Bosnia’s last friendly before the 2014 World Cup was vs. Mexico in Chicago, Illinois. This match saw various improvements and new aspects to the Bosnian National Team. I feel it would be great to analyze the performance of the team within various phases of it’s own system. In this analysis we will look at the Defensive Shape, High Pressing/Pressing Attacks, Combination Ability, Positional Structure, Ball Circulation, and aspects of the Gegenpressing/Counterpressing of the Bosnian National Team in depth. I will focus only on the first half of the match. This is because quickly after the second half began substitutions began to occur. The fitness levels of the teams also dropped a lot in the second half of play, which made executing the systems a lot more sloppy (which could be an aspect to worry about in Brazil). Thankfully, the only goal of the match occurred in the first half!
Bosnia’s Defensive Organization
This aspect of Bosnia’s game has improved enormously recently. Some credit for this goes to the new players entering the starting lineups such as Kolasinac, Hajrovic, & Besic. Mexico lined up in a 3-1-4-2 formation while Bosnia was in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation which is newer for them as Bosnia usually played with two true strikers.
Right from the very first minute Bosnia exerted defensive dominance with intelligent defensive movements. In the first image Dzeko forced Salcido into a pass towards the right side with his more left-tilting positioning in that moment. In the right sided area of the field Bosnia had a 6v5 if you include Dzeko & Salcido, or a 5v4 situation without them. Here Bosnia had the clear advantage. The 3 forward Mexican options were covered by 3 Bosnians in a man-oriented sort of fashion so that if the ball was received the Mexican player wouldn’t be allowed to turn. Coupled with that Misimovic & Lulic pressed Reyes while covering two of the options. Dzeko was oriented towards Salcido to challenge if a back pass were to occur. Here Reyes lost the 2v1 duel but the ball bounced Mexico’s way in a dangerous area & it allowed them to hold possession and switch the field. Another interesting aspect of this scene was the far side Fullback Mujdza was moving into the 6 space (Space where the traditional #6 would play, defensive midfielder) in order to aid Bosnia’s pressing structure & not allow Mexico to have numerical control of the center. Without this movement it would’ve been much easier for Mexico to enter Bosnia’s defensive shape in higher areas & create dangerous situations. Another important note is that Hajrovic was man oriented towards the Mexican left-wingback Ponce for the entire match.
In the second scene, Mexico play the switch ball into what seems a less pressurized zone – but really its another trap. This trap’s difficulty level to perform was made much easier due to the disconnected nature of Mexico’s shape. The 3 Centerbacks for Mexico and the Defensive Midfielder were deep during possession while the 8s (Mexico’s Central Midfielders), the Wingbacks, & Mexico’s strikers were very high up the pitch. Personally, i believe Mexico have excellent players with a lot of technical quality & such an approach is strange to see. Mexico had many players forward who tried making runs to drag and pull defenders around, while the other forwards try to exploit the space. This didn’t work very well because Mexico’s defenders were very easy to isolate and press into inaccurate passes.
Hajrovic remained man-oriented towards Ponce which made him look almost like an extra Rightback. Mujdza stayed oriented towards the Meixcan 8 – Pena. While Besic, Pjanic, and Lulic shifted across in accordance to the movement of the ball, blocking easy forward passes. On the far side Salihovic had no need to mark Layun as a pass to Layun would be very difficult to execute as well as being easy to read. So Salihovic tucked inside to help the compactness of Bosnia’s shape – so he could aid in the pressing of the 2nd ball if Mexico were to try a long ball down the center.
Dzeko first stayed in the center while Salcido had the ball, leaving Moreno and the left side completely open. When the pass was played, Dzeko quickly shifted across to press Moreno (meanwhile, Misimovic shifted across as well towards Salcido). Moreno was completely isolated from any close passing options or combination possibilities. All the near side Mexican players were marked as well. So when Dzeko pressed Moreno, Moreno was forced into an inaccurate long ball towards the center of the field in hopes of Mexico winning the ball due to a slightly higher concentration of players in the center of the field. This didn’t work, as Besic simply intercepted the ball and Bosnia began their attack.
*Note: Some of these aspects within Bosnia’s pressing resembles how BVB Dortmund pressed Bayern in their 3-0 victory, find my Analysis of that match here: https://adinosmanbasic.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/bvb-dortmund-30-fc-bayern-pressing-analysis/
In this scene we see another example of the Bosnian’s looking to isolate Mexico in the wide defensive zones. Hajrovic remained man-oriented towards Ponce. Pjanic, Lulic, & Besic once again shift across the field in relation to the ball again, with Pjanic blocking Pena while Mujdza marks him from behind. This time we see Salihovic on the opposite side of the field move into the 6 space to mark Mexico’s far 8 (Herrera) & provide stability in Bosnia’s defensive shape.
Dzeko was once again tilted towards one side (this time the right of Mexico) in order to force the ball in the opposite direction. Misimovic performed the same movement Dzeko did earlier when performing this trap. He remained in the center of the pitch leaving the flank open. When the ball was played he then quickly closed down the isolated Moreno, who tried a ball into Pena. Pena was in a 2v1 duel vs. Mujdza & Pjanic who won the ball.
Again the ball was played out to Moreno. Mujdza took up a position as if he were a 6 while Hajrovic looked like a FB marking Ponce. Besic was oriented towards Vazquez while Pjanic marks Herrera. Lulic & Salihovic leave the far side open in order to improve Bosnia’s compactness.
This time Ponce dropped deeper in order to provide a pass option to Moreno. Misimovic wasn’t able to apply good enough pressure so Moreno was able to play the ball. Ponce received the pass but Hajrovic didnt allow a turn, while Mujdza blocked any inside pass possibility. Ponce was only able to return the ball to Moreno as Misimovic was running backwards to help Hajrovic pressure Ponce. Once Moreno received the ball back he could only play it backwards because he had no forward options. Bosnia successfully pushed Mexico out of their defense.
You may be thinking: “Why doesn’t one of the forwards attempt a diagonal run into the flank & receive a long ball in open space?” or “Why doesn’t the winger who drops (Ponce, for example) try to do a 1 touch lay off or ‘hook’ pass (a pass while turning the body & beginning run for a wall pass return)?”
Good questions, Mexico actually tried both of these methods and ran into some problems. When Mexico played long balls into the flanks for their strikers the strikers became quickly isolated. By the time the ball was controlled if it was a good quality pass Bosnia already shifted their defensive shape across the field and put a lot of pressure on the striker. The striker either lost the ball or attempted a cross which was inaccurate.
When the wide man who received the vertical pass & attempted a lay off pass into the center Mexico lost the ball immediately. The pass is quite easy to read & with everyone being so tightly marked (along with Bosnia’s defensive shape being compact meaning more players around the ball) it is easy to tackle the ball away and begin an attack. This means Mexico’s only answer would be to position their players differently in possession.
These scenes highlight Bosnia’s defensive awareness. A graphic doesn’t truly do this scene justice, but i will try. Salcido’s interesting movement actually really improved Mexico’s positional structure & gave them the potential to play into Bosnia’s shape and create. This makes it even more impressive that Bosnia was able to force Mexico into losing the ball in such a quick & intense environment. Besic’s initial arching pressing run immediately blocked Mexico off from the inside of the field, forcing them wide. With less space out wide Mexico found it more difficult to find passing options. During this time Mujdza oriented towards Pena and blocked an inside pass. Besic positioned himself after his run to block any diagonal inside passes, while Hajrovic was still with Ponce. Moreno then passed back to Salcido. When Salcido was receiving the ball both Hajrovic and Dzeko realized they can force Salcido into a predictable pass thats easy to intercept.
Dzeko immediately pressed Salcido from the side to not allow a turn or time on the ball, forcing his vision of the field towards the flanks. Hajrovic began running in anticipation for the predictable pass to Moreno. Hajrovic intercepted the ball and began running up the field. This moment was excellent in displaying Bosnia’s pressing intelligence as a group.
As I said earlier, Bosnia has improved a lot in this aspect of their game. Their defense (including high pressing) was their main source of creating good chances.
Bosnia’s High Pressing/Pressing Attacks
Bosnia only performed high pressing movements during Mexico’s goal kicks or when a pressing trigger occurred. This is another aspect of Bosnia’s game that improved a lot from recent matches. Previously the pressing was uncoordinated & easy to break by finding an open vertical pass. Now the pressing is very well coordinated and Bosnia caused many turnovers higher up the pitch.
Salcido received a pass from the keeper to the right. Lulic pressed him not allowing Salcido’s vision to face forward & possibly play Layun. Dzeko and Misimovic were loosely oriented on Moreno and Reyes, not allowing them to receive the pass. Hajrovic stayed quite a large distance off of Ponce as to lure Mexico into playing him the pass so he could be closed down. Talavera wasn’t pressured as pressing the keeper can be a very unstable decision. Pressuring the keeper has to be done extremely well as Talavera immediately counts as an extra player against pressure. Talavera makes it 11 in possession vs Bosnia’s 10 pressuring (as Begovic doesn’t help pressure). The best passing keepers can immediately take advantage of this numerical superiority, & Mexico has somewhat of a history of good passing keepers (particularly in 2006 where Guardiola said he fell in love with the Mexican team). Talavera played the ‘obvious’ pass to Ponce & Hajrovic immediately presses him while all options are covered. Salihovic realized the play was moving to the opposite side of the field, so decided to tuck inside & help the team stay compact to win any long passes. He left Layun and the opposite flank open, but of course the pass to Layun is very risky and difficult. Ponce under pressure attempted a long pass to Jimenez.
Sunjic applied intense pressure from behind to not allow Jimenez to coordinate himself for a jump and header challenge. Pjanic, Besic, and Mujdza were all goal side of their opponents which created a 4v1 duel vs Jimenez. Bosnia easily won the second ball that bounced off of the first challenge by great positioning & pressure on the targeted area. Due to Salihovic tucking inside, even if the ball bounced in favor of Mexico Bosnia would still have a 6v5 situation if you include Salihovic & Spahic who was marking Chicharito in the immediate area.
This scene is slightly different. This time Mexico had less short options to play out of the back to, probably in order to establish more of a presence farther up top if pressed into a long ball. Hajrovic again coaxed Talavera into passing to Ponce. Hajrovic immediately closed down Ponce, forcing him into an inaccurate pass. This is an aspect that Mexico didn’t plan for when they decided to commit more people forward when building from the back with shorter passes. The dynamics of the game.
Mexico did have more players forward, but Ponce was pressured in a way that didnt allow Mexico to gain any sort of advantage from that. First off, you can notice in the area of Salihovic & Lulic, Mexico have a 3v2 situation. Bosnia managed the space in a way that made Mexico pass to the seemingly obvious choice, Ponce. When Hajrovic pressed Ponce, he did it with incredible space and in a jockeying motion. While jockeying the player’s body covers much more space & casts a bigger cover shadow. Hajrovic pressed from the inside to the outside here. This coupled with the intensity speed and agility put Ponce under immense pressure & forced him to the outside. He attempted a difficult pass (but the only slightly open chance) to Pena. Pjanic was already anticipating the obvious pass to Pena and tackled from behind to win the ball. This scene showed the great 1v1 pressing ability in duels from Hajrovic.
Moreno played the ball to Salcido who was the ‘free man’ here. Misimovic was more oriented towards Reyes in this scene, so Salcido began to carry the ball forward between the two forwards. Pjanic was oriented towards Vazquez and took him away as a passing option for Salcido. Besic was deeper to cover any vertical passing options. Once Salcido dribbled forward into this area concentrated with Bosnian players the Bosnians took up a loose asymmetrical shape. This shows that they were all on the same page & understood their roles to the extent that they knew how much they could ‘freestyle’ their positioning in certain moments. The most important fact is to always keep the principles of the defensive organization, which was to not allow anyone inside & constantly force Mexico back.
You may be thinking: “But Pena is alone to his left, & Herrera/Layun are open for a pass as well!” Another good thought. The way Bosnia began to slowly close down on Salcido was forcing him to the left, which made a pass to the seemingly open right side incredibly difficult. It would probably be an inaccurate pass, as well as easy to read for Lulic, Besic, and Salihovic. Pena on the left was seemingly open as well. Though Dzeko’s positioning coupled with Pjanic’s pressure on Vazquez made this angle incredibly tight. If Pena received the ball Mujdza wouldn’t allow a turn & Bosnia would shut a pressing trap on him with the surrounding players. That situation might have been successful if it were Busquets making the pass & Messi receiving. They are some of the best players in history & even they would probably avoid such a pass.
Dzeko looking to tighten the angle for a vertical pass freed Moreno up slightly, who was connected to Mexico’s left side. As you remember, this is the area where Bosnia looked to isolate Mexico most often.
In the second part of the scene you will see that once the pass was played to the open Ponce Hajrovic immediately closed him down. The Bosnian midfield shifted across once again so that Pjanic was blocking a forward pass to Pena (who was also marked by Mujdza) & so that Besic was oriented on Vazquez, leaving the unplayable far side more vulnerable. Pjanic and Hajrovic began closing down Ponce very quickly & since Dzeko was oriented towards Moreno his only option was a difficult pass across the center to Salcido. When the pass to Salcido occurred Misimovic & Lulic immediately realized they had Mexico isolated and unbalanced in possession. Misimovic closed down Salcido while Lulic blocked any out pass to Reyes, forcing the ball back to the keeper under continued pressure which led to a turnover by a lob out of bounds.
This is a great example of some the key elements of defense. It isn’t about covering every space for the opponent, but knowing how to compromise & which spaces to allow the opponent. This way you can control the movement & eventually execute a defensive attack to recover the ball. It also shows that cliché factors such as aggressiveness and will are needed for good defense. A defensive phase can last a long while & when an opportunity arose the players had to attack viciously and quickly to make the Mexicans panic.
Bosnia’s Combination Ability/Ability to escape Gegenpress
Bosnia has had trouble being able to combine quickly to escape pressure when they first win the ball & the opponent gegenpress to immediately win it back. A lot of times the Bosnian players aren’t positioned correctly to create options for the player who won the ball & become easily isolated & lose the ball in dangerous areas. Sometimes individual quality is also lacking & they cant keep control of the ball under pressure with high ball speed. This rarely occurred in this match but i feel it could be a lingering problem for the squad.
*Note: Here is an excellent video by AllasFCB highlighting the Spain U21 team’s combination ability and ability to escape pressure of the opponent. This is how the best players do it.
The scene begins with another Mexican goal kick. This time they decide to skip the short passes out of defense & go straight to the forwards area (something that Bosnia has begun to do in order to avoid pressure as well). Salihovic easily intercepts it & passes it to Lulic with his first controlling touch. Lulic immediately returns the pass as he was probably told there was no turn possibility.
The Mexicans gegenpressed well, even Chicharito came back to aid the press. Instead of combining and finding a way across the pitch, Salihovic returns the ball to Lulic who was immediately closed down. Lulic held up the ball 2v1 and eventually it was kicked out for a Bosnian throw in. Similar to Bosnia in the earlier scenes, Mexico left the far side open in order to obtain near side superiority & local compactness. The difference though is that Bosnia still had routes to move the ball in a controlled & quick fashion to their advantageous side. Though they weren’t able to do it because Lulic took too long on the ball & Salihovic wasn’t looking to attempt a pass to connect Bosnia across. This is an example of the very few times Bosnia struggled to escape the gegenpress in this match.
Here Bosnia shows off their excellent technical quality in ball control & passing when escaping the gegenpress. When Salihovic intercepted and immediately played a ball ahead to Lulic, Mexico had done a great job of closing down options & isolating Lulic. Lulic played an excellent long pass inside that required incredible accuracy to fit in such a space. Dzeko controlled it as it bounced in the air, he then flick it back to Misimovic who was on the opposite side of the initial Mexican pressure on Lulic so his field of vision was facing the open space. Misimovic then played a half volley into the open space to Mujdza who ran up the field causing Mexico to retreat. This allowed Bosnia to settle into a controlled position for possession.
An obvious aspect of this scene is that it is incredibly difficult to pull off. Bosnia relied a lot on longer forward passes to Dzeko who has excellent technical quality and physical presence. Dzeko is able to posture up and control passes against the pressure of opponent center backs very often, but will it work in every match? Bosnia will have to rely a bit more on their positioning & quickness of movement with high speed passing to avoid such situations in some future situations, but that is something they have struggled with.
Salcido was initially pressuring Misimovic & Misimovic was able to play the ball out to Lulic facing him towards the sideline. As Misimovic was making an overlapping run Salcido made the intelligent decision to join Layun in a quick 2v1 duel & leave Misimovic open. This would most likely result in a Mexico victory in the duel correct? No. Lulic was able to use his body and keep the ball on the far side of the defenders while using his near side arm to push stiffly away from the pressure for momentary relief. In this moment he was able to turn with his body and play a flicked pass through to Misimovic. This highlights Lulic’s incredible ability under pressure. Once Misimovic received the ball he was joined by Dzeko & Hajrovic in a 3v3 situation. This ended in one of the best chances of the game as Pjanic made a late run and barely missed a great cross by Hajrovic. If a team has the technical quality to beat a press, spaces begin to open & dangerous chances are created. It is well known that a lot of talent out of the Balkans (more popularly Croatia) are very technical players.
We have yet another incredible moment of gegenpressing escape. Salihovic plays a long ball from a throw in to Dzeko, who has pressure on his back. This area is clearly dominated by Mexican players. Dzeko is still able to control the ball and flick it over to Besic and lead him towards the open side. Similar to Misimovic in the earlier scene Besic was on the outside of the initial Mexican pressure so when Dzeko was able to avoid pressure and control the ball, Besic’s positioning all of a sudden becomes incredibly advantageous for Bosnia’s possession. This is the risk when pressuring a team with great technical quality. He controls the ball & plays it out to Mujdza who advances the team yet again.
Dzeko has been the main ingredient & the head ‘escape artist’ for Bosnia in pressure situations. Similar to how Ibrahimovic has the ability to control a lot of high long passes under pressure, Dzeko does the same. Manchester City fans don’t need to be told about Dzeko’s great technical ability. But one must question how reliable such an approach is when facing the very best pressuring squads with world class center backs.
Bosnia’s Positional Structure & Ball Circulation
This aspect of Bosnia’s game is what caused them to have the most problems during the game, as most teams do. A lot of teams have positioning & circulation that isn’t the most efficient for the form of pressure/defense they are facing. Offense is definitely the more abstract phase of the game and therefore could be considered much more complex in that sense. Bosnia had the opportunity to open very promising spaces for a more controlled & dominant attack but failed to execute or looked for some other way to attack. This is possibly due to their coach (Safet Susic) communicating to the team that he wants them to focus more on switches of play through the wings/flanks & focus on more crosses. For this reason i feel the players sometimes avoid playing a more central penetrating pass in favor of a wide pass leading to a cross, while the attackers concentrate on the far side of the field. They concentrate on the far side of the field for similar reasons teams become compact on defense during a long ball, for higher probability of winning the ball, or the 2nd ball.
*Note: This form of ball circulation and positional structure is very similar to the approach of Real Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti or Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Real Madrid scored most of their 160 goals in the 2013/2014 season in this manner. See it here in this video.
Pjanic received the ball from the right and turned to continue the flow of the ball towards the opposite side. In this moment had Pjanic played Salihovic forward while Herrera was on him, Salihovic would’ve been completely free (yellow arrow) to move forward & combine with Lulic or Dzeko or even shoot from the top of the box. The ball was straight to Salihovic and Herrera quickly closed Salihovic down to end a possibility of a vertical approach. When Pjanic receives the return pass he is facing forward with no pressure on him. There was a big space between Vazquez and Herrera. If Pjanic had played a ball to Dzeko he most likely would’ve been crowded out. If Pjanic tried to quickly play the ball to Dzeko and run forward to combine it would’ve possibly worked, though it would be hard to have enough pace to cover that much distance without Mexico getting into good positions.
You can notice that Bosnia had Mujdza, Besic, Pjanic, and Salihovic in the midfield in this scene vs Mexico’s 3 midfielders. The best solution here would have been if Pjanic had moved into this space and allowed the others to control the ball & play the vertical ball to expose the thin midfield. Instead, Mujdza was the man trying to provide the connection between midfield and attack, positioning himself slightly higher. Pjanic played the ball out wide to him immediately. When defending in the 5-3-2, Mexico leave the flanks in midfield very open so its easy to progress up the pitch through the sides. But when in a deep defensive block playing into this space is exactly what Mexico want. The middle is crowded so the natural tendency is to play the ball wide. It seemed as though Bosnia had a big overload on the flank, but Mexico shifted across quickly and condensed the space. Mexico even won the ball momentarily before Bosnia flicked it wide to Hajrovic in a 1v1.
Finally, Hajrovic creates enough space in his 1v1 duel to launch a cross far post. Dzeko and Lulic tried to orient themselves towards the back post with Pjanic coming from behind. This plays exactly into Mexico’s hands as they have a very populated back line and probably felt very confident with this method of Bosnian circulation. They won the ball but gave it away with a very poor clearance. This shows another aspect of danger when playing in this way. If Bosnia don’t get off a shot from the cross, they will most likely be open on the far side in the midfield. Most of the midfield shifted across near side to help combine and create an opportunity for a cross, while the attackers orient themselves towards the far post of the goal. If the cross fails then there is a big space to exploit and Bosnia isn’t structured correctly to execute a successful gegenpress and win the ball immediately. As Pep Guardiola has mentioned before, “The phases of the game cannot be separated.” This means if you have poor positioning and circulation in possession, you’ll have poor positioning when trying to press after you’ve lost the ball, which will cause poor transition defense.
*Note: Atletico Madrid had similar problems vs Chelsea in the 2nd leg of the Champions League semifinal before conceding a goal. They had problems with their positioning and circulation which translated to their defensive phases. Find my analysis of Atletico’s change in positioning and circulation here. https://adinosmanbasic.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/atletico-madrid-31-chelsea-ball-circulation-analysis/
Lulic has the ball on the flank and plays a very accurate threaded pass inside to Misimovic, & then makes a run down the flank. Misimovic receives the ball & begins dribbling towards the flank under pressure from Herrera. Herrera probably felt confident that he was shepherding the Bosnians towards the flank where Mexico could control the situation.
This time it was different though. Lulic and Misimovic combined & eventually Misimovic play it backwards to Pjanic who took up an excellent position to provide support to the attack. Pjanic then immediately plays the ball into Besic. This shows a big contrast to Bosnia’s earlier approach where they opted for the cross. This time they played the ball in a controlled manner into the middle into a dangerous area. This gives Bosnia a better chance to have a more dangerous attack & allows them to be positioned much better if the ball gets lost so they can win it back immediately with the gegenpress.
Besic does excellently to dribble Pena, which allowed him to enter the advantageous side of the pitch for Bosnia and create a dangerous situation. Bosnia here had basically a 3v3 in front of goal if you include Salcido. Besic lets off a shot that is off target, but the possession and circulation of the ball definitely boosted Bosnia’s rhythm and confidence on the ball. That was the best way to exploit Mexico’s defense while remaining completely dominant and control.
*Note: Manchester City faced a similar system near the end of the 2013/2014 season vs West Ham when they were playing to clinch the English Premier League title. They moved to the ball in order to move their opponents & create spaces. Eventually Samir Nasri received the ball with the opportunity to move forward & he let off a shot from the top of the box to give City a goal. Shooting from within 20 yards is quite common vs 5+ in the back as it leaves the midfield to be exploited while making the back line very difficult to penetrate. Find the video here.
Hajrovic finds a nice pocket of space for himself and receives the ball on a turn. He begins dribbling forward and plays it to Dzeko who then plays it to Besic. These quick passing spurts within combinations while being pressurized causes Mexico to get closer and closer to the ball as they attempt to win it. The flip side of that is that the far side gets more and more open. Besic plays the ball out to Misimovic immediately & put Bosnia was in a good situation. Salihovic overlaps while Misimovic tries to hold the ball under pressure from Herrerra after he passes to Salihovic & receives a quick return pass. Instead of exploiting the far side of the field Bosnia decided to hold the ball and allow the Mexicans to shift over so they could target the opposite side.
Misimovic turns and plays the ball to Lulic then makes a vertical run. Lulic immediately plays the ball to Hajrovic who has some extra space thanks to Misimovic’s run. Hajrovic then begins to dribble forward and take advantage of the space he was allowed. Meanwhile, Misimovic and Lulic begin moving inside. Dzeko, Misimovic, & Lulic were ready for a nice short cutback cross, but the Mexican goalkeeper catches the cross. Cutback crosses are much more efficient form of attack than crossing into a crowded box, as we will see with Bosnia’s goal.
Bosnia eventually scored a goal right before the halftime whistle. It came from their original approach. Begovic played a long ball skipping the defense and any sort of pressure in build up from the Mexicans. Once the ball was won they played an early diagonal to the far post. Eventually ending in a great cutback cross & a goal.
As i mentioned earlier, this approach is a bit riskier in terms of potential mistakes. Which is ironic as most would say a longer passing approach is more controlled than positioning more players forward and circulating possession. If Dzeko’s long ball in the first part of the scene bounced Mexico’s way when the Mexican player deflected it Bosnia would’ve been very vulnerable on the break.
*Note: Gegenpressing or Counterpressing is pressing immediately in defensive transition. It can be the key to asserting yourself in a match. For Bosnia they had much more control & dominance when they played in a more brave way in terms of positioning and possession. They were structured correctly to gegenpress immediately and control the match. Real Madrid also had a similar performance vs BVB Dortmund in the Champions League quarter finals first leg. BVB is known for their gegenpressing but it was Madrid who dominated the match, which is a good comparison as i said earlier that Bosnia and Madrid are similar in some offensive aspects as well. Find my video here.
Begovic avoided building from the back & launched a long ball towards Dzeko. The Bosnians positioned themselves well enough to win the 2nd ball. Then Besic played the ball immediately to Dzeko who was open after drifting into space following his aerial duel. Dzeko turned and immediately played a long diagonal towards Lulic who was 2v2 if you include Salihovic supporting from behind.
The Mexican defenders deflected the pass and it bounced out wide. Lulic was able to get to the ball first and hold off pressure from the defenders. Salihovic made an excellent run into halfspace and Lulic played a no-look through pass. The far post was immediately populated by many Bosnian players. Dzeko, Hajrovic, and Misimovic all rushed into the box. They made sure to not venture too close to the keeper in order to be open for the cutback. Salihovic immediately played a sharp low cutback cross & Hajrovic connected well to score the goal on his first touch.
*Note: I also talked about the various effects of a cutback cross in the Atletico Positional Structure & Ball Circulation Analysis!
In the end, it was a very improved Bosnia side from what viewers were used to seeing. Though it was interesting to see Bosnia avoid the short building game in order to avoid pressure from the opponents and potential ball losses close to their own goal. Will they be able to consistently play longer passes to Dzeko even against the very best sides in the world? We can’t expect Dzeko to win every long pass & for us to win every 2nd ball against the highest quality players. It’s a dangerous game to play & we could become exposed in transition. That being said, Bosnia has some very excellent technical players & i believe they could control any team if they did the movements correctly. They have many athletes & great heart on defense as well.
Another thing to think about is the pace of the team in combination situations. Misimovic is a player who has had his pace & stamina decay with time, though still has excellent quality. Though in moments of high pressure he frequently loses to balls to tackles or isn’t able to move quickly enough to combine with his teammates out of pressure. It could be worth considering making him the #1 substitute for Bosnia where he can come on later in the match and have a much more successful run out. Players like Medunjanin could then fit into the lineup & help with his athleticism and technical quality. Maybe its also possible to move Salihovic higher up the field if Kolasinac starts and have both Mismiovic and Medunjanin on the bench ready to go. Though if Kolasinac plays central defender with Spahic Bosnia could have both Kolasinac and Medunjanin on the pitch at the same time with Misimovic as the substitute. This would improve Bosnia’s technical quality and athleticism tremendously as well as having Misimovic having much more success when other players are slightly more tired.
All in all the Bosnian team has improved a lot recently and should be an exciting team to watch in Brazil. It will be interesting to see if they stick to their wide circulation approach, which caused some inefficient ball movement from the midfielders where they didn’t know whether to switch the play or continue in the more compact areas for a cross. An alternative to the more wide approach is that they add more diagonality to their build up. In other words they look for more angled ways to penetrate the opponent defensive shape & expose the middle if they have to, or halfspaces. Most of Bosnia’s moments of success were when they were more connected and diagonal in their circulation approach. Drawing the opponents towards them with the ball then intricately exposing the opened spaces & ending in nice shots or crosses. Definitely a team to look out for.