Adventurous Russia misfire | Tactical Report

Russia and Poland played out a 1-1 draw in a match either team could’ve won.

Poland added a holding midfielder, Dudka, to the starting lineup to combat Russia’s counter-attacks. This was at the expense of their left winger, Rybus. They chose a solid defensive formation of 4-5-1 and looked to counter quickly against the Russians.

Russia kept the same starting 11 that beat the Czech Republic. Dick Advocaat is not one for fiddling with different formations, so it was no surprise to see his team line up with a 4-3-3 shape.

The first half started quietly for Russia. They couldn’t get a grip on the game, with attacks being stifled by the defensive shape of their opponents. The three Polish defensive midfielders sat deep protecting their defence and eliminated much of the space between the lines. Knowing that Russia play short crisp passes to break through defences, Poland pressed really hard as a team when the ball was played into the midfield. The shot below shows close proximity of the Polish midfield and how they restricted space for the Russians:

Poland pressing hard in the midfield

In the picture above, as soon as the pass was made into midfield, Poland won the ball back and broke forward quickly. Russia found it hard to open up the Poles down the centre, but their preference for attacking down the centre of the pitch was evident in this match again:

Russia attack down the centre

At times, Poland struggled to restrain such potent attacking, despite their defensive formation. Fortunately for the Poles, Russia failed to capitalise on the good positions they created.

The opening goal came from a wonderful free-kick delivery by Arshavin. The finish had an air of fortune about it (coming off Dzagoev’s shoulder) and Poland will be disappointed with their defending. After that, Russia finally took hold of the game and continued probing for more opportunities to score.

In some ways, this was partly their downfall – playing perhaps too adventurously. When counter-attacking, Russia used 5 or sometimes 6 players: the three forwards, two central midfielders and one or both full-backs:

Russia counter-attack using 5 or sometimes 6 players

Whilst this often created opportunities on goal, it also left Russia vulnerable to counter-attacks. It created an open game which was a great spectacle for the European Championships.

Poland’s equaliser stemmed from one of Russia’s counter-attacks. Arshavin failed to deliver an accurate pass in the last third of the pitch, and, not being known for his defensive attributes, he was the left hopelessly out of position as Obraniak raced down the right flank unchallenged. Poor defending by Zhirkov allowed Blaszczykowski to get goal-side before unleashing an unstoppable shot from the edge of the penalty box. Suddenly Poland were back in the game, and, with the crowd behind them, went in search of a winner. Despite both teams trying hard to score, the game ended 1-1.

Arshavin mis-fires in the final third

Russia’s talisman, Arshavin, had a relatively disappointing game, despite his cross for the goal. Poland worked hard to nullify his threat, by repeatedly closing him down with two or even three men. He got into good positions in and around the penalty area but often failed to produce that killer pass he is known for. He only completed 14 out of 27 passes in the attacking third (as shown on the left).

Despite Russia having nearly 60% possession of the football, Poland managed 16 shots to Russia’s 11, showing how open the Russian defence can be with the way they attack. For all of Russia’s good attacking play, they only managed 2 shots on target – a poor return given the talent in their team going forward.

As the game wore on, it was clear that both teams tired considerably. This was understandable given the end to end nature of the match. Both teams would probably have settled for the draw before the game, although Russia will probably feel it was two points lost and not one point gained given their superiority.

Thanks to 4-4-2 StatsZone for Arshavin chalkboard.