In matchday five of the UEFA Europa League, Group E had a stellar match-up with LaLiga side, Granada, playing host to PSV Eindhoven. With only two matches left in the group stages, PSV needed a win to ensure they can stay ahead of PAOK who are only one point behind.
Despite their recent success in their debut season of the Europa League, domestically Granada are keeping afloat around mid-table, tied for seventh with Barcelona. That is despite recently losing to sides such as Celta Vigo and Real Valladolid.
PSV, on the other hand, are looking to capitalise on recent form and are without any major injuries for the game. History is against them, however, with the Dutch outfit never having beaten a Spanish side away in all European competitions. For PSV to come away with three points, they would need to make sure that in form striker, Donyell Malen is on top of his game.
With what was anticipated as a close match by pundits, this tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by both Granada and PSV. This analysis will also highlight key moments of the game and dissect how momentum was able to shift throughout.
Diego Martinez lined his Granada side up in a 4-4-2 formation with Rui Silva starting between the sticks. From left to right, Carlos Neva, Jesús Vallejo, Germán Sánchez and Domingos Durate made up the back four. Linking the play in midfield and providing protection for the backline was holding midfielder Maxime Gonalons. Atletico Madrid youth product, Luis Milla, Yangel Herrera, Alberto Soro, and Darwin Machis form the attacking line of four whilst former Tottenham striker, Roberto Soldado positioned himself as the lone striker.
As often the case with PSV, there is usually some rotation from weekend to mid-week matches, which was the case for this match. Lining up in a 4-4-2 Yvon Mvogo started in goals with a back four of Phillip Max, Frenchman Olivier Boscagli, Jordan Teze and Denzel Dumfries providing protection. Pablo Rosario, Cody Gakpo, Ibrahim Sangaré and former Bayern Munich midfielder Mario Götze made up the midfield four. That left the front pairing of Noni Madueke and Donyell Malen, who came through the ranks of the PSV youth system.
Dictating the pace of play in defence
In the early stages of the match, PSV had difficulties progressing the ball through the midfield, as they are used to doing. Granada’s tight marking in midfield and short distances between the lines were a large factor as to why that was. But most of all, they were able to manage the scenarios of recognising when to press and when to hold. In doing so, they were able to control the pace of play and create opportunities on the counter.
In the scenario below, the Spanish outfit have formed their midfield block and are content shifting and sliding as the ball gets played between PSV’s backline. When PSV’s centre-halves have the ball, the person who decides when to press is the striker, Soldado. The moment he recognises that the centre-back receiving the ball looks like he is going to drive forward into the space, or if he has received a poor pass, Soldado changes the angle of his run and the speed in which he presses.
The change of speed becomes the trigger for the midfield line to get touch tight to their immediate markers and the far side midfielder to press the far side centre-back. This cuts off all receiving options for the centre-back on the ball. As soon as the ball carrying centre back drives forward, the far side midfielder will drop back into the midfield line because he recognises that the other centre-back is unlikely to receive the ball.
In order for Granada to maintain this level of pressure, it was essential that their midfielders stayed engaged with their marker as the ball shifted along the backline. If the Dutch side could find a pass to a midfielder facing forward, then the defensive structure collapses and Granada have to quickly re-organise.
Here is an example of when PSV were able to disassemble their opponents. The image below shows Teze finding Madueke dropping into midfield, but it is what Teze does in the lead up to the pass which allows his teammate to get onto the ball.
Seconds earlier, the Dutch centre-half uses his body shape to influence the direction in which Granada press. As he is facing the left-hand side, number four, Gonalons, moves away from Madueke and anticipates Gakpo receiving the ball. Gakpo further sells the pass by extending his hand signalling for the ball to be played. As a result, Madueke is now free. Once Teze recognises the free man, he quickly changes his body shape and manufactures a pass into the midfield zone. Once Madueke is able to find Malen, PSV now have a 4 v 3 advantage and forward momentum to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
Therefore, it was essential for Granada to manage the distances between their midfield and defensive line and coordinate the right time to press and engage.
The full-back’s influence
Because the Spanish side had packed the middle and stayed fairly tight, PSV circulated possession and developed their attacking opportunities from wide areas. On the left-hand side, Max was a feature in the first 15 minutes, staying high in the attacking line and providing crosses in from his stronger left foot.
His positioning of where he received the ball, dictated the type of cross he would play. If he received the ball higher up the field near the box, and Granada were set, the cross would be aerial. If Max received the pass further back towards the middle third, and there was space behind Granada’s back line, Max could provide a lower cross that angled away from the keeper.
These are just like the type of passes that Kevin De Bruyne looks to play at Manchester City when he is positioned out wide. The quality of Max’s crossing led to PSV’s first and only goal late in the first half. The speed of which the low cross was delivered into the box caught the Spanish centre-halves off guard allowing Donyell to guide the ball into the back of the net.
On the right flank, there was a developing partnership between Dumfries and Götze. Because of the experience that both these players have, PSV built the majority of their attacking opportunities through central areas and down the right-hand side. Depending on the positioning of Dumfries, the German international would alter his position.
If Dumfries was positioned out wide and looked to receive from the back line, Götze would float on the inside channel. If he was on the inside channel, Götze would drift out wide. The fluid positioning of the German international frequently allowed PSV to create overloads down the right-hand side, exploiting the space behind.
Whilst Götze is the more creative player, Dumfries did more than just support and lay off to the German. Another way that he would individually look to break down Granada was to change his positioning to find passing lanes into central areas where PSV were more threatening.
In the scenario above, the Dutch international receives the ball with a retreating defence looking to quickly drop and protect the space so that Madueke and Götze cannot receive the ball comfortably. Changing momentum, Dumfries cuts in which creates the passing lane to Malen. If PSV were able to find their striker, it is. Important that they are able to have supporting options once he receives the ball. Not being the most physical player, Malen is not the type of player who holds the ball up against much stronger defenders. If he has support, then he will look to combine and break lines through give-and-go passes.
Exploiting PSV’s defensive re-organisation
At 1 – 0 down in the second-half, Granada didn’t seem too fazed. Despite the Spanish side being on the wrong end of the scoreline, in the grand scheme of things they didn’t need to throw everything they had to secure a result.
They did, however, make a few changes in the second half which strengthened the attack. Columbian striker Luis Suárez came on in replacement for Soro to act as a second striker. The introduction of the Columbian meant that Granada improved their chances on the counter as he is faster of the two strikers. This is also the area in which Granada created most of their attacking opportunities in the first half.
Along with the introduction of Suárez, Dimitri Foulquier came on at right-back. With the right-footed Frenchman given licence to go forward and provide service into the box, Granada had to reshuffle their backline to remain balanced in defence. In midfield, players like Machis, Herrera, and Gonalons were given licence to drift high and low, looking for pockets of space where they could face forward.
Similarly to PSV, Granada also looked to get their wide players on the ball but the way they accessed Foulquier and Neva was different. Rather than circulating the ball around the back until they could find the full-backs in space, Granada often played centrally though the midfielders before going out wide. If they could have Machis and Herrera driving at the backline, PSV’s defensive structure collapses and condenses itself. At the moment of defensive re-organisation, opportunities are then created for the wide players.
Here is a good example of the situation described. Through the individual skill of Machis to keep the ball away from two immediate defenders, he is able to drive forward at the backline. Once he recognises that he has committed a number of defenders, the ball is shifted out wide. The moment the ball is switched across, Neva can run forward and overlap his teammate.
Again, we can see this happening on the right-hand side. Granada are able to find Herrera facing forward with a quick pass. The moment Herrera receives the ball, PSV’s structure condenses, and they are able to find Foulquier through Machis. This play led to Machis getting one of the better goal-scoring opportunities in the second half, with a free header on goal.
With a brave defensive effort in the second half, PSV kept their Spanish counterparts goalless and clinched the much-needed win. The win places PSV one point behind Granada in second position and all but secures them progression through to the next stage.