Firstly, I would like to thank Ajmal for emailing and requesting me to analyse the U16s. If you have any topic suggestions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @sgtsaltnpeppa
Over the last one month, the U16s have been on an international tour dubbed, "The China Tour" in which they played 3 games in China against the host's U17 side, Thailand U16s and North Korea U16s and also one game against Buriram United. Lot has been said about the politics of such exposure tours but here at Grey Area Analytics, we are more concerned with the football.
India started the tournament against the hosts in a tight game that ended with 1-0 defeat for the Colts. I was not able to find team sheets for the game so unfortunately, I had to use only the numbers on the back of the shirts in my analysis.
Both teams started the game in the, now over-used, 4-2-3-1 formation. In a completely disgusting decision*, shirt #2 and #3 were playing CB while #4 and #5 line up on the right and left respectively. The double pivot in midfield was manned by #10 and #14 who dovetailed excellently and were ably led by the unbelievably talented #11 in the hole behind #24 the striker. #9 and #6 started on the left and right wing respectively.
[ Traditional football practice dictates that jersey #4 & #5 are traditionally CBs while #3 should be the LB and #2 should be the RB. ]
Story of the Game
The expected result of this game should have been a 3-1 or 2-1 victory to India. India dominated the game from start to finish and managed to create 16 chances in the game. 10 of which were inside the box. Both teams created 3 big chances in the game, but only China will count themselves lucky to escape with a clean sheet.
India conceded 17 chances in the game but they made sure that 70% (12) of these chances were taken from outside the box. The Colts held their positions well and made it difficult for China to get behind the defence except on isolated occasions where a single Chinese forward would break the line before being closed down by the Indian defence.
The goal was conceded when the Indian offside trap failed. Both the defence and midfielders were caught square and ball watching when the ball broke to the Chinese #11. He then pays a through pass between the Indian RB and CB and the Chinese #9 darts in behind before powering home. Aside from this and a couple of Maradonna-esque moments from China's #17, the Indian defence was not overly troubled.
The theme of the game will be the poor finishing shown by the Indian team. The front 4 are very good at exchanging short passes and bursting beyond the Chinese defensive line but their finishing was woeful. Their performance was very reminiscent of the senior team's against Chinese Taipei (minus Sunil Chhetri in front of goal).
A potential change that I would make to the set up of the forward line is move the #24 to the left wing and replace him with the #9. The Indian defence, much like the senior team, loved to play long direct balls into the forwards' chests. #24's movements into midfield/towards the ball means he performed like a pseudo-false 9 and verticality had to be provided by the runs of #9 from the left wing.
#24 did not show an inclination to make runs behind the defence or look like he wanted to physically tussle with the Chinese CBs and this meant that India lacked a presence up front. Exchanging #24 and #9 would give more balance to the Indian front line as #9 would be able to push the CB's back with his movement and create space for the Indian #11, while #24's technique and movement would make him a bigger threat coming in off the left wing.
India's Build-up Play
A particular facet of our play that I enjoyed was the movement by, #14, the deeper of the two central midfielders. China did not employ a full court press and would only start to pressure the ball when we entered their half. As a result, this was India's chance to build from the back. The goalkeeper took every kick short and as China didn't press, the Indian CBs had time and space to *disappointingly* launch the ball into the Chinese half. Indian forwards are usually small and quick and this sort of play does not try to bring the most out of them.
What I did like was that #14 would constantly drop between the Indian CBs like Sergio Busquets does for Barcelona. This increases the horizontal coverage of the pitch in deep areas and is the perfect platform to implement a precise passing game.... which obviously we didn't. On the rare occasion that we did play short from the back, it was easy to see how #14 dropping between the centre backs allows us to create overload on one side and pass the ball through the Chinese press.
Indian Pressing Game
India are developing a crude pressing game. The trigger for players to start the press is when the ball is played to the opposition fullback, which is a popular trigger event in Europe. Obviously these players are young and don't fully understand the press but they need to be braver to try and force the opposition to turn over the ball.
As it is currently executed, the press is open in areas and it is relatively easy for opponents to pass through. As shown below, the Indian RB actually goes to mark the wrong man, leaving a short passing option in space. Another suggestion would be to commit the spare midfield player higher up the pitch to dissuade the diagonal pass to the opposite side. In the image below, the Indian second line should occupy braver positions along the green line to force the Chinese players to either hit it long or give it away.
Indian Set Pieces
The coaching team have done an excellent job in building set piece program. I did a short thread on Twitter here. The most important facet of a good set piece program is variety and it looks like Indians are set up well in this department.
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