The second day of quarter-finals in the UEFA Europa League saw Shakhtar Donetsk take on Basel, both sides knew that a win would allow them to proceed to the semi-finals, where Inter Milan would await. This tactical analysis will use data and video analysis to understand the tactics applied by both sides and where the match was won and lost.
Shakhtar Donetsk are the current Ukranian Premier League champions, having won the league at the end of July and are well known for their attacking style of play influenced by their attacking Brazilian contingent. In the previous round, they defeated Bundesliga side Wolfsburg 5-1 on aggregate, their German opponents finished seventh in the Bundesliga last season and Shakhtar Donetsk’s ease in beating Wolfsburg proves that they’re a dangerous side in this competition.
Similarly, Basel faced Bundesliga opponents, in Eintracht Frankfurt in the previous round and won 4-0 on aggregate over two legs. Basel finished third in the Swiss super league last season and will be highly motivated to win the Europa League to win a place in the upcoming UEFA Champions League. Their third place finish means that if Basel don’t win the UEFA Europa League they will only be able to compete in the UEFA Europa League for the upcoming season and will have to do so from the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round.
Shakhtar Donetsk manager Luis Castro made one change from the side that beat Wolfsburg last time out as Valeriy Dondar replaced the suspended Davit Khocholava. Castro decided to keep Mykola Matvyenko at left-back rather than move him back to his favoured centre-back position. Apart from that, Castro had a full squad to pick from.
Marcelo Koller also made one defensive change to his Basel side that played last week, centre-back Eray Comert picked up his third yellow card against Eintracht Frankfurt, which suspended him in the quarter-final. In Comert’s place, youngster Jasper van der Werff started, Koller was also without first team players Jonas Omlin and Luca Zuffi, who were both injured.
Both managers decided to switch tactics from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 formation as they were both wary of their opponents attacking strength. This change would allow a balance to both sides, Taras Stepanenko and Taulant Xhaka were deployed as pivots for Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel respectively to prevent an opposition counter-attack.
Shakhtar surpassing the swiss press
Basel set up a mid/high block as they looked to counter-attack from winning possession of the ball high up the pitch from a Shakhtar Donetsk misplaced pass or from a defensive duel win. This can be shown by the Basel average formation line being at an average 57.1 metres because Shakhtar like to transition from defence to attack by making short passes, even when under pressure in their defensive third.
Basel players would look to cut passing lanes to intercept Shakhtar Donetsk passes and this worked well to an extent, here Basel covered all the passing options that Dodô could make, as Valentin Stocker pressed him. Dodô attempted a pass to Marlos however due to the intense press, Dodô was forced into a weak pass that was intercepted by Omar Alderete in the Shakhtar Donetsk half to counter-attack.
Basel’s press allowed them to make 27 recoveries in the Shakhtar Donetsk half however when they won the ball, particularly in the first half, they were uninspired and lacked creativity as 53% of their losses were in the Shakhtar Donetsk defensive third. The Basel mid press was broken on several occasions by Shakhtar as it was a fairly unsuccessful press in the first half.
Shakhtar were unnerved by the Basel block and it didn’t have an affect on Shakhtar Donetsk’s tactics as they transitioned from their own defensive third through short passes, having made 481 short passes throughout the match, 115 more short passes than Basel. Shakhtar created overloads in their defensive half to pass around the Basel players that pressed.
Above, Matvyenko is in possession of the ball and is pressed by Silvan Widmer, Xhaka is in a position to intercept a pass to Alan Patrick. Marlos played in the RAM position and due to the Shakhtar Donetsk attacking fluidity, he is able to drift towards the left-hand side of the pitch to create an overload and help surpass the Basel block. This happened on a number of occasions in the match as Alan Patrick, Taison and Marlos would occupy positions to overload areas of the pitch so Shakhtar Donetsk could outnumber the Basel players that press.
As mentioned earlier, Shakhtar Donetsk were too much for Basel in the first half as they made quick passes and exploited overloads to break the press. In the second half, however, the Basel press worked a lot better as Shakhtar Donetsk tired and their pass accuracy decreased from 92% to 84%. Basel’s second half press only allowed 8.7 passes per defensive action (PPDA) compared to 25.2 PPDA in the first half. This increase in intensity helped Basel win the ball in positions higher up the pitch as their expected goals value increased from 0.38 to 0.61.
Creating between the lines
When Shakhtar Donetsk transitioned into the Basel half they were unpredictable and highly creative. Shakhtar Donetsk’s match tempo was 19.4 and allowed them to transition quickly from the mid third to the attacking third. Shakhtar Donetsk’s front four were involved in these transitions as they received passes between the lines of the midfield and defence.
Above, Marcos Antônio made one pass that surpassed the three Basel central midfielders as Marlos occupied a more central position, evidence that Castro allows his attackers to have freedom when they attack. Marlos received the ball and quickly turned before he shot on target to win a corner. Marlos’ awareness of space allowed his team to transition from the mid third to final third quickly as Shakhtar Donetsk produced a dangerous attack and this type of movement was key to finding space in the Basel block.
Basel struggled to block passing lanes having only made eight interceptions and at times they were stretched by the Shakhtar Donetsk full-backs. This decreased the compactness of the Basel shape and generated free spaces as the Basel midfield was pulled out of position to press the ball holder and their passing options.
The visual and average position map shows the width of the Shakhtar Donetsk full-backs. This caused problems for Basel as they couldn’t keep their structure in their defensive third to cover free spaces that Shakhtar Donetsk could be threatening from.
The full-backs were also influential in creating attacking opportunities, particularly Dodô, who scored and won the corner which resulted in Shakhtar Donetsk’s first goal.
Above, is the visual of Dodô’s goal and is an example of the influence the full-backs have in the side. If he does not occupy his position it is much harder for Shakhtar Donetsk to score. If the full-backs don’t occupy wide attacking positions, they would have reduced the attacking freedom the front four would have had to occupy free spaces and this freedom was key to confuse the Basel defence.
Shakhtar Donetsk’s style of play resulted in an expected goals value of 2.29, this is evidence of their efficiency in front of goal having scored 1.71 more goals than expected.
Basel’s passing problems
Shakhtar Donetsk’s mid block in the Basel half was passive as they allowed an average of 19.6 PPDA. They stuck to their 4-1-4-1 defensive shape to reduce the free space that Basel could exploit and wide midfielders Taison and Marlos worked hard to track back to help their full-backs defend against the threat posed by Basel in wide areas.
Basel would look to transition from defence to attack via the wide areas as 80% of their attacks came from wide positions. Basel only played with a match tempo of 16.7 and this allowed Shakhtar Donetsk the time to revert back to their defensive shape after attacking and frustrate the Basel midfield as Basel grew impatient, they played 34% of their passes forward as they looked to transition quickly from defence to attack.
Above is an example of the shape played by Shakhtar Donetsk when defending as they allowed Basel to enter the Shakhtar Donetsk defensive half with little press. Taison is in position to cut the passing lane for Fabian Frei to pass to Widmer, this forced Frei to try a lob pass over the top of Taison, which Taison intercepted. Basel’s impatient play lost them the ball on several occasions as the Shakhtar Donetsk defensive shape frustrated them.
Basel’s passing was their downfall, their pass accuracy was 85% and they were inefficient with ball possession having had 84 possessions, four more than Shakhtar Donetsk, yet only had two shots on target to Shakhtar Donetsk’s nine.
Basel lost possession on several occasions when they weren’t intensely challenged. 53% of these losses came in the Shakhtar Donetsk defensive third. In the first half, Shakhtar Donetsk allowed 77.0 PPDA, they looked to keep their shape and frustrate Basel and Basel lacked the creativity to break the Shakhtar Donetsk block.
Above is an example where Shakhtar Donetsk put Xhaka under little pressure in the Shakhtar Donetsk defensive third, however, Xhaka’s misplaced pass to Frei allowed Júnior Moraes to intercept and Shakhtar Donetsk to counter-attack. Shakhtar Donetsk made five counter-attacks in the game and their second goal was a result of a counter-attack as they exploited Basel’s poor passing and eagerness to score when they pushed numbers forward to get back in to the game.
Basel’s second half desire nearly paying off
Basel only had an expected goal value of 0.38 in the first half and Shakhtar Donetsk would squeeze the Basel play when Basel had possession close to the Shakhtar Donetsk 18-yard box as Shakhtar Donetsk kept a high defensive line. This meant that the defensive third was compact and filled with Shakhtar Donetsk bodies to always occupy a position close to the ball and this was successful as Shakhtar Donetsk won 46% of their loose ball duels, Basel only won 38% of theirs, this was key to stop Basel dangerous attacks through the centre of the field.
Above we can see Taison intensely press Stocker and above is the type of position that Shakhtar Donetsk would look to press Basel more intensely as they looked to prevent attacks via interceptions, blocks and tackles. Stepanenko is shown to have dropped deeper than the midfield as he played as a pivot to intercept passing lanes. He made four interceptions and won seven of his 12 defensive duels to block any Basel attempts if they surpassed the four man midfield.
The high defensive line worked well for Shakhtar Donetsk in the first half, but, in the second half Basel increased their ball possession from 42% to 55% as they controlled more of the play and attempt passes behind the Shakhtar Donetsk defensive line.
The visual above is moments before the Basel goal. Yannick Marchand played a lobbed through ball behind the Shakhtar Donetsk defence which Samuele Campo crossed from. Basel found more space either side of the Shakhtar Donetsk full-backs in the second half as the Shakhtar Donetsk wide midfielders tired and stopped tracking back and substitutes such as Manor Solomon didn’t drop deep to help defend. Widmer made a run from deep to create space for Campo to cross.
Basel were most dangerous in wide areas as Afimico Pululu threatened down the right-hand side of the pitch, this was an area Basel focused on as 72% of their attacks came from the right-hand side of the pitch. He made seven successful dribbles as he caused problems for Matviyenko.
The above image displays the areas in which Basel key passes were made. This is evidence of the threat that Basel had from wide areas as all five key passes came from wide areas. Basel were successful from 31% of their crosses and at times the skill and creativity of Pululu and Stocker helped create opportunities for striker Arthur Cabral. The front three received more service in the second half as the Basel midfield became more creative, they attempted five through passes as they tried to split the Shakhtar Donetsk defence open.
Shakhtar Donetsk progress to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals where they will play Inter Milan on Monday. Their attacking play is unpredictable and is likely to cause confusion to any of the defences left in the competition. Inter Milan may look to exploit free spaces behind the Shakhtar Donetsk defence, this weakness was highlighted in this tactical analysis by Basel as they caused problems by doing this, however, this was only in the latter stages as Shakhtar Donetsk tired.
It was a game of two halves for Basel as they were outplayed by Shakhtar Donetsk in the first half but performed well in the second half for them to feel that the match was closer than the scoreline suggests. They will rue conceding chances so early on in the match and this gave them an uphill battle. They will now focus on their Swiss cup semi-final clash with FC Winterthur at the end of the month.