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EURO 2024 group stage: UEFA technical observers' tactical review

Playing over the press, box midfields and going man-for-man were just three of the talking points at the UEFA technical observers' panel meeting in Nyon.

Austria have been one of the success stories of UEFA EURO 2024 so far
Austria have been one of the success stories of UEFA EURO 2024 so far Getty Images

Playing over the press, box midfields and going man-for-man. These were just three of the talking points when the UEFA technical observers' panel met in Nyon to review the EURO 2024 group stage.

After 36 group games over 13 days, the meeting on Friday was an opportunity for the observers to gather with the UEFA performance analysis unit to share insights and findings, while reflecting on the emerging tactical themes of the tournament.

According to Olivier Doglia, UEFA's head of technical education and development, the current focus on the action in Germany will also provide significant lessons for player development. "These analysis articles form part of a strategy of translating findings from the EURO into actionable insights at all levels – be it elite youth, coach education or grassroots. By looking at trends from the EURO, these articles can serve as an engine for player development across the European landscape."

Thanking the observers for their work, technical adviser Ioan Lupescu added: "The ongoing work conducted by the UEFA technical observers' group has been a huge success so far and we will continue to work hard in order to ensure we collect the best possible information that can be used to influence technical development among the 55 national associations within the UEFA territory."

Here we pick out some of the main topics under discussion.

Playing over the press

Switzerland playing over Germany's press
Switzerland playing over Germany's pressUEFA

The screenshot above shows Switzerland playing over the press in their 1-1 draw with Germany and it was not the only example cited. Michael O'Neill, for example, spoke about the approach of Slovakia in their first game against Belgium. "They played straighter passes to where the advanced midfielders and centre-forward were ready to receive," he said. "I don't think they believed they were capable of playing through the pitch from their defensive third, but they were clever enough to play over it and adapt from there."

According to Rafa Benítez, the broader question here is whether a trend is growing for teams to go long in response to opponents pressing high up the pitch. "We will see more long balls and, for me, it is because teams are pressing high and [the coach says,] 'We'll play three vs three up front and go for the second ball'."

Runs in behind

Belgium aim to breach Slovakia's back line
Belgium aim to breach Slovakia's back lineUEFA

The opening fixture of this EURO offered one of the most vivid examples of a team drawing rich rewards for the quality of their penetrating runs as Germany defeated Scotland 5-1. Belgium have since caught the eye with their movement into space behind the full-backs and if Romelu Lukaku has also been a beneficiary of balls behind the back line, both David Moyes and Avram Grant reflected that in the games they had seen, a more common threat was coming from attacking midfielders and wingers.

"In the first game, for example, [Florian] Wirtz and [Jamal] Musiala were doing it for Germany," said Moyes. "For Italy, [Gianluca] Scamacca had quite a few balls played to him and the two in the inside pockets were the ones making the runs in behind."

Box midfield

Italy's box midfield against Albania
Italy's box midfield against AlbaniaUEFA

The box midfield – teams creating a four in the centre of the pitch – has been employed by sides when building play, often in a 3-2-2-3. O'Neill said this was illustrative of their overall fluidity, as their shape shifts when progressing the ball: "It is about having players in those positions where they are then comfortable to receive the ball higher up the pitch in the build-up."

One noteworthy example came from Michel Aebischer, the Switzerland left wing-back who kept stepping into midfield during their opening win over Hungary – a ploy that yielded a goal and an assist. Portugal attempted something similar with João Cancelo, with Packie Bonner noting: "They worked the ball through the thirds with movement, rotation and fluidity in their passing."

Wingers and full-backs combining

Nico Williams and Marc Cucurella have troubled opposition defenders down Spain's left
Nico Williams and Marc Cucurella have troubled opposition defenders down Spain's leftUEFA

Spain were the only team in the group stage with a 100% winning record and their attacking movements included Pedri finding space between the lines and also their wingers and full-backs combining to positive effect. Aitor Karanka observed how full-back Marc Cucurella and winger Nico Williams linked up to trouble the opposition down their left, saying: "Sometimes Nico, being right-footed, will come inside and leave the wing to Cucurella and other times it's the opposite as Cucurella will come inside and Nico stays wide."

Going man for man

Hungary going man-for-man against Switzerland
Hungary going man-for-man against SwitzerlandUEFA

Man-for-man orientation is a theme that has been closely monitored by UEFA's performance analysts and they were impressed by how Serbia, for example, put England under strong pressure in the second half of their opening fixture. "Serbia were more offensive with the wing-backs and even centre-backs taking more risks and playing one against ones frequently," said Benítez. Moyes's view was that "if you go in, you need to go all the way in" and Serbia displayed that in the second period that night.

For Lupescu, Austria and Spain produced the most effective high pressing in the group stage. Noting how Austria have profited from players' familiarity with a style of play experienced at club level with Salzburg and Leipzig, he elaborated: "Austria were fantastic from a physical point of view while Spain, because of the quality of the players, regain the ball every time. Austria were really the team who, for 90 minutes, were pressing high." For the record, Austria's total of 132 recoveries so far is second only to Portugal (147) ahead of the knockout stage, with Spain (129) ranked third.

In Spain's case, their success in regaining the ball swiftly was also credited to their excellent 'rest defence' – in other words, their structure behind the ball. On this point, the observers saw teams playing behind the ball with either a 2+3 or 3+2 set-up – a response to "teams playing five in the frontline", according to Moyes.

Substitutes scoring late


There were 81 goals scored in the group stage at a rate of 2.25 per game and a talking point among the observers was the total of ten goals in added time at the end of matches – seven more than in the EURO 2020 group phase – and the fact they were all scored by substitutes. While there were five substitutes permitted at EURO 2020, the rule was then only temporary. It has since been made permanent and coaches are sending on attacking substitutes who are making an impact. Eight of the scoring substitutes have been forwards or wingers and UEFA's performance analysts will be looking to see if the pattern continues in the knockout rounds.

In the meantime, Lupescu wondered if there had been an emotional factor at play too. "The stadiums are fantastic in Germany and the atmosphere amazing and because of the spectators, the last ten minutes of many matches have been fantastic and teams score in this period," he said. "I think it has a big impact."

UEFA's performance analysts and data engineers


UEFA's technical observers in Germany are working in tandem with a team of performance analysts and data engineers in Nyon who support them during matches with observations on patterns of play, key tactical themes and individual performances, backed up by live technical and tactical data.

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