Following a convincing display in Ukraine’s opening fixture versus Sweden, opinions were optimistic going into the match against France. After the attacking minded mentality of the Ukraine and their ability to stretch play, some thought there might be another Denmark vs. Holland on the cards. An achilles heel shown by the Ukraine during the Sweden game was their back four’s fragility, a supposed area to work on and take forward to the France game. The match failed to live up to the pre-game scenes of fork lightning and torrential rain with a fairly subdued encounter. A comfortable French display proved too much for the high-flying co-hosts and the Ukraine were sent from top of the table to third after a 2-0 defeat.
Ukraine Formation and Style of Play
Ukraine’s formation was 4-2-3-1 and their starting lineup and substitutions are displayed below.
The Ukraine’s table-topping performance versus Sweden seen the same starting XI deservedly take to the pitch. The Ukraine’s approach to the France game was slightly different to the Sweden game. They retained their attacking roots but tried to go about them in a counter attacking fashion, allowing the French to play possession football. In the game against Sweden, the Ukraine managed to see a lot of the ball and mount pressure but because of the stature of their opponents their roles were reversed. Oleh Blokhin’s plan to deal with the French attack was to compact the defensive areas of the pitch (their weakness) and make the French break them down. Ukraine would then try to break with pace, with the full backs or defensive midfielders and quickly distribute the ball to the wings. This forward-thinking, modern-day footballing philosophy helped Ukraine ease past Sweden but the Ukraine lacked the real quality to trouble France.
The Ukraine had to carry out a lot of defensive duties against France. The full backs Selin and Gusev were trying to contribute to the team going forward but were limited as the French attacked the flanks and then moved the ball more centrally to key players. Below shows the defensive duties of the team and individual players.
From the figure above, we can deduce that the Ukraine were defensively strained during the game against France. Overall they completed 30 out of 36 of tackles attempted during the game equating to an 83% success rate. This figure is far too low considering France have a very talented front three who only need one mistake to punish. The defensive tackle map above shows the area of the 36 tackles attempted in the game. Astonishingly, 86% of the tackles were attempted in the Ukraine’s half suggesting their mentality was to sit back and let the French come to them and not press the French in their half and try to force mistakes possibly leading to opportunities. Another key point to make about the tackle map is the amount of tackles made on the right side of the Ukrainian half.
The French attacked time and time again with Clichy and Ribery causing carnage like examples in the 16th and 52nd minute with a goal seemingly inevitable. Oleg Gusev is one of Ukraine’s main ‘string pullers’, applying himself defensively and contributing to the team’s attacking moves. As seen on Gusev’s passing chart displayed above he completed all but 2 passes in his own half but he failed on 7 occasions in France’s half. This combined with the fact that 31% of his completed passes were backwards sums up a frustrating afternoon, whereby the French limited his options. Overall, the Ukraine had to attempt 39% more tackles than the French, this sums up the dominance the French attack had over the Ukraine defence and why the Ukraine leaked 2 goals.
The goals conceded by the Ukraine are shown below. The first happened in the 52nd minute and a loss of possession by Gusev on the opponents 18 yard box triggered a 14 second counter attack involving 4 passes and a Jeremy Menez goal. As seen on the first screenshot, Ukraine’s left back Selin is not tight to Menez which gives the forward a free-run, unchallenged, leading to the goal.
The 56th minute goal is shown above. Good work on the right-hand side followed seen a sloppy tackle by an out of position Khacheridi which left space for the through-ball and run. This depicts a lack of discipline by the Ukraine, leaving holes in defence and allowing an easy pass to Cabaye who slots home after splitting Gusev and Mikhalik. If Ukraine, could have kept hold of the ball better and formed a disciplined structure whilst defending the result could have been different but ultimately the French were too good on the night.
The style of the Ukraine’s team is to get the ball to key players in the centre of midfield where they link up with the much more attacking minded wingers. Below is a graphic which analyses their success at doing this.
The first graphic shows Tymoshchuk’s ability to pass the ball and start an attacking move. Tymoshchuk found this hard in the match against France as he only passed it 44 times and completed the pass 33 times. This 75% pass success rate is a far cry from the 91% achieved from 55 pass attempts versus Sweden. Tymoshchuk tried to work his way through the French midfield with an attempted 22 forward passes, only 12 of these were completed (55%). This shows how Tymoshchuk struggled to be a play maker. The Ukraine attempted to take-on 10 French players, these occured mainly in the wide areas with players such as Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko. The graphic above shows only 50% of these take-ons were successful and it also shows how the Ukrainian wide players struggled to get past the French full backs to create chances. When the opportunity for the wide players/advanced midfielders came about to cross the ball 0% of the crosses connected with a forward player mainly Shevchenko. This inability to produce from the Ukraine’s strength was a reason the French contained them to zero goals scored.
After the Sweden game, Shevchenko emerged as a Ukrainian hero with two goals, but he and the team struggled to create anything positive in the attacking third leading to zero goals scored. Below displays a wasteful Ukrainian team who struggled to create chances inside the box.
The Ukraine managed 9 shots against the French as can be seen above but this does not tell the story. 66% of these were outside the box as they struggled to find a way into the French area. The two best chances seen in the game for the Ukraine were in the 34th and the 49th minute. The first was a brilliant ball by Selin from the left side allowing Shevchenko to skillfully outmaneuver the centre half and blast the ball straight at Lloris. The second was also a chance for Shevchenko as a lack of French closing down enabled a hopeful shot from distance. The shot was close to going in the top left corner and Shevchenko the talismanic striker was unfortunate not to score even having so few chances. The French’s ability to keep Shevchenko relatively quiet was a reason they won this game. This combined with the fact the Ukraine could only manage 1 shot on target all game killed off any real chances of them taking points off France.
In summation the Ukraine faced an opposition who had too much quality to really challenge for this game. The French’s ability to keep possession (54%) and out-pass the Ukraine (386 to 312) was the reason they won this game. The Ukraine will feel that the second goal was a sloppy goal to give away as their defensive line crumbled and did not keep its shape allowing an easy pass to Cabaye. Looking ahead to the game against England, the Ukraine need to continue to work the ball to the wings as danger men Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko could be the difference between the two teams. The problem for the Ukraine is that they still need to sort out the fragility of their back 4 and learn how to be disciplined, keep their shape and not be sucked into the midfield leaving gaps. One positive from the game was the vast improvement the goalkeeper Pyatov made. Although he conceded 2 goals, he saved 8 shots and on a different day the scoreline could have looked a lot worse.
(Stats courtesy of Stats Zone, Football Stats and Match Centre)