After the draw against Germany, Spain headed back home where they met Argentina for their second friendly match. Julen Lopetegui didn’t change much compared to the game against Germany. With Marco Asensio, Spain had a player on the right side who feels comfortable to stay wide but is also capable of playing between the lines while and with Diego Costa, Lopetegui chose to use a real striker in the box.
Jorge Sampaoli on the other side was without Lionel Messi and changed also quite a bit, with Meza, Banega, Mascherano, Rojo and Romero five players who didn’t start against Italy got their chance to present themselves the coach. In the end, Sampaoli will be frustrated about the scoreline. Spain untypically scored after counter attacks and high pressing sequences and gave their fans a 6-1 victory to celebrate. However, if we look at the expected goal values it gets clear that Spain were super-efficient, and the result could be too hard for Argentina because they showed some interesting stuff to analyse.
Argentina and the third man concept
Spain pressed high for almost the whole game, their pressing was really strong, and they were able to win the ball high up the pitch and score easy goals because Argentina made some silly mistakes. Even though Argentina were sometimes able to play out of that pressing, they lacked the respective structure and movement in order to take advantage of the breakthrough. Regularly, the missed they opportunity to use the space which they created for themselves while Spain quickly was back in position.
To overplay the first line of pressure Argentina circulated the ball calmly even under high pressure they tried to solve those scenes with flat passes instead of clearing the ball. Especially, against Spain’s aggressive pushing out of position Argentina sometimes used the third man concept quite well in order to get into the open space.
Here, for instance, Rojo dribbled with the ball. Look at Isco whose goal was to cut the passing line to Lo Celso while pressuring Rojo. Spain occasionally used temporary man-orientations to press Argentina’s players when they received the ball. In the scene above you can see how Carvajal is oriented towards Argentina´s left-back Tagliafico while Koke moved along with Banega who offered a passing option because he dropped deeper.
Spain was concentrated on closing passing lines, however, they struggled to adjust their position when the first line got overplayed. In this scene, Rojo could play the ball to Banega who laid off to Lo Celso who didn’t get pressured by Spain’s first line. Because of Carvajal’s pushing out of position, Argentina could find space behind the Real Madrid right-back after a quick dribbling Lo Celso played the pass to Tagliafico who had sprinted in the blue marked space before.
However, when Spain organised themselves in their 4-5-1 defensive shape, Argentina rarely had an idea how to break through that. On the one hand, Spain’s aggressive pressing gave Argentina no time and space to effectively plan an attack, in many situations Spain was able to force Argentina to play the ball back in their own half.
On some occasions, Argentina could use Spain’s pressing mechanisms in their favour. Again, when they used the third man concept.
Iniesta pushed out of the five-man line to press Otamendi who carried the ball. Lo Celso occupied the space behind Iniesta, while Mascherano’s position created a diagonal connection into Spain’s space between the lines. While the ball was travelling to Mascherano Thiago simultaneously moved out of position in order to press him. Therefore, Lo Celso received a lot of space in the centre and was able to attack the rest of Spain’s defence. However, Lo Celso’s decision making in this game was far from perfect. In some situations, he missed open passing lines or played difficult and strategical bad passes. Here, he tried to pass the ball to the left side which is far from being a stupid pass, however, the pass was not accurate enough and Argentina couldn’t take advantage of Spain’s defensive mistake.
If you take a look at the red circle in the picture above, you can see one weakness of Spain on that evening which Argentina tried to exploit. Here, Asensio was more oriented towards Banega and thus missed that Tagliafico had a lot of space behind him.
Argentina plan was to create an advantage on the left side. Quite often Mascherano was the key to reach the space on the left side with his accurate long balls.
Above, he quickly realises the available space for the advanced positioned Tagliafico. Argentina’s left-back regularly received that much space. Most of the time they missed an option to continue the attack and get into the box.
In order to open the left side, a few aspects are worth taking a look. The first one has been mentioned so far. In Spain’s narrow defensive shape which focused on closing the centre, Asensio and Isco had the responsibility to defend the half-space when the ball was on the far side or close the passing lanes when the ball was on the near side. So far so good, those responsibilities are common in the international football. However, another aspect made this positioning to a problem. Spain’s focus during the pressing phase was to close down midfielders at the moment in which they received the ball, that’s why Asensio was more focused on the positioning of Banega than the one of Tagliafico.
As a result, he was positioned badly when Mascherano played the long ball.
Another important aspect was the movement of Meza. Meza either moved into the half-space or sprinted behind the last line of Spain. Consequently, he drew Carvajal out of position for a few seconds until one central defender could pick him up. However, this was enough time for Tagliafico to control the ball and use the space.
The role distribution in this match was slightly uncommon because Spain wasn’t the team which dominated possession over the whole 90 minutes. After their first goal, they gave Argentina the ball and tried to create chances through their strong pressing which worked perfectly, for example before the second goal or the fourth.
As I mentioned before Spain’s pressing wasn’t man-oriented all the time. Moreover, they focused on moving out of position aggressively in order to pressure the ball carrier immediately when he received the ball. Preferably, he should turn towards his own goal and Spain could isolate Argentina in one space.
In this situation, Argentina circulated the ball between their central defenders and then passed the ball to Biglia. Isco and Costa pressured the central defenders before and now try to cut the available space for Biglia to relocate the game to one side by pressure from both sides. In Spain´s midfield, there were clear references to press. When Spain started to pressure aggressively the midfielders were ready to push out of position. Here, Iniesta closed down Banega while Koke realised that Lo Celso had enough space that’s why he moved out of position in order to force Lo Celso towards his own goal.
Spain normally held their position, either in a 4-5-1 or if one of the midfielders pushed higher in a 4-4-2. Spain’s players were allowed to press or close down the players who were positioned close to their position. When they pressed aggressively they left their position for a short time in order to tighten the ball near space. However, normally one player would cover the central space like Thiago in the example above.
This is the continuation of the scene from above. Lo Celso received the pass while Koke’s movement forced him to turn towards his own goal. Consequently, he got pressed and Spain tried to isolate Argentina on that side. Isco, for instance, moved towards the right side of Lo Celso to prevent a turning in that direction.
Iniesta moved with Banega a few meters however, he didn’t blindly follow Banega instead he covered the space between Biglia and Banega while having the possibility to press both when they would receive the ball. Ramos could also push out of position to press Banega while Alba oriented towards Argentina´s right-back Bastos who is not in the picture.
Furthermore, Spain´s defensive shape was compact most of the time especially in the centre, which they wanted to close. Here, for instance, Spain pressed higher, out of their 4-5-1 defensive formation Spain´s players pushed out to press. However, when they settled back it was important that some covered the space in front of the back four. The grey marked space which Argentina tried to occupy all the time, here Banega and Lo Celso was closed by Spain´s structure and the use of cover shadows. Koke moved deeper in order to secure. Isco and Asensio also moved deeper. Iniesta had the possibility to press Biglia and Mascherano, the ball carrier while closing passing lines for example to Lo Celso with his cover shadow.
Argentina with defensive problems
As we could see in the examples above, Spain pressed high up the pitch in order to win the ball and use the available space or start a new attack. The quick counter-pressing in the first half resulted in the first goal. When Costa and Iniesta pressed immediately and Asensio could find Costa who scored.
The second goal again was after an early turnover of Argentina when Spain was able to receive the long ball of Caballero and quickly played the ball in the depth.
Here, Carvajal could intercept and start the counter-attack. Argentina were logically positioned wide; however, their structure was weak for counter-pressing. Carvajal, Thiago and Koke formed a triangle consequently the ball easily travelled to Koke. Furthermore, look at the risks Spain takes because they defended Argentina’s attacker in the grey marked space 2v2.
Koke played the ball to Asensio who helped Spain a lot because he stayed wider and gave them an option to attack through the wings which they struggled to do against Germany. Above, Bustos was late in moving back in position, so Isco had the space to finish the attack.
During the creation of Thiago’s fourth goal Argentina also showed problems in defending the depth. Throughout the whole match, their defenders had some problems and definitely are the weakness of Argentina’s great squad especially in regard to the World Cup in the summer, Sampaoli has to strengthen his defence.
It was a fascinating friendly match with some interesting aspects. Argentina looks like Sampaoli gives them solutions when they have the ball. Argentina occupied the important spaces and looked comfortable under pressure. With Messi in the starting eleven, they clearly will be even more dangerous. While Spain showed another dimension of their game. Lopetegui whose pressing at Porto was also very good, added this aggressive pressing approach. Especially against opponents which are almost on the same level of Spain the combining of pressing resistance and high pressing with quick vertical attacks makes Spain maybe the strongest offensive team heading into the World Cup.