyenoord up the Eredivisie table. Sergio Conceicao will be delighted that his bold tactics paid off and is rewarded by his side going into the last 32 as group winners. Rangers could only draw with Young Boys 1-1 in the other game in the group. Ensuring Porto have a more favourable draw in the knockout phase of the Europa League.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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Jake Meehan