Expert analysis of the events in Poland and Ukraine
ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's Euro 2012 StatsZone app to analyse the action from Poland and Ukraine
No-one denies that Samir Nasri is an extremely good footballer, but no-one has ever been able to decide upon his best position. Like others before him, Nasri’s versatility has often held him back – asked to play on the left one week, on the right the next, then through the centre.
Arsene Wenger wanted him to become a goalscorer, going in behind the defence from the right of midfield, and at the start of the 2010/11 season Nasri played this role superbly. At Manchester City, however, he’s more of a passer, leaving the goalscoring to others, and acting as the link between the central midfielders and the attackers.
For France, Nasri has already played two very different roles at Euro 2012. Against England he nominally started on the right wing, drifting inside between England’s defence and midfielder to become a central playmaker, from where he had a big influence upon the game, and scored France’s equaliser.
Despite that influence – or, perhaps, because of it – Blanc decided to use him in a different position against Ukraine. This time, Nasri was permanently in the centre of the pitch, between the lines, as France moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation. As the position of Nasri’s passes received in both games demonstrates, there actually isn’t a great deal of difference between the zones he worked in.
In both games, despite starting on the right of midfield and as a central attacking midfielder respectively, he actually drifts to the left to get the ball. Against Ukraine he was being marked by Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and moved into deeper positions to pick up possession in space, but he’s effectively playing in the same general position of the pitch, once one accounts for Ukraine being more open than England were.
A more obvious difference is the frequency of chances Nasri created. In the first match he set up teammates for eight shots on goal, generally with short passes from centre-right positions. Against Ukraine, however, he only created two chances – both of which were from hopeful lobs into the penalty box, rather than more intricate passes.
But despite Nasri receiving the ball less and creating fewer chances, France were actually better overall because of his permanent central position. Against England, Nasri’s drifts inside left the right flank bare. Against Ukraine, Blanc’s side had the directness of Jeremy Menez on the right, giving the side balance and width, meaning Nasri could dictate the play without making France congested and predictable.
As the ‘player influence’ screen from the two games demonstrates, France simply occupied a greater area of the pitch against Ukraine, with Menez and Ribery wider. Nasri’s drifts inside against England made Florent Malouda’s role confused and irrelevant, and France didn’t suffer from his absence against Ukraine. The Chelsea midfielder may struggle to regain his place in the side
Blanc has a host of attacking midfielders to choose from, but he seems to have found the right balance. France’s build-up play against Ukraine was impressive, with Nasri, Ribery and Karim Benzema combining on the left, before transferring the ball quickly to Menez on the right. Their opening goal was the perfect example of that, and the attacking quartet seems to have everything – passing technique, dribbling skill and finishing ability. With this display, France demonstrated that they are genuine contenders to win the competition.
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