Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Porto's cover shadow masterclass against Arsenal

Arsenal move through the middle, wide, and then in on goal. Without access to Rice and Ødegaard, they can’t move through the middle. They get stuck circulating the ball until they go vertical. Porto’s cover shadowing blocked the 8s, blocked the pass back, and forced Arsenal to go long.

Figure 1.1 - Porto shadow cover blocking the pass to Jorginho and pass on the ground wide to the wing.

Most teams do this. They block off the pass to the lone pivot, Jorginho. Block the pass on the ground to the wings to force Arsenal to play around the press.

Figure 2.1 - Porto shadow cover to force Arsenal to play up the wing, blocking the pass inside or back.

But most teams do not do this. Porto not only block the pass forward, they also block the pass back. This forces Arsenal wide. Porto always had someone in front of Declan Rice and Martin Ødegaard, but in particular Ødegaard. Stop Ødegaard and Arsenal cannot progress the ball into the box easily without going long or around on the wings.

Figure 3.1 - Porto shadow cover to block the pass to Martin Ødegaard, Kai Havertz, and across field to Jakub Kiwior.

Force Arsenal to play short. The switch on the ground to the other wing is covered. The pass central is covered. Everything must go through the wings or vertical.

Figure 4.1 - Ben White inverting to try to disrupt Porto's structure. Jorginho drops. Porto continue their shadow cover to block the pass central or wide on the ground.

By this point in the first half, Martin Ødegaard only had 13 touches. Porto were winning the majority of the long balls, had control of possession, were winning their duels wide.

Arsenal began to try new things to throw off Porto. One such thing was to have Ben White invert to distract Evanilson. Jorginho could drop back and then he could play long.

Figure 4.2 - Jorginho passes long.
Figure 4.3 - Ball bounces back to Martin Ødegaard.
Figure 4.4 - Martin Ødegaard passes to Leandro Trossard.
Figure 4.5 - Leandro Trossard passes to Martin Ødegaard and moves.
Figure 4.6 - Martin Ødegaard plays Leandro Trossard through.

Without that long direct pass from Jorginho, Ødegaard would never gain access to the ball. Ball is played over the second line, Ødegaard gets the ball, and then Arsenal are in on goal for the equalizing goal in the tie.

Arsenal made several other smaller changes throughout the game to try to free Rice and Ødegaard. For example, they had Bukayo Saka invert into Ødegaard’s position so Ødegaard could drop to receive. Rice moved to the right side of the pitch to overload the right-wing, but that left Kiwior vulnerable at left-back in defensive transition.

Arsenal had as many shots on target (4) in the penalty shoot-out as they managed over the 210 minutes of game time, not including added time, played over the two legs.

It takes a lot of focus to constantly have someone in the way of the pass — switch off or lose one header and it’s a goal. Credit to Porto for keeping their focus and limiting themselves to that mistake.

Match: Arsenal 1-0 Porto, 12 March 2024

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