In the third part of our power rankings we have reached the solid and very solid teams. While these teams probably don’t really have a shot at winning the tournament, a couple of them will have a real shot at the finals, due to the unbalanced bracket.
Without further ado, let’s examine the national teams ranked 12 to 7, a mix of some familiar faces and some new and surprising squads.We’ll continue to use the Expected Goals model of the great Michael Caley in addition to the shot stats from Footyintheclouds, but we are also adding some passing maps and expected goals per match charts courtesy of 11tegen11, a Dutch site that is definitely a must read for serious fans.
12. Portugal – is a really hard team of figure out. The XG numbers (see table) love them due to their incredible shot volume courtesy of the great Cristiano Ronaldo, who has already taken 30 shots at the Euros. The next highest on the list is 17 by his Real Madrid teammate, Gareth Bale. Nani is a notable third on that list with twelve shots, ELEVEN from inside the penalty area and one from inside the six. They have four goals between them, with three of them finally coming against Hungary, thanks to some great linkup between the two former Manchester United players.The optimists will also cite a small-sample size and some incredibly unfortunate events (CR penalty miss, the Icelandic and Austrian keepers having the games of their lives) as proof that this team is just running bad.
Pessimists will mention that Portugal have only earned three draws and allowed Hungary and Iceland to finish ahead of them in Group F. The “Ronaldo as a one man team who can’t get it done on a big international stage” whispers are also noticeably growing louder. The Ronaldo “snatch the mic from the reporter and toss it into a very conveniently placed pond” story isn’t really the sort of stuff that happens with a strong, united and focused squad, they will say. Serious questions regarding the defense have also popped up: How do you explain some excellent defense, allowing EIGHT shots in two games (Iceland/Austria), with incredible defensive lapses (the Iceland goal, where Vieirinha allowed Bjarnason to chill in the box for NINE seconds before scoring)? Yeah, they limited Hungary to nine shots, but Eliseu looked like he never played left back before, Ricardo Carvalho looked like he should be the next washed-up Portuguese player in the Hungarian leagues (Videoton are salivating), Vieirinha is still a RM in a RB’s position and Pepe is Pepe. Either Raphael Guerrero is the new Paolo Maldini and the glue that held this defense together (in which case Dortmund have hit the jackpot), or there are larger problems up the field that are exposing the defenders. A quick look at the positional + passing map by 11 tegen 11 confirms the latter:Why is Vieirinha pushing up so high? Moutinho had five key passes in the first half, but why is he leaving the two Carvalhos exposed? After making ZERO defensive contributions (blocks/tackles/clearances, etc) he rightfully got subbed off at half-time for the vibrant Renato Sanches. Moutinho made Ákos Elek, a career journeyman footballer look like Ilkay Gündogan and the Hungarian B team (resting Kleinheisler, Nagy, Kádár and Gera playing 45 minutes) was able to cause all kinds of headaches.
Then, there is Ronaldo: So it is great he shoots TEN times a game, but most of the time it’s a long-range shot – and TWELVE are from set pieces, no other player has more than SIX. He has also gotten blocked ELEVEN times, reaching the target eight times. The passing map and this excellent ESPNFC breakdown of CR7 confirm the reality of what we are witnessing: an isolated Ronaldo, often getting little service in poor positions, but still firing like a lone gunman in a Western movie. Look at the LOCATION on all these shots from Michael Caley’s XG map!
It’s not all bad, as we saw against Hungary: Ronaldo was able to thrive against two Hungarian league defenders (though Juhász played close to a decade for Anderlecht) and was getting into great scoring positions. Croatia will obviously try to zero in on the Madrid star and make the other players beat them. It’s a fair proposition, asking dribbler masters like Ricardo Quaresma and Nani turn back the clock, or youngsters like Andre Gomes and Joao Mario to step up. Yet, the real problem for Portugal will be the other side of the ball, as Ivan Perisic, probably the player of the tournament is licking his chops at the sight of his former Wolfsburg teammate Vieirinha giving him acres of space. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will look to punish the wanderings of Moutinho and those Croatian counters will definitely expose Pepe and co. Based on current form, Portugal are certainly underdogs, but if they manage to pull through they have a nice road to the finals.
11. Switzerland is one of the teams that would be on that road, as a lackluster group stage has seen them comfortably get out of their group. A quick look at their passing map shows their fatal flaw: playing way too deep
The two CDMs, Xhaka and Behrami have both been very good, but their attacking four each has major problems. Lord Seferovic is one of the worst strikers not just in the Bundesliga, due to his terrible finishing. Seferovic can usually hit the target – going 5 of 7 – but will often hit weak shots that rarely trouble the opposing keeper. I fully support more Breel Embolo over him, even if he is still very raw, losing the ball 14 times in 128 minutes! Blerim Dzemaili is probably on his fourth different Serie A team, because he can look wonderful beating two players, but then has to take on the third one and fall on his butt while doing so. Also, NONE of his SEVEN shots have reached the target. Admir Mehmedi, despite a wonder goal looks isolated far too often. Xherdan Shaqiri is concerned with condoms and Kosovo and recently had to be defended by his Stoke teammate for being overweight. He has had three shots blocked and leads the tourney in getting dispossessed – 14 times!
There are also serious doubts about whether Fabian Schär is really good (getting voted into the team of the group stages is nice, but having a couple of years of evidence at Hoffenheim suggesting that he isn’t weighs more), and most people agree about Johann Djourou being below average. That should be scary when they will go up against the in-form Arek Milik and the great Robert Lewandowski. The fullbacks are very solid, but both Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez are capable of conceding the occasional dumb penalty.
Probably the biggest surprise of the tourney with regards to expectations and performance. This is a team that hasn’t made a major tourney since 1986, has no significant players playing regularly in the top 5 leagues and was struggling to qualify after losing to Greece and barely beating the mighty Faroe Islands. Yet, under the leadership of Pál Dárdai and later Bernd Storck (who was one of the people at Hertha Berlin that signed Dárdai and everyone’s favorite tracksuit goalie Gábor Király in 1997) this team has become a solid mid-table Bundesliga side, not unlike the Hertha side of this season. Storck and Germany legend Andi Möller have instilled this belief in the players that they are indeed up to par, both physically and mentally and the squad is very united. Of course, these are platitudes for most football fans, but as someone who has followed the team since the late 1980s, such cliches about teamwork, identity and unity are revelations when it comes to the Hungarian national team.
Sure it is mostly smoke and mirrors, with a tremendous amount of self-belief (as you can tell from this great 11Freunde interview) and riding an insane conversion luck of 17%. The team has taken 71% of shots from outside of the box, and has scored six goals – see the tiny pink dots above! Balázs Dzsudzsák has gone from a spoiled prodigy who crashes Ferraris to a national hero with perhaps the tournament’s most feared left foot. I mean this was a team that nobody expected anything from, and the majority of the country was disillusioned with. Look at the scenes from downtown Budapest after the Portugal game!
A matchup against Belgium will probably be the end of the road, unless the Red Devils underestimate the Hungarians and continue to struggle to break open defensive sides.
9. Wales – Another unique squad featuring a superstar in Gareth Bale, who has gotten some help from this supporting cast and from Lady Luck as well. Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey’s ability to get deep into attacking positions, Joe Allen being the Welsh Xavi and the focal point in midfield have all done wonders for this tiny nation. Bale has been one of the players of the tournament, with the combination of his elite athleticism, shooting and dribbling being a gigantic problem for defenses. There has been some fluky stuff too: getting 7.3 shots on target from just 12.7 is absurd, even if you are playing the Russian “defense” and scoring on Joe Hart from across the pond. The 3-4-3 has made things interesting and the defense is giving up 15 shots per game.
They have got a terrific chance to go deep, with a Northern Irish team in the knockout rounds followed by the winner of the Belgium vs. Hungary. It’s not inconceivable that we will see Wales in the semis!
8. Belgium is the team that they probably will have to get past, and while the Red Devils are somehow ranked number two in the world, they have rarely looked the part. Trotting out the most expensive team of the tourney, full of EPL stars, Marc Wilmots deserves to shoulder most of the blame. Lacking quality fullbacks and having to play CBs and/or MLS players wide is bad, but sitting Moussa Dembele and not figuring out that Witsel and Nainggolan are redundant (in addition to never passing to each other) is worse. Playing Marouane Fellaini at number 10 is a crime against humanity, when you got De Bruyne and Hazard on the team – neither is a CAM, but they both have 10x the technical ability of the MU player. Romelu Lukaku is a weird fit, with his reluctance to make runs in the box (as pointed out by the great Double Pivot Podcast) and tendency to sit deep. Observe!
Perhaps starting him and bringing on more speed with Origi, Carrasco and Mertens will be the key to overcome Hungary, who will most likely sit in and defend. This could get interesting.
7. Poland are good, but not in the way most people think. 45% possession and 11 shots per game are below average and Robert Lewandowski has not been particularly great, mostly due to the attention defenses have paid to him. Kuba and Arek Milik (ten shots) have been able to pick up the slack and the young midfielders (Kapustka and co) have been dangerous, often just missing the finishing touch. Milik in particular missed an enormous chance against Germany and looks like he should have had at least two to three goals. Only 18 percent of their attacks have come from the middle of the pitch, the lowest number of the tourney and further evidence for Poland’s wing heavy approach.
On defense, the Poles have been surprisingly solid, sitting in fourth place with 16 interceptions per game. and not necessarily with their big name players in Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek. It has mostly been the middle of the pitch, where the Poles have locked it down, allowing just 54% of their shots against – the third best margin behind France and Portugal. In the CDM role, Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak has been on many team of the group stage ballots, and his 45 million move to PSG is no accident. He leads the team with three tackles per match. Center backs Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan have been massive, with Pazdan leading the team with 10 interceptions, the same as the mighty N’golo Kanté of France, and blocking five shots! Torino defender Kamil Glik has made 31 clearances, the most of any player in the Euros.
— UEFA EURO (@UEFAEURO) June 23, 2016
Obviously, the biggest number is ZERO, as in Poland have not conceded yet, despite allowing 17 shots in the box, a middle of the pack number. For comparison, the other team pitching a shutout is Germany, who allowed just four of those kind of shots.
The Poles will have a great chance to make the quarter finals against an offensively challenged Switzerland side, but it will be much harder to see them get past either Croatia or Portugal.
Stay tuned for the final part, coming up later today!