1996 European Championships
Group B – Match Round 3
France 3 – 1 Bulgaria
St James’ Park, Newcastle
Tuesday 18th June 1996
By Alistair Bain (@allybain)
To give us some context on the data here is a quick overview of each team:
France Attacking Structure
- France focused much of their attack play down the left hand side, using Lizarazu as the width, Dugarry as the target who would drop to receive the ball and Djorkaeff would would penetrate with runs in behind.
- Deschamps worked as the anchor in midfield, linking play efficiently and often starting transitions going forward.
- Guerin & Karembeu roles were interesting, as in some phases they would shuttle forward like a traditional winger, but in others they would move inside like a central/attacking midfielder.
- Dugarry movement was impressive, working to run into channels, show for the ball & challenge for the ball in the air. Zidane worked well with Dugarry, positioning himself underneath the striker on the inside right, and a constant threat from forward dribbles and accurate through passes.
Bulgaria Attacking Structure
- Bulgaria’s favored a narrow 442 diamond shape, with Penev & Stoichkov leading the line. Both would rotate their side of the field to attack, and how they would pick up the ball, either penetrating in behind or showing for the ball to feet to link play.
- Bulgaria’s midfield four would often contort into a box shape, with Balakov & Letchkov taking up more offensive roles. Letchkov & Balakov strong in dribbling 1v1 situations would carry the ball into the final third, therefore each had license to pull into wide areas to pick up possession & attack the flanks.
- Yankov and Yordanov served to balance the attacks, starting deeper so being more aggressive in their forward passes. Balance also had to be provided in their defensive positioning, especially when Tsvetanov or Kremenliev advanced forward on the overlap.
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS TELL US?
Value of Chances
When watching the first half I felt that France were on top for most of the opening 45 minutes, however when we delve deeper the graph shows us how much more effective Bulgaria were with their attacks in the first half than France. The second half tells us a different story however, with France changing gears and after Bulgaria’s goal, as they required a win to top the group.
Bulgaria had to win or better Spain’s result to advance, so it was imperative that they either score first to obtain a foothold, or keep the game at 0-0 for as long as possible. Ultimately Bulgaria didn’t have the quality or the energy to maintain a fightback, and Penev’s own goal signalled the end of their competition. The 2nd half was disappointing for Bulgaria, who simply couldn’t muster enough threat to make enough tangible final third entries, but Stoichkov’s free kick was in some way a fitting end to their Euro 96 run.
France very much outperformed their xG in this match, which in many ways signifies what’s good about this French team. They don’t require a lot of major chances to score goals, and they have a nice spread of attacking threats on offer. While we would signify these stats as not being a recipe for long term success, it also underlines how their conservative attacking approach favors quality over quantity. France had 1 big chance in the game and would score from it, and would see 85% of their xG come from attacks on target. These numbers bode well for France, who have slowly progressed through the group stage to take top spot.
Bulgaria would create one big chance in the match, but in contrast to France couldn’t score from it. Overall the were reduced to far too many speculative efforts from outside the box, and in many regards the 9 attacks that they recorded had very little impact on the game.
Type of Chances Created
France are more comfortable in starting their attacks from a defensive position, allowing their opponent to come onto them and in transition exploiting the spaces that are presented to them through quick combinations & through balls. Bulgaria managed those moments of transition well, essentially man marking France’s main 3 attackers (Djorkaeff, Dugarry & Zidane) for large parts of the game, therefore negating France’s ability to create as many attacks as they would have liked.
With that considered France would turn to crossing as a means of attack, doing so on 4 occasions (3 from set plays & 1 on the counter) which would return 3 attacks on target & two goals. France carry major threats aerially (Blanc, Desailly, Thuram, Dugarry) which adds a new dimension to their ability to get over the line.
If we remove free kicks from Bulgaria’s chance creation we see that they registered 5 attacks (3 from build up & 2 from counter attacks) would come from open play. From this only 1 attack would land on target, which would come from a Kemenliev strike (Right back) from the edge of the 18 yard box. This best illustrates the problems Bulgaria had going forward today, as they simply didn’t have the tools to break down France’s solid defensive structure.
Where Chances are Created
When we consider that France would only create two more attacks than Bulgaria in this match (11 vs 9 respectively), then it makes the shot map all the more interesting. France would only register 5 of their 11 attacks inside the box, however the frequency of chances on target was far superior to that of their opponents. Bulgaria continued to rely on their use of free kicks from distance, many of which were simply too far to trouble a keeper of Lama’s level. Stoichkov showed why attempts from within 25 yards is very much advisable, however their inability to create enough attacks for him in and around the box was the reason why they have failed to advance.
Who Created Chances
Youri Djorkaeff was by some distance France’s best statistical attacker in the match. He would be part of 6 attacks overall, 3 of which he created for his teammates and would return two assists to goals. Additionally he had 3 attacks on his own, with two of those registering on target.
Hristo Stoichkov came in as Bulgaria’s best statistical performer, firing in 1 goal from 3 attacks and creating a further chance which would turn into a shot on target.
Using our very own Retro Football Analysis Match Simulator, we use the probability rating of each attack to calculate the odds of the matches outcome. Here are the results we got back.
With France returning a lower xG rating this will weigh in Bulgaria’s favor, at least giving them some crumb of comfort that on another day this could have been a different outcome. Goals change the momentum & quite often the course of a game, and perhaps the Penev chance on 10 minutes did exactly that, but in France’s favor.