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Europa League analysis: Spotting the trends

UEFA's technical team have singled out some tactical calls that have helped change the course of this season's UEFA Europa League.

Liverpool's Wataru Endo  under pressure from Atalanta's Charles De Ketelaere
Liverpool's Wataru Endo under pressure from Atalanta's Charles De Ketelaere UEFA via Getty Images

UEFA produces technical reports for each of our club and international competitions. The reports aim to support player and coach development across Europe by highlighting key tactical trends and technical talking points.

The content of the technical reports is generated from the observations of top-level coaches and insights from a team of performance analysts and writers. In this piece from the UEFA Europa League final programme, they present some of their key insights from this season's competition.

Atalanta breach Fortress Anfield

Atalanta's impressive 3-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield in the quarter-final first leg owed much to their tactically astute and diligently delivered defensive strategy. Adopting a high block and man-for-man marking for Liverpool's goal kicks and open-play build-up, Atalanta regularly disrupted the home side's plan and rhythm.

With Atalanta centre-forwards Gianluca Scamacca and Charles De Ketelaere locking onto Liverpool's two centre-backs, and attacking midfielder Teun Koopmeiners marking the Reds' deep-lying midfielder Wataru Endo, the home team's passing options were limited during short build-up play.

David James, UEFA technical observer

"Atalanta created a numerical overload centrally and then looked to press aggressively in the wide areas to regain possession."

David James, UEFA technical observer

As a result, Jürgen Klopp's men were forced to play longer passes into the front line or risk passes into midfield where Gian Piero Gasperini's side were aggressive and effective in their man-for-man press and individual duels.

Europa League Performance Insight: Atalanta's pressing intensity

West Ham's deep defence

For large parts of their round of 16 first leg at Freiburg, West Ham demonstrated their effectiveness in defending their penalty area. The Premier League side routinely used seven or eight players inside or around their penalty box to prevent central attacks and repel crosses.

"West Ham were very organised and structured when defending around the lower third of the pitch," noted UEFA technical observer Jan Peder Jalland. "By remaining compact in central areas, they forced Freiburg wide. When the ball did go wide, there was a positive mentality from the West Ham midfield players to cover space and support their full-backs."

West Ham's ability to defend their penalty box also provided a platform for the visitors to launch counter attacks from deep areas. "By having a high number of players in the box, West Ham were able to make lots of first contacts. It allowed a number of regains in and around the penalty area for them to then counter."

Europa League Tactical Analysis: Freiburg attack vs West Ham press

Sporting's space invaders

The role of Sporting CP's two attacking midfielders, Marcus Edwards and Pedro Gonçalves, was key to their success over Young Boys in the knockout round play-offs. Operating as two No10s, the pair regularly found clever operating space between Young Boys' midfield and defensive lines. Both players proved effective during moments of attacking transition when the Portuguese side looked to play through their opponents quickly.

"During attacking transition Edwards and Gonçalves would come narrow into more central areas," explained Jan Peder Jalland. "It meant they were always an option for Sporting to play forward and helped them to attack directly and quickly. The aim was always to break the midfield line of Young Boys at pace."

1st leg highlights: Young Boys 1-3 Sporting CP

Gross points the way for Brighton

With Brighton trailing Roma 4-0 after the first leg of their round of 16 tie, it was always likely to be too much for Roberto De Zerbi's charges to overcome the deficit in the second leg. However, the Premier League side departed the competition with much to be encouraged by following a narrow home victory over their Italian opponents.

With Roma pressing man for man during Brighton's build- up play and equally adept at switching to a low block in their own half, De Zerbi's team had to show game intelligence and positional flexibility in order to dictate play. Much of this control was established by their technically accomplished midfield trio of Pascal Gross, Adam Lallana and Billy Gilmour.

"Gross picked up excellent positions throughout the match," said David James. "His positioning allowed him to get on the ball or occupy defenders and create space for his team-mates. Gross ended up playing multiple positions during the game as Brighton looked to change shape to find a way back into the tie."

Europa League tactical analysis: Brighton link up on left

Get your Europa League final programme

This article comes from the official UEFA Europa League final programme. You can buy yours online, along with those from the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Women's Champions League and UEFA Europa Conference League here.