Russia vs Slovakia – Euro 2016

Russia plays an isolated 4231 – Euro 2016

This is the perfect lesson for any aspiring manager. On the pitch just watching the  Euro 2016 game between Russia and Slovakia the first thought that came to my mind was: How can this side get the ball up to their attackers when there is a huge gulf between defense and attack. Russia had started the system with a 4231, with 2 deep defensive midfielders. Big issue with this system is the potential for isolation which is why this system is notoriously easy to get wrong. For more information on the stats of the Euro 2016 match please go to Squawka.

Russia went down quickly to a defensive horror for their opening goal. When you have 2 defensive midfielders you would expect one of them to support the fullback. However the team was too high on the pitch. The first goal was avoidable. A combination of a high line and poor defending got them off to a bad start. After they conceded two goals, Russia looked bereft of confidence and the isolation began.

Every player on attack role was so high up the pitch, defenders working the ball up usually had only 1 open player to pass the ball to. This was a team playing a rather rigid system. Start of the second half, the isolation was apparent, cue Dennis Glushakov. And then, something happened. Their defensive line moved up, a box to box midfielder was added to the mix and then things started to click.

Finally some flair, someone who could link the play up, a player that was intelligent enough to run around, and the Russian team started playing as a unit. Once Russia pushed the defensive line looking for the equaliser you could see more players moving up in support. The attacking group stopped looking like players waiting for ball, now they had things to do. The problem with rigid systems is that you need “water carriers” you need someone to make those late runs into boxes and you need players to drop down to support players if you want the ball to move up the pitch. For large periods before the substitution, Russia looked like it was operating with two defensive midfielders. With so many players committed forward before the substitution, it was clear that the Russian team had a lack of support.  Dzyuba their long striker was starved of good service.

The substitution of Dennis Glushakov,  who plays as a box to box midfielder for his club, was a vital link that finally gave the side some much needed fluidity. Support players are the spine of every team, you need to make sure that you consider the transitions from defense to midfield and from midfield to attack.

Unfortunately for Russia the change was a little too late. When you are playing Football Manager and you find your side struggling to move the ball effectively into the final third you need to look at your support players. Spot the lack of a link you have in your team and make the change, just don’t take too long like Russia did at Euro 2016.



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