Spain remained patient and true to their philosophy as they left it late to take all three points against an organised and highly determined Russian outfit. Against stronger opponents, Spain may suffer from a lack of composure in front of goal. Here are five quick observations…
Spain (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Montoya, Bartra, Martinez, Moreno; Illaramendi, Thiago; Tello, Isco, Muniain; Rodrigo
Russia (4-1-4-1): Zabolotny; Chicherin, Burlak, Belyayev, Schennikov; Tsallagov; Bibilov, Petrov, Shatov, Yakovlev; Cheryshev
Spain can’t penetrate
As has become expected with any La Roja side, Spain dominated possession but lacked penetration when it came to getting through or behind the Russian defence. The likes of Isco and Iker Muniain were forced wide to find space and attacks often ended with a frustrated shot at goal, rather than an incisive through ball. In central midfield Spain’s key player, Thiago, mainly played safe, sideways passes under minimal pressure and so Spain’s build up play became very slow, allowing the Russians to get organised.
Russia’s structure for the majority of this match should be praised. They defended as a well organised, narrow 4-1-4-1 with Sergei Petrov pressing higher up from midfield alongside lone striker Denis Cheryshev before joining the rest of his midfielders once Spain approached the middle third of the pitch. Because Russia defended so narrowly, Spain’s full backs could have positioned themselves higher up the pitch in order to try and stretch their opponents and create overload situation down the flanks (yellow boxes in the diagram below).
Isco man marked
Ibrahim Tsallagov was Russia’s anchor man in midfield and he performed an accomplished man marking role on Isco in the first half, and finished the match with the highest number of tackles. At times Isco was clever enough to come deep or move wide and Muniain was particularly receptive at occupying the vacant space Isco’s movement created.
Isco finds space
After half time Isco moved out to the left wing, with Cristian Tello playing on the right and Muniain now playing through the middle – although he and Isco often swapped. Isco revelled in his news position out wide as he now had more space to utilise and was finally able to attack his man in a one on one situation without being crowded out in the compact centre of the pitch. Within the first five minutes of the second half, Rodrigo had two good headed opportunities simply as a result of Isco beating his marker and delivering a cross. Playing on the left allowed him to get into more dangerous areas and as a result Tsallagov was later brought across to ‘double-up’ on him whenever he cut inside.
Spain need a natural finisher
Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata replaced Muniain on 63 minutes with Rodrigo dropping into the hole before later being replaced by Sergio Canales. With eight minutes left Thiago delivered an excellent free kick into the Russian box and Morata guided the ball with his head into the goal to give his side a well-deserved lead. However, Spain made much harder work of it than they should have done. The Spanish played over 802 passes, to Russia’s 224, and created countless chances but the talented German and Dutch sides will be aware that this La Roja outfit are there for the taking, simply because they lack a clinical finished. Most tellingly of all, Spain’s starting front four of Muniain, Isco, Tello and Rodrigo took 13 shots between them but failed to find the target once.
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