Spain vs Bulgaria

Spain’s primary attacking strategy was to build up through the thirds, however they could also rely on direct balls into the final third utilizing Caminero & Pizzi through target play.

The left wing brought an inverted movement from Luis Enrique to move into the central channels, which allowed Sergi to overlap into the flank.

Belsue would take up deeper positions than sergi & find penetrative passes from just inside the opponents half. This allowed Caminero to move inside almost like a 2nd striker at times.

Guerrero would often make penetrative runs to work off of Pizzi, starting deep but often attacking at the highest point of the game. Pizzi’s role was a merger of a modern deep lying forward and that of a target man who could receive balls from deep & hold the ball up. His movement also saw him run into channels and provide crosses for his teammates.

Spain Starting X1

Bulgaria would use a narrow 433 system, which was very attack minded & looked to move the ball forward at pace, especially when in transition.

Stoichkov rarely found himself in wide areas as a true winger, he liked to drift centrally between the lines, often in the inside left channel. Penev worked as a traditional target striker who links the play, and much like Stoichkov, Kostadinov would vary his position, often acting as a 2nd striker.

Balakov & Letchkov were charged with carrying the ball forward from midfield, often looking for early penetrative passes to try and get behind Spain’s back line.

Kiryakov & Kishishev were the only true width in the game for Bulgaria, often seen flying forward in transition to overlap their inside forwards & provide support in attack.

Bulgaria Attacking Structure


Value of Chances

xG Timeline:
Despite Spain dominating much of the control of the ball, building play through the thirds slowly and deliberately, their inability to turn this into a consistent threat is evidenced by their attack play coming in clusters during the match. After their equalizer there is a late rally to secure a winner, however earlier in the match they arguably waste 30 minutes of play after what was a solid start.

Bulgaria lacked a genuine cutting edge in the match, and failed to overly threaten, which will no doubt leave them satisfied at gaining a point from such a poor 2nd half display. Out with the goal Bulgaria were anonymous for large parts of the 2nd period, and in the end were happy to hang on to what they had.

Chance Quality:

Spain’s chance creation issues stemmed from so many shots from outside the box, which were quite often blocked or missed the target completely. While this is a strength of the Spanish (Hierro in particular is good from distance), they simply relied on this too much and weren’t able to penetrate the box and expose the spaces in Bulgaria’s back line to create enough quality chances. Clearly coach Clemente will be looking at this for the next match.

In my opinion Bulgaria’s expected goals value doesn’t paint a true reflection on the overall quality of their attack play. The penalty xG value, while very high in probability, skews their numbers significantly as it makes up for a disparate performance in front of goal. Their best open play chance would fall to Letchkov who pounced on the break of the ball and had a shot saved by Zubizarreta inside the six yard box. Out with this and Bulgaria’s form in from of goal didn’t hold a lot of value.

Type of Chances Created

When examining Spain’s key pass locations we can see they relied heavily on combination play at the top of the box. They frequently used forward give and go combinations, or squaring a pass to the striker as the supplier dribbled forward centrally. Bulgaria also committed lots of fouls in the match, so set plays became an important part of the match that they were unable to capitalize upon. Perhaps in the next match we’ll see more variety from their attack play, such as more deliveries from wide areas.

This graphic further illustrates how skewed Bulgaria’s xG rating is in determining the overall threat of their chance creation, as they really didn’t create much of anything. With such a positive and aggressive attacking strategy, perhaps for the next game we’ll see a more patient approach, or one that allows them the time to get into the right position before attacking. Bulgaria’s transition speed was impressive, but as we can see it lacked the quality to create enough chances on goal.

Where Chances are Created

Given that Spain had created 19 attacks in the match, they will be bitterly disappointed to only come away with a solitary goal & in turn a solitary point. To strike only 0.18 on target from 1.25 expected goals (14% of chance creation value actually hit the target) they will no doubt have to look at how they can better enter the box, or better position their strikers, before taking chances in the next match. Spain would create 3 golden zone chances in the match (shots from within the central area of the 18 yard box), and amazingly Bulgaria would match that score but from only half of the amount of attacks (Spain 19 attacks vs Bulgaria’s 9).

Bulgaria too will be looking to create more chances inside the box, or at least closer to the top of the 18 in the next match. With central dribblers in Balakov & Letchkov, they have the pefect foil for Stoichkov and Kostadinov to find space and attack centrally. Their lack of control in the final third was evidenced at simply not having enough shots on goal, with only 0.28 of their 1.69 expected goals from open play. This shows us that only 17% of their chance quality was created within the flow of the game. This is a statistic that simply wont bode well for progression should they continue to do so.

Who Created Chances

Spain lacked anyone in the match who really thrived in front of goal, so I am going to go with quantity over quality. Fernando Hierro was involved in 9 attacks in the game, getting 3 of which on target. There were naturally a lot of free kicks in there & shots from distance but, out with Alonso who obviously scored, he looked to be the only threat that Spain would carry in the match.

With few players to pick from the statistically best Bulgarian has to be Hristo Stoichkov. Even with the xG being waited by a penalty, he was involved in 4 attacks overall (Shooting 3 & creating 1) but still remains Bulgaria’s biggest hope of progressing given his ability in front of goal in open play and set pieces.

Match Predictor

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.

Out verdict:

Very interesting outcome on this one, I have to say I’m surprised that the variety of Spain’s attack didn’t weigh better in their favor. With that said there are so many low probability chances for Spain that it would be hard to say on another day any of them would truly trouble an opposition. The penalty will of course have a large baring on Bulgaria’s scoring within the outcome.

About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland, and an A License qualified coach with vast experience in the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles within football clubs in Scotland, England, and the United States.

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