After a series of iconic Round of 16 encounters, the Spaniards and the Swiss go head to head in the first quarter final of the Euros. The French found out to their cost the danger of taking Switzerland lightly. They failed to conduct the tactical due diligence necessary and put out an ill-thought out team packed with star individuals but having many issues with synergy.
Switzerland, just like Austria and Czech Republic took a proactive approach to defending in that game. They did not just sit back but rather sought to aggressively expose the inexplicable tactical deficiencies in France's set up. Aside from their tactical prowess, it was their unity of mind and spirit that also proved telling.
Spain cannot afford to make a similar mistake. It is unlikely they will. Luis Enrique is cut from a different cloth to Deschamps. He may not be as artistic or philosophical as a Guardiola, but neither does he just throw together a bunch of stars together and expect it to stick.
Furthermore Enrique's brand of football is a slightly different breed to the usual Spanish style of all out possession. He has made his side more direct and muscular in the final third. It has proven to be a potent formula in attack, a mixture of intricate passing in the inside and an endless array of crosses from wide areas.
This preview will serve as a guide to what you can expect each team to do tactically, with an in-depth look at each team’s build up play, strategy in transitions, and final third structures and ideas.
With Tiki Taka ideals instilled in the veins of all the Spanish footballers, one expects the Spaniards to play out from the back comfortably. They usually adopt a lopsided 3-4-3 formation with Busquets sitting deep in front of the two centre backs and Alba or Gaya whoever plays at left back moving a little forward compared to the right back Azpilicueta.
Spanish defenders will have ease in playing the ball around their own half line Switzerland players defend deep, trying to mark the forwards who would be staying forwards on the flanks. So anyone who finds himself stuck while moving forward can pass it back to their defenders who then can recycle the play. However the Spaniards have learnt from their earlier games and the Inclusion of Busquets has given them assurance of progressing the game and avoiding sterile possession.
However with Switzerland having changed from their 3-4-1-2 set up into a 4 man backline, and the introduction of players such as Zuber - Switzerland now have a very energetic forward line, one which is capable of executing a sustained high press should they wish to go for the jugular. The Spaniards were susceptible to this from the Croatians and kept getting caught out - especially late into the game.
Busquets is a potential issue going late into the game. - his legs nearly went against Croatia and he was uncharacteristically finding it hard to control the game as the minutes wore on. Spain will seek to put this game out of bed by the time that happens but Switzerland would be advised to target the great midfielder and not pay him too much deference.
Spain really struggled to create any meaningful chances in their first two games. But with a few tactical tweaks and personnel changes this Spain team now averages a goal almost every 20 minutes in the past 2 games. With Torres and Sarabia in the mix these two are players who can play on either side as we saw against Croatia.
Torres started on the right but after Spain conceded that own goal, he switched places with Sarabia and played on the left side. These two players have a decent weak foot which makes them unpredictable when in possession as opposition defenders wonder if they are going to push towards the byline or cut inside to drive through the half spaces. They are supported by the wingers by doing an overlapping or underlapping run wherever the space is open.
Switzerland must be wary of the threat posed by Sarabia, especially if Rodriguez bombs forward on the overlap. He is quick, tenacious and direct... remiscient of Vicente or Joaquin of yesteryear, Spanish wingers who did not hesitate to effect the game. His first thought is to put the ball in the box and that is probably why Morata is coming to life whenever this lad is on the pitch.
Morata has been seen dropping into the midfield to fill that void of a CAM in the team and also to receive passes from Busquets. This pulls one of the centre back who was marking Morata along with him creating an opening for Koke to make a runs in behind the defence. Their formation resembles a 3-3-4 or 3-1-2-4 at times.
Before the Slovakia game Spain’s plan of attack was to hold possession of the ball until an opening was created. This approach was safe but was also very slow and with enough organisation it becomes easy to defend against it. It was like players were trying to find a way to pass it into the goal with out taking minimal risk, so they just ended up passing it sideways.
But since the second half of the Slovakia’s game, Spain and Enrique have followed a direct approach. They have started to take risk by playing long balls and through balls towards runners like Morata or Koke and have upped the intensity in the final third of the opposition. Against Switzerland too they have to rely on those risky long passes which might concede possession in opposition favour but could result in defence getting disoriented because of those runners.
Switzerland will play out from the back with their central defender, likely Akanji, to play in a more advanced role, similar to that of a more traditional #6 role, while the wide central defenders take up wider roles, resembling fullback positions. The wingbacks will remain in the middle third while the midfielders, Freuler and Zakaria will drop deeper while remaining in their respective half-spaces.
Spain have the best PPDA in the Euro's of 5.85. This is a team with an extreme commitment to the press and they do so with a 4-2-4 structure, with the front three in addition to Pedri pretty much pushing right onto the opposition forward line. If the Swiss want to try and play out of this regularly, the stats and the absence of Xhaka indicate they will be in trouble. Therefore I predict a more direct build up with the focus on finding the likes of Embolo in the channels.
Going forward Switzerland are predictable and uninspiring. The back five will shift to back four with whoever starts at left wingback, likely Rodriguez, moving into a left winger or left midfielder role to add width to the attack. The issue with this is that, like mentioned in the build up phase, there is no player who can be relied on to consistently create chances or play creative passes.
Seferovic will likely remain central and in between the two center-backs, while Embolo will do the same with the added freedom of being able to move into the left half-space as well. Shaqiri has been given a roaming #10 role but has been poor. Against Turkey, a game where Switzerland won comfortably, they only made 47 progressive passes that were received while against Wales, they only made 40 by comparison.
Switzerland are dangerous on the counter. Players such as Zuber and Embolo are real threats in the wider areas and just generally in counter attack situations. Then you have Seferovic who whilst not mobile enough to carry a counter on his own, has that ability to bully a disorganised backline and finish off a move if an aerial ball is put into the box.
With Spain's uber aggressive approach in possession, it is only natural that they will be susceptible to the counter. If Alba or Gaya is pushed too high, Embolo can exploit that space. Busquets no longer has the defensive coverage to keep up with transitions as the game wears on. In short, Switzerland do have a chance of hurting this Spanish side.
Embolo vs Busquets
Busquets is one of the most influential player for Spain and everything will be on him to move the ball from defence to attack. But with someone like Embolo who is physically strong is breathing down your neck can create problems while distributing possession. Other than that with his pressing he can cover the passing lane between the centre back and Busquets which would force them to go long or look to go back to keeper.
Rodrigues v Sarabia
Whatever formation Switzerland use, it is likely these two will face each other in direct confrontation. Rodriguez is a Swiss stalwart and very reliable but Sarabia is the firecracker who has breathed new life into the Spanish campaign. If Rodriguez tries to play fire with fire and get forward, he could drag Sarabia back but in truth it will open up spaces for the Spaniard to exploit. His best hope is to stay disciplined and show him down the outside.
Spain: Simon, Azpilicueta, Garcia, Laporte, Alba, Koke, Busquets, Pedri, Sarabia, Morata, Moreno
Switzerland: Sommer, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez, Widmer, Freuler, Zakaria, Zuber, Shaqiri, Embolo, Seferovic
Spain have become a formidable side in the past few days. Sure they might not be at the level of Italy but they certainly have that quality.
Switzerland though have that momentum alongside them having knocked out the World Champions, but Spain are different gravy. France only had that one dimensional attack which is easy to defend against but Spain here have different ways they can hurt you. There can be through a ball in the middle, fast switch of play from side to side or individual brilliance from the wingers.
Switzerland will not have the amount of possession they had against France so for that reason I do not expect an upset and believe Spain to win it. If Switzerland are to win it, transitions will be the key and a player like Embolo will be at the heart of it.
Prediction: A Spain victory.