Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Spain's simple passes forward are refreshing

Watching France, Portugal, or England pass sideways is like drinking hot Dasani water in the sun, while watching Spain is like chugging an ice-cold glass of water in the shade. It’s refreshing to see a team pass forward through the middle of the pitch.

Figure 1.1 - Nacho Fernandez passes forward to Dani Olmo, and the ball falls to Lamine Yamal.

I’ve already talked about this but the two examples from both of Spain’s goals are too hard to pass on because we have been deprived of scenarios like this while watching the other top teams.

Spain play a simple pass forward, and France collapse on Dani Olmo. Even when Dani Olmo loses the ball, it bounces out to Lamine Yamal. Look at all the space that one pass from Nacho Fernandez created in the wide areas.

This is an exaggerated example because Kylian Mbappe never tracks back to defend, therefore Jesús Navas is wide open on the right wing.

Figure 1.2 - Lamine Yamal scores from long distance.

Naturally, France will both retreat and spread out to mark the players in the wide areas. Lamine Yamal smartly pauses, dribbles, and pauses to wait for this movement before curling in a shot from a distance for the first goal.

Lamine Yamal would never have this space without that first pass forward from Nacho Fernandez. It seems insignificant in the moment but it opens up the pitch.

Figure 2.1 - Lamine Yamal receives a forward pass, dribbles infield, passes forward to Dani Olmo, and Olmo passes wide to Jesús Navas.
Figure 2.2 - Jesús Navas crosses into the six-yard box, and it gets headed back to Dani Olmo.

The second goal featured two forward passes. Force France to collapse on the ball; they chase the ball carrier; then Spain passes out wide where the space is.

Jesús Navas whips in a cross as left-back Theo Hernandez tries to close him down. It gets knocked down from the six-yard box, for which the two center-backs have retreated, and it falls to Dani Olmo.

Dani Olmo has room to the right of the defender closest to him because Theo Hernadez was preoccupied wide with the cross; he fakes that defender out, dribbles past, and then shoots across goal. It deflects in off Jules Koundé at the back post.

Like Lamine Yamal, Dani Olmo would not have this space without the two forward passes. I’m not talking about progressive passes because by definition not every forward pass is counted in that stat. Pass forward, any length, to force the defense to collapse on the ball.

The sick thing is that Spain of all teams should be playing sideways because Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal are world-class in isolation one-on-one, but they are creating even more space and opportunities by passing forward. Pass forward if you want space central because it creates space wide, and then play back inside to take advantage of that space like Spain did. That pass initiates the attack.

Match: Spain 2-1 France, 9 July 2024

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