With Aleksandr Golovin playing at a level close to his best, he was instrumental in propelling Russia to a vital 1-0 victory over Finland at the Euros.
Knowing they needed a good result following their 3-0 thumping at the hands of Belgium in their opener, the AS Monaco star’s exceptional movement and technical gifts were key for Russia in getting the win.
Playing in an interesting left sided central attacking midfield role (similar to the role he often plays for Monaco), he expertly found space to help his team progress through the thirds. Seeing as Finland were defending stoutly in a 5-3-2 with a narrow midfield trio, Golovin exploited the half spaces outside of Finland’s right central midfielder, Robin Lod.
From here, he could subsequently enjoy plenty of time and space on the ball and gain an excellent view of the entire field from which to dictate the tempo and breathe life into attacks. In the process, this positioning helped Russia form some advantageous 4v3 or 3v2 overloads to make headway against their foes, both in true central midfield areas and higher up.
With Finland shifting aggressively to the ball near side, Russia were effective at switching the ball quickly to find Golovin on the other side, as they made the most of Finland being unable to shift quickly enough. In such cases, his clever movement saw him able to find openings between the lines by often exposing the blindside of opponents when they were ball watching.
Given a huge licence to roam in order to connect play and venture into threatening zones, Finland found him a tough man to keep tabs on. This was duly compounded when he’d embark on some shrewd runs in behind and into the channels, plus when he’d rotate positions with his nearby wingback Daler Kuzyaev.
Constantly asking questions of his adversaries and placing doubt in the minds of defenders, his intelligent movement and positional sense to strategically locate gaps to expose Finland through gave him a formidable foundation to wreak havoc.
Electric with the ball at his feet, Golovin’s vision, craft, ingenuity and execution added some necessary unpredictability and creativity to Russia’s forward forays.
Using his Velcro like ball control and elite first touch, he was a menace to handle on the dribble. Whether outfoxing foes with his changes of pace and direction, faked passes, feints, shimmies and ultra tight handling, his aptitude in this regard enabled him to surge upfield, draw defenders and gain territory.
Passing the ball with incision and clarity, how he picked holes in their adversaries’ defensive shape was another highlight. Using the aforementioned platform that granted him acres of room to assess his options under minimal pressure, he orchestrated Russia’s attacking moves successfully.
Hitting some sharp through balls to oblige runners into depth, engaging in some neat combination play, breaking the lines to find the feet of teammates in the final third and striking some excellent crosses and set pieces, his progressive passing was a joy to watch. The examples below aptly depict his capacity to manufacture openings for his teammates from a range of scenarios.
If the ambitious option wasn’t viable, he would instead concisely recycle possession and switch the angle of attacks while waiting for an opening in the Finnish rearguard to arise.
Oozing confidence, so resistant to pressure and at the heart of so much of Russia’s most dangerous offensive work, his playmaking skills shone brightly from his smartly tailored role.
By the numbers, his 51 accurate passes at 86%, seven progressive runs, six accurate crosses, six completed passes into the area, five touches inside the box and two shot assists demonstrated his immense body of work.
Producing a performance littered with upside, Golovin and his Russian teammates will now turn their attention to their colossal final group game against an excellent Denmark outfit.
Needing a positive result in this contest if they are to qualify from their group, how Golovin plays will be a key deciding factor in determining their fate. If he can replicate his showing from the Finland game, they’ll be well on their way to the knockout rounds – something that he’s more than capable of doing.