Vitoria did everything right. There is no point in accusing him of cowardice
Now at every step one can come across stinging statements that Spartak flew to Lisbon to defend the starting defeat. Look decent, but definitely not save the outcome of the confrontation. Allegedly, there was nothing to lose – so it would be possible in such a situation not to sit on the defensive, but, on the contrary, to run forward and with songs in search of happiness.
Personally, in this case, I rather want to side with the coach. Because we don’t even need to play a guessing game and think about what would have happened with different tactics. We remember very well the first match with Benfica, where Spartak played boldly and aggressively. Well?
Why Vitoria abandoned the aggressive plan
In Moscow, Spartak lined up in a 4-3-3 pattern in order to try to meet the opponent high and aggressively. The three forwards played one-on-one with other central defenders, two “eights” took foreign defenders, the extreme defenders, upon the transfer, were advanced to the laterals. On paper, it all looked beautiful, but in fact Benfica almost did not feel Spartak’s pressure. The level of intensity and technical equipment of her players was high enough in order to calmly relieve pressure, and then accelerate attacks. The red and white then wasted too much energy – and began to sit down physically by the end of the first half. We wrote more about that match here.
That is, I will emphasize once again: the tactics with high pressure did not make life easier for Spartak at that time. Benfica created four chances in the first half and the same number in the second. What has changed before the return leg? What could have made Spartak’s pressing better? The teamwork is about the same. The composition is clearly not stronger (except that a more mobile Ponce was added in the front line compared to Sobolev – this is a plus, but the only one). The physical condition is worse, as the team plays three matches a week.
I suppose if Vitoriasent Spartak high to meet Benfica and play the first number, then we would have seen the funeral of the red and white in the first half of the first half. The team would be deployed a couple of times, forced to run 50-60 meters, they would have inflicted two or three blows from lethal positions – and all the enthusiasm would have ended. Therefore, Vitoria took a more pragmatic approach.
What was Vitoria’s plan and why it didn’t work
Spartak flew to Lisbon to defend positionally. The team had to sit low in the line with at least fives, in which case one flank midfielder controlled the lateral, and the other narrowed the space and occupied an intermediate position, keeping in mind both the development of the attack through the middle and the diagonal turn. This is how it should look like.
But quite quickly situations began to arise when Spartak ended up on the back line not with five, but six: both Lomovitsky and Bakaev sat down at the same time. And even in the fact that the attack was directed in the other direction, the flank midfielder, far from the ball, did not always strive to move to the semi-flank. Bakaev was especially stuck in the width.
“Spartak” was very afraid of the active flank play from “Benfica”, therefore, he closed the width of the field as much as possible. In the first half, everything more or less worked: the flanks were hacked only three times, the rest of the time the Portuguese held the ball relatively sterile (although they were not particularly involved).
It is a little strange that in situations where Spartak openly sat back with a six, Benfica poorly used the space in the support zone and the semi-flank behind the distant defensive player. If the Portuguese played through these zones more often, they would be guaranteed to pull out the defenders and create holes. And they, according to the usual algorithms, got lost on the flanking game. But the first goal after the break came just thanks to Ayrton pulling out and filling the semi-flank space.
If Spartak had at least some counterattacking arguments, one could generally say that Vitoria’s plan is working. But – alas. The red and white ran out very badly after interceptions and immediately lost the ball. Although the coach was consistent in determining the composition: Rasskazov and Bakaev, Ayrton and Lomovitsky on the flanks, Larsson and Ponce in front – there were many fast and easy players, it seemed that at least three or four times in a half the team could run away.
But “Spartak” just ugly took advantage of the opportunities for counter-attacks. If Ponce at least somehow clung to the ball, then Larsson completely dropped out of the game (especially in the first half). Bakaev several times got the ball in an advantageous position on the right, but either gave an unsuccessful sharp pass, or did not see the continuation and resisted, losing pace. “Benfica” rolled back, the fast attack stalled.
Perhaps all this is due to heavy legs (it is not easy to defend in 10 minutes without the ball). Or simply with the level of performers – now, I think, everyone understands why the same Larsson did not play for the Swedish national team at Euro 2020, where there were very similar requirements: the forward’s participation in defense at 4-4-2 and stability with fast attacks. The fact is that if you are only defending yourself, and you do not exert real pressure on other people’s gates, then sooner or later your strength and enthusiasm will end.
So I understand exactly what Vitoria wanted. His plan was cautious, but understandable. And it could have worked if the Spartak attack group at least occasionally ran out.
Spartak’s position is not happy, not only because the team flew past the Champions League. It is heavy on all fronts.
And let me remind you of this separately. Spartak really wanted to strengthen, but this ideally required profitable sales of legionnaires. Who to sell now? Kral failed the Euro, and in Spartak he has now turned into a substitute. It is ridiculous to remember that in May it was about € 15 million and England. Larsson has a depressing start to the season, it is unlikely that they will give much for him, the emotional background is not at all the same, all sports restrictions have come out again.
Only Gigot can be sold now – that’s who, at least in segments, looks like a football player of the level of the top 5 European Championships. All the rest did not show themselves against the background of Benfica, or discredited themselves. And now “Spartak” will either be left without reinforcement until winter, or will make frank financial concessions. And somewhere, perhaps, it will simply terminate contracts and pay compensation.
Total: there is no money from the Champions League, there is no money from the profitable sales of football players. The coach seems to be left without support, the emotional background after defeats and scandals is getting harder and harder. And Fedun is silent. Great situation. How typical it is for Spartak.