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Technical topics

Technical topics
The Netherlands in training at the finals ©Sportsfile

Technical topics

With a total of 55 goals, the 2016 Women's European Under-19 Championship was the third most prolific of all time after 2005 (60) and 2010 (57). There were over twice as many goals as in 2012 and an increase of 16 on the last edition. The hosts Slovakia and fellow debutants Austria accounted for 24 of those, with only one in the 'goals for' column, but while their inexperience may have been a factor, that cannot be the sole explanation for such a bountiful fortnight.

Half of the goals in open play are coming from the flanks, so wing play is important, and the finishing is coming with one or two touches
UEFA technical observer Patricia González

"We've got a lot of good finishers here," said UEFA technical observer Jarmo Matikainen, highlighting how forwards and indeed midfielders, as the statistics confirm, are becoming increasingly clinical with counterattacks and transitions a major factor. A closer look at the most significant statistic in any game of football indicated a proliferation of goals from strong play down the flanks. "It confirms the facts that transitions are important," continued Matikainen. "The flank play is clearly a key area."


Areas from where the final pass was delivered for open play goals (if there was an assist)

With many of the cut-backs and combinations in something of a grey area in terms of overall definition, leaning also towards being crosses, the total number of goals resulting from such attacks was approaching 50%. A shift from recent years was certainly noticeable. "A few years ago, we had a lot of balls coming from the own half, with players also showing individual skill and dribbling their way towards goal, but this is not happening anymore," explained UEFA technical observer Patricia González. "Half of the goals in open play are coming from the flanks, so wing play is important, and the finishing is coming with one or two touches."

When you have such good build-up play, however, you also need a finisher, and this is an area which also showed great improvement in Slovakia. "We have players who can finish with a first or second touch; we have players who can play the final ball so well that they can score with one touch in congested areas," noted Matikainen. Including headers, 80% of goals scored came with either the first or second touch with Germany's Stefanie Sanders picked out as the one player bucking that particular trend with her dribbled goal in the defeat to Switzerland.

Areas from where the open play goals were scored


There were 44 goals from open play (including one own goal, highlighted in black)

That holds true until the final, however, when all three goals came with more than just one touch, although the conditions could be held accountable for two of those.

How the goals were scored


43% of goals came from a cross or cut back



Tournament top goalscorers chart

Marie Antoinette KatotoFrance6
Jill RoordNetherlands5
Lucía GarciaSpain4
Sandra HernándezSpain4
Nahikari GarcíaSpain3
Clara MateoFrance3
Cinzia ZehnderSwitzerland3

Timing is also crucial in football and an analysis of when the goals were scored in WU19 2016 raises some more interesting questions. Like in the last prolific finals in 2011, when 54 goals were scored, the majority came in the 30 minutes after the interval. Indeed 50% of the strikes came in that third of the game alone. By comparison, only six – or 15% - of the goals in 2015 came in the same fraction.

"If I see this as a coach, what I see is that the scouting of opponents has been very good and it took the teams a long time to break the opposition because we've had very equal games," observed González. As is mentioned later in this report, there was a clear sign that the preparation of games has come on leaps and bounds in recent years with video analysis and scouting becoming an increasingly important aspect of the women's game. "Teams take time to break the plan of their opposition and they need this time up to half-time to adapt."

1-15 mins626654
16-30 mins7455107
31-45 mins647697
1st half add.200000
46-60 mins13267414
61-75 mins10766214
76-90 mins847598
2nd half add.221101
ET 1st half001000
ET 2nd half011000
Total goals542640363955

Half-time has provided the occasion for the coaches to reassess or at least tinker with their original plans, and the result has been more goals coming just after the break and not before. "If you want to make some changes, you're going to do it at the interval: tactical, structural, personnel and probably psychologically also with the coaches saying 'we have to do something'," noted Matikainen. "Substitutes scored two winning goals in the group stage and in the semi-final it was also the case. If you are not tactically shrewd enough, you may collapse."


When goals were scored

Winners France were accredited as being the forerunners in half-time tactical adaptation. They altered their second-half formation in each of their group games, while it was their metamorphosis for the final 45 minutes of their semi-final against Switzerland which saw them earn the upper hand in that game, and a berth in the final. "My only risk is to play all my cards from the start," candidly said French coach Gilles Eyquem prior to his side's final group game against the Netherlands. After the Swiss game, he went even further by claiming he had "rested some players in the first half and it proved a good choice as they made a big impact in the second half."

Overall, the French enjoyed a much better second half to the tournament than they had the first, and their second goal in the final against Spain also came in this fragment of the game. "The statistics are saying that the most important – not only the biggest quantity – were scored in this period," summarised González.

Not all changes happen at the interval, though. Football is perpetual and one of the challenges coaches face is not only how to move with the trends of the game over time, but to adapt to the evolution of each individual match. Sophistication in in-game alterations appears to be improving with 19% of goals coming from players who had been substituted in.

"If we look at the number of goals coming from the substitutes, it shows they are making a big impact," said Matikainen. "We can certainly say that substitutions had a big impact on the outcome of games."


Substitutes contributed 19% of the goals scored

Switzerland illustrated this in their 4-2 win over Germany, with substitute Camille Surdez scoring twice. Perhaps it is the number 18 shirt which provides such inspiration, with France's own No18 Marie-Antoinette Katoto springing from the bench to score a hat-trick against Slovakia, unblocking that fixture in Senec, and her own championship.

"There have been ten goals coming from the bench, so the substitutes are making an impact," said Matikainen. "Having new players to press was a big difference. They enable you to bounce back into the game, and it's not only the goalscorers but also the providers from the bench. France had attacking options on the bench and they also provided assists." Eight of those ten goals came in that purple half-hour patch after the break, when the greatest impact was being felt.

"Teams were changing the way they were pressing in the second half, which is one of the tactical, structural changes the coaches were able to present to their players," Matikainen concluded.

Another of the trends observed in Slovakia was that of where the goals were coming from, or rather which players were making the greatest contributions to their teams' tallies. While the virtues of strong flank play have already been extolled, you still need a finisher to put the ball into the back of the net, and that is where the centre forward comes in. 38% of the goals were scored by the classic number nine, although their role appears to be undergoing something of a metamorphosis too.


Goals scored by player position

With defences getting stronger and more clued up, the delivery is becoming increasingly important and it is not only the centre forwards getting on the end of the final ball either. "Almost half of the goals are coming from cut backs or crosses," noted González. "We have more midfielders scoring than wingers. It is clear that many goals are coming from players in the centre of the field – midfielders and forwards – with assists from the flanks."

Add to that the old adage that the ball moves faster than any player and you can see another trend developing. "You don't have players dribbling past defenders and scoring anymore," said González. "We are losing these players; we're losing this creativity. Players are not developing in the same way as before, also because they are no longer playing 'in the street', for example. Before, they had more freedom and they developed this creativity at a young age. I think this is something all of us as coaches must consider. It is also because the teams are becoming more equal."

With this equality comes a shift in attacking approach play. The aforementioned propensity to push down the flanks is married with a quick, transitional game which has seen many goals scored with fewer than three passes. Indeed, 56% have come from transitions. "This is clearly a tournament of transitions and quick attacking," said Matikainen, who like his fellow technical observer regretted the demise of the brand of player who can run with the ball. "We definitely need more of them," he continued. How can we create the environment where those players are encouraged? Just look at Stefanie Sanders – she had a huge impact for Germany."

©Gábor Baricsa

Stefanie Sanders celebrates scoring in qualifying

Her two goals came from within the penalty area with only 11% of all successful strikes being made from outside the box, and there is a good explanation for this also. "It is not a lack of technical qualities of the players – the goalkeeping is improving a lot," González stated. "Those from long range have just been excellent shots – unstoppable."

With just one in five goals coming from set-plays, the defences in Slovakia were at least able to take some solace in the inflated number of goals scored. Indeed, rather than being put down to attacking misgivings, it was the organisation and preparation of the robust rearguards which the technical observers felt were the main reasons for this statistic.

"If set plays are not working, it means the defences are performing well," said Matikainen. "My feeling is it is more to do with teams being more prepared defensively. Teams don't come to a final tournament without preparing for the set plays." That point will be discussed in more detail as a talking point later in this report, but it suffices to say that no stone is now being left unturned at this level in the continued development of the game. "Many teams came with video analysts and scouts – they are preparing more," added González.

As a result, it is getting increasingly difficult to break defences down, and the aforementioned analysis of when the goals were scored sheds further light onto how much tactical work is being done to unlock defences, and that work begins on the training field. "Many teams defended with 11 players inside the area and many inside the six-yard box – there is more priority on the defence and less for the transition," González continued. "I felt there was more of a priority to the defensive organisation rather than the focus on attacking set pieces."

Where the 11 set-play goals were scored

Part of pitchTotalDetails
Inside 5-metre box4Two directly, and two following a corner
Inside area (central)1Following a corner
Penalty spot3Penalties
Outside area (central)3Direct free-kicks

They were not the worst, though, with semi-finalists Netherlands conceding four, including one penalty. Two came directly from corners, which makes the words of their coach Jessica Torny particularly thought-provoking. "I leave it to the girls to think about the set plays," she said. "They practice them by themselves, together with the goalkeeper. It's important to involve the goalkeeper in this thought process because they discover what is difficult for her."That organisation could be seen in the way set-pieces were being defended. Most sides adopted mixed marking approaches, with two or three remaining zonal and the rest marking. Only Austria and Germany stuck to complete zonal marking approaches, albeit to varying degrees of success: while Germany's defence remained unblemished from set-pieces, Austria shipped three from dead balls.

Two of the three goals scored directly following a corner came with headers from France's Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Spain's Marta Cazalla – against the Netherlands' Paulina Quaye.


Marta Cazalla celebrates heading in a corner: in all, 20% of goals came via set plays