Club or country, it seems that I can’t get away from defensive problems.
At Chelsea, one clean sheet all season and the fourth-worst defence in the league says it. An injury-blighted defence means that Frank Lampard has struggled, an that looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
However, as we’re in the international break, my focus is on Switzerland. The Schweizer Nati fell to a damaging 1-0 defeat to Denmark on Saturday, as Yussuf Poulsen’s late winner sealed all three points for the Danes.
There’s no denying that there’s a problem with Switzerland’s defence. Time after time, Vladimir Petković fields his strongest defence, and every time they are exposed, exploited and torn apart. Something needs to change, which was evident more than ever in Copenhagen.
The players on the pitch aren’t the problem, it’s the tactics and system they’re playing. Petković has excellent centre-backs in Fabian Schär, Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi, while Ricardo Rodríguez, Kevin Mbabu and Stephan Lichtsteiner all offer different strengths out wide.
Throughout the game they stay tight and organised, but a lack of concentration in the late stages is what’s costing them. Seven of the eight goals the Swiss have conceded this year have come in the final 10 minutes, which is cause for great concern.
The main problem comes through playing a back three, rather than the more successful back four. While it works in allowing the full-backs to attack and contribute going forward more, it makes for a vulnerable defence.
It’s happened time and time again, but the crucial goal conceded against Denmark was the final straw. When watching Poulsen’s goal back, Switzerland’s defensive problems are proven to a devastating effect, and you can see where the problems lie.
Mbabu’s rush of blood
Petković opted for what is now a familiar sight for Swiss fans, playing a back three of Schär, Akanji and Elvedi. Rodríguez played as a left wing-back, while Lichtsteiner returned to the starting eleven to play on the right.
There was nothing to worry about for 80 minutes, as even when Mbabu replaced Lichtsteiner the Swiss defence still kept strong. While Mbabu performed well in his half-hour cameo, his initial decision proved costly in Denmark’s winner.
As the ball came out wide for Denmark, Mbabu rushed forward and out of position to try win the ball back. By the time it had been played down the line to Christian Eriksen, Mbabu was well out of position and showing no intention of tracking back and helping defend.
Shown in the red circle, Mbabu isn’t even in his own half as the final pass is played. It was a rush of blood and a naïve thing to do, and while a midfielder should’ve gone towards the ball instead, Mbabu should’ve known not to rush forward.
Serious lack of shape
It’s not just Mbabu’s mistake that is evident, as the exact same frame shows the key problem in Switzerland’s defence. With Mbabu well out of position, it was left to Schär to fill his place and come across to cover Eriksen.
The Newcastle man should’ve had the comfort in doing this, knowing he had two central defenders alongside him. Schär was able to stay alert and cover the young full-back, but him being pulled out was another costly move for the Nati.
Moreover, the shape of the three centre-backs is woeful. Althoug Akanji is marking his man in the middle, he has absolutely no awareness of what’s going on behind him. If he did, he would’ve stayed far more central and positioned himself in between Denmark’s two on-rushing attackers, to keep them both under control.
But then the serious question to be asked: where is Nico Elvedi? The three centre-backs are circled in yellow, and while the positioning of the other two is far from good, Elvedi could not be further away from where he needs to be in a game, let alone the dying minutes of a must-win match.
Elvedi is sitting on the half-way line, far too wide and far too forward for a central defender in a back three. He is the furthest out of position and ultimately the costliest one at the moment of Eriksen’s pass, as Poulsen has acres of space to run into.
While it isn’t perfect, Rodríguez is surprisingly doing the best here. He is tucked in from the left-hand side and working back, though he should’ve helped cover Elvedi’s spot better to prevent Poulsen’s free run.
Overall though, this is the most worrying piece of analysis to make. There is no shape whatsoever, no organisation and no discipline across the five defenders on the pitch. Not one is correctly positioned, and every single one is at fault for something.
No one tracking back
The most frustrating thing is watching the lack of desire or effort after Eriksen’s pass, with barely any players trying to recover and stop Poulsen. This is the final frame before Poulsen prepares to shoot, with only Yann Sommer in his way. Where is everyone?
There are just three players actually tracking back and chasing Poulsen: Rodríguez, Akanji and Granit Xhaka. That means that Elvedi, Schär and Mbabu are nowhere to be seen, and when you watch the replays you can see that the latter two don’t even try to get back.
Elvedi (top, central) does at least try, but to put it lightly he should’ve tried harder. Rodríguez is the only one who actually tries to keep Poulsen from scoring, as in the cases of Xhaka and Akanji they actually give up at this point and stop running.
Akanji is at least a metre away from the Danish striker, while Xhaka is now jogging towards the ball. It left Sommer with the task of winning the one-on-one battle, which he failed. No one tried to get back, no one gave it their all to recover, no one tried to redeem their self. That’s the worst thing.
The defensive shape can be worked on, the formation can be reverted, but the determination won’t change. That’s the main concern- so many players seemed to just accept their fate as soon as Eriksen played the pass, and that is simply unacceptable.
Poulsen’s goal showed every single Swiss weakness, and in a hugely damaging way as well. Switzerland inches away from losing automatic qualification for good, and if they continue to defend like this, that’s exactly what will happen.