Thursday 01 December 2022, 11:00

TSG shares latest analysis at second media briefing

  • The FIFA Technical Study Group held a media briefing after the second round of group games

  • Experts Cha Du Ri, Alberto Zaccheroni and Pascal Zuberbuhler presented their analysis

  • Compared to Russia 2018, there have been fewer incursions into the final third, fewer one-on-ones and fewer long-range shots

At first glance, it is easy to think football is always the same: two teams of 11 players try to put the ball in each other's net while preventing their opponents from doing the same. But football is always different too, with every match offering its own developments and storyline. Despite the unique characteristics of each game, however, certain trends always emerge, depending on the era and competition. The task of analysing those trends is the mission of the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG). At the end of the second round of group stage matches at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, the TSG held a second media briefing to share its findings. Expert trio Alberto Zaccheroni, Pascal Zuberbuhler and Cha Du Ri offered their latest conclusions after studying the games so far and having compared the recent data with statistics from Russia 2018.

With more than half of the matches already played, the TSG noted that the length and shape of teams has changed slightly since 2018. "Team blocs are a little wider and a little shorter in terms of length, i.e. the distance between the deepest defender and the most advanced forward," explained FIFA's Head of Football Performance Analysis and Insights, Chris Loxston. "As teams sit deep, we've noticed a reduction of two metres in team length. In 2018, teams defended by sitting deep and being very compact. Today, the distance is even shorter between the most advanced forward and the deepest defender." Goalkeepers further forward and more active "The distances are fairly narrow, so players cannot pass between the lines," added Zaccheroni, whose insights are backed up by his vast coaching experience. "The main goal is for the forwards to always be covered by the positioning of defenders. The team remains compact while following the trajectory of the ball. And when the ball comes towards the defensive line, all the players reposition as a unit. That's similar to the kind of bloc we saw France win the World Cup with in 2018. They're excellent at keeping tight contact, waiting in their own half of the pitch and then pressing aggressively."

Ecuador v Senegal: Group A - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

Another tactical change observed since Russia 2018 is the positioning of goalkeepers and the height of the defensive line, especially when the ball is in the defensive third. Keepers are playing around a metre further forward, but the height of the defensive line remains the same. "It's just a metre, but one metre is huge, especially in this situation," said Pascal Zuberbuhler, who won 51 caps in goal for Switzerland. "In that position, one metre further forward is crucial for a goalkeeper. He's playing high and waiting for the ball to be played over the top of the defence, or he's waiting for the ball to bypass the defence and he's reading the game." As an example, Zuberbuhler highlighted the role of Senegal's Edouard Mendy against the Netherlands. "The Dutch built moves from the back and he was outside his area, 23 metres from the defensive line. In that position, keepers have excelled at this World Cup. They've been reading balls in behind their defensive line very well." The former Nati custodian has likewise appreciated another new trend at Qatar 2022 compared to Russia 2018: the involvement of goalkeepers in building play. "In Qatar, the keepers are very involved. In 2018, keepers made 443 offers to receive the ball – meaning, they showed clearly that they wanted it and where. So far in Qatar, that figure is 726. That's a huge increase." Citing Spain's Unai Simon and Germany's Manuel Neuer as pioneering examples, Zuberbuhler added: "It's fantastic to see that goalkeepers are supporting their defensive line in terms of building moves outside and, even more so, inside their areas."

The FIFA experts have also observed changes at the opposite end of the pitch since 2018, starting with a decrease in the number of incursions into the final third. "We've seen a reduction of about five per team – or ten per match – and typically through the central area," explained Chris Loxston. "The reason is that defenders are very compact in the middle," said Cha Du Ri, the former Korea Republic international who was equally at ease at full-back or as a winger. "The quickest route to goal is through the middle, so defenders focus on that area so as to not give away chances. That means a lot of attacks start down the wings. And we're still in the group stage, so teams prefer a careful approach." That may help explain another trend spotted by the TSG: a decrease in the number of one-on-ones. While Russia 2018 yielded ten one-on-ones per game, there have been seven per match so far in Qatar. "There could be several reasons for that," said Cha Du Ri. "Firstly, this is the group stage, so teams don't want to take big risks. As a result, in individual situations, we've seen more backward passes in order to keep possession." On top of that, he has identified a shift in player profiles. "There are fewer players who have that ability. We've seen that England, with Marcus Rashford, or France, with Kylian Mbappe, possess players who have an excellent ability to create chances from one-on-one situations, but lots of other teams don't have that type of player and choose to retain possession."

Kylian Mbappe of France controls the ball against Rasmus Kristensen

This viewpoint is shared by Zaccheroni, who would like to see a renewed focus on individual flair in youth training. "The academies focus more on team play than individual play," said the Italian coach. "But one-on-one situations are becoming more and more important in the game since teams are becoming more and more tactical and you need to find a way to break through lines and outnumber the opposition in the area. That's why it's important for training centres to encourage young players to get into one-on-one situations." For the former Japan boss, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Maradona and Mbappe stand out as the leading examples of individual talent. "Their main quality is their capacity to win one-on-ones, and that gives you the advantage over the other team." The TSG will share its next set of insights with the media at the end of the group stage.