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Germany 0-2 France

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Germany were dominant for large portions of the match, but they committed two suicidal mistakes in their penalty box which handed France a route to the Euro 2016 final.

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Joachim Low was forced to make a few changes due to suspensions and injuries and once again altered his system. Thomas Muller moved upfront for the injured Mario Gomez, which allowed Julian Draxler to return to the starting XI. Emre Can slotted into midfield for Sami Khedira and Benedikt Howedes shifted to centre-back alongside Jerome Boateng.

Despite Adil Rami and N’Golo Kante being available for selection, Didier Deschamps named an unchanged lineup.

Didier Deschamps may have got his tactics wrong, but France’s clinical finishing overcame an impressive German display.

Low’s system change

Similar to the quarter-final stage, Joachim Low’s decision to alter his stem was the main talking point of the round. Here, Low turned to the 4-3-3 that was successful at the World Cup, and it appeared Can’s inclusion was with the intent to offer a physical presence in the midfield zone.

Low probably assumed Deschamps would recall Kante into midfield, but the French manager’s decision to persist with a 4-4-2 left the hosts vulnerable in central areas as neither are natural holding midfielders.  Bastian Schweinsteiger dropped between the centre-backs for additional cover, which enabled the centre-backs to push into midfield and the wing-backs to position themselves in advanced positions by the touchline.

This was another example of Low’s growth as a manager, as his tactical rejig was responsible for Germany’s dominance throughout.

France’s issue

Deschamps didn’t instruct his men to press higher up the pitch, but he focused on limiting space in central areas to exploit. The hosts maintained their two banks of four out of possession, but the peculiar aspect to their approach was the reluctance to close down Germany’s chief passers in Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and Boateng.

Kroos dropped deep to receive possession and was occasionally pressed by Paul Pogba, but in comparison to the Italians instructing Graziano Pelle or Eder to stick tight to the German, this was a contrasting defensive display. Boateng, on the other hand, was free to step into France’s third of the pitch to hit diagonals to the advanced full-backs, but fortunately for the hosts, neither Hector nor Joshua Kimmich translated their dangerous positions into quality chances.

Besides allowing Germany’s creative passers time and space to dictate the tempo of the match, the main issue Deschamps’ men encountered involved their ability to break on the counter. Apart from positive combinations between Antoine Griezmann and Blaise Matuidi, and the former with Patrice Evra down the left, France didn’t appear capable of testing Manuel Neuer from open play.

Although Germany’s counter-pressing played a factor, but ultimately it was down to sloppy passing in transition that halted possible counter-attacks. There were two situations that witnessed Griezmann launch an attack only to have his pass cut out by Schweinsteiger, and then playing a poor pass back to the Germans.

In many ways, France were responsible for their shortcomings in the first half. Their reluctance to press Boateng, Kroos or Schweinsteiger enabled the Germans to retain possession, and when they did so, it wasn’t cohesive and created space for the attacking midfielders to exploit between the lines. Likewise, this also meant the full-backs, pegged the wingers deeper into their half, so when Griezmann did receive opportunities to break forward, he lacked passing options, which is partially responsible for his poor decision making in transition.

German possession

Nevertheless, the biggest mystery heading into half-time was how France found themselves ahead. The Germans territorial dominance merited a goal, and they used space wisely throughout the final third.

It was evident Germany aimed to exploit space down the right to exploit Dimitri Payet’s unwillingness to protect his full-back. Germany essentially had three players operating in this zone in contrasting directions – Ozil drifted centrally, an advanced Can darted vertically or diagonally into the right channel, whereas Kimmich offered width by hugging the touchline. There were shades of the positional understanding between players on the opposite flank where Ozil passed the ball to Hector and immediately sprinted towards the touchline, with the left-back aiming to cut infield from the flank.

In truth, Low’s approach was working to fruition – the midfielders were able to play forward passes and the advanced positioning of the full-backs enabled Draxler, and specifically Ozil freedom to receive the ball between the lines. More so, Thomas Muller’s sluggish performance proved decisive. Muller was easily marked by both centre-backs in the box, and doesn’t offer an identical penalty box presence to Gomez, who has been the key component to the German attack.

Therefore, Germany struggled in the final third, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Muller has failed to excel as a lone striker for his country. Meanwhile, Germany’s attack has been predictable and lacking the quick combinations to get behind a low defensive block without Gomez.

The few chances Low’s men created stemmed from the right, and despite the clever passing and interchangeable movement, poor penalty box finishing proved costly.

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With that being said, France took the lead during injury time of the first half courtesy of another German blunder. Boateng was culpable for an additional 30 minutes of extra-time following his hand-ball against Italy, and here, Schweinsteiger committed the same mistake.

It’s unusual to see experience players on elite teams make silly errors, and this was nearly identical to Boateng’s hand ball. Evra attacked a near post corner ahead of Schweinsteiger, and nodded the ball into the German’s hands, which led to Griezmann converting a penalty to put the hosts ahead.

Second half

Griezmann’s opener encouraged the French to sit deeper out of possession, while Low’s men stuck to their initial approach and probed within the final third. Germany’s best chance in the opening 15 minutes of the half witnessed Ozil drop deep to receive and the ball, and subsequently clip it over Bacary Sagna to Hector but the German defender couldn’t control the pass.

Perhaps the German’s created minimal chances in the second half due to France remaining more compact with a deeper shape, but Boateng’s departure for Shkodran Mustafi decreased their creativity from deep. Kroos still dropped deep to cycle possession throughout, but even a change to a 4-2-3-1 with Draxler and Mario Gotze upfront was unsuccessful.

Germany continued to find joy down Payet’s flank so Deschamps turned to Kante to offer protection in midfield and negate Hector’s forward runs by transitioning to a 4-3-3. Oddly, France sealed the game seconds later, as they finally pressed the German back-line in their box for their first time as a unit, and were able to see Griezmann confirm their place in the finals.

The game suddenly became stretched with Germany pushing for a goal. Although it seemed logical France would receive more chances to win the game now, Deschamps’ men still struggled to cause havoc via the counter-attack, whereas Kroos’ set-piece deliveries placed his teammates in several key areas where they failed to convert their chances.

Conclusion

This was arguably one of the best performances of the tournament from Low’s German side, yet they failed to win due to silly errors from their defence. Low displayed his tactical nous by altering to a 4-3-3 which witnessed the Germans dominate central areas, and prevent France from breaking on the counter attack.

Injuries played a significant role in Germany’s road to the semi-finals as Khedira’s dynamism, Hummels’ passing, and Gomez’s presence provides variety to Low’s attack. It must be said, that without a natural centre-forward, the Germans often lack penetration in the final third, which increases the belief that a false-nine system can be futile for a side that doesn’t possess runners breaking beyond the opposing defence.

Still, France’s standout performers – Lloris, Umtitti, and Sissoko – offer hope that the hosts may be capable of utilizing this system in the final, but it would be hugely surprising if Kante doesn’t return to the XI. Deschamps hasn’t been afraid to make bold decisions or change his XI, but the first half against Germany suggested that they’ll need a holding midfielder to avoid being overrun in central areas.

Sacrificing creativity for a solid defensive foundation would be the logical move in a major cup final, and after being outwitted tactically, and outplayed in every aspect, Deschamps could use this fortuitous victory as a learning tool for the final.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Tactical Preview: France – Germany

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Courtesy of Flickr/William Morice

France’s showdown against Germany has the potential of being the tournament’s standout match. A rematch of the 2014 World Cup quarter-final witnesses a youthful French squad receive another opportunity to place themselves amongst the few elite international sides in the world if they can overcome the current world champions

Both sides altered their traditional systems to secure their quarter-final triumphs, but now it’s interesting to see how Didier Deschamps and Joachim Low approach the match. Needless to say, semi-finals tend to be tight, cautious affairs that are decided by fine margins, and both managers have several key decisions to make prior to kick-off.

Deschamps is expected to recall Adil Rami alongside Laurent Koscielny following his quarter-final suspension, but the main talking point is whether N’Golo Kante will be included in midfield. France have been at their utmost best at the tournament operating in a 4-4-2 with Antoine Griezmann closer to Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba partnering Blaise Matuidi in midfield, yet with Kante in midfield, France possess solid defensive cover ahead of the back four.

France were able to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Ireland and dispatch of Iceland 5-2 in those matches, but Germany offers a larger threat going forward. Neither Matuidi nor Pogba are natural holding midfielders and would likely encounter difficulties coping with Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, and Julian Draxler between the lines, so Kante’s return would be logical.

That means France would operate in a 4-3-3 with Payet drifting centrally from the left and Griezmann darting from the right flank to combine with Giroud. Griezmann and Dmitri Payet have excelled from a central role at this tournament, but conceding too much space between the lines in exchange for creativity would be quite the gamble.

Low, on the other hand, could return to a 4-2-3-1, but may consider adopting a 3-4-2-1 if Giroud plays alongside Griezmann. Mats Hummels’ suspension would see Benedikt Howedes partner Jerome Boateng at centre-back, but if Low were to persist with a three-man defence, Shkodran Mustafi would make his first start since his opening match goal against the Ukraine.

Bastian Schweinsteiger should be fit to start in midfield with Toni Kroos, which ensures competent passing in central zones, but equally deprives the German’s of dynamism going forward. With Payet and Griezmann roaming between the lines, Schweinsteiger and Kroos will need to be cautious with their positioning, as France will aim to exploit the former’s limited mobility.

Low’s main dilemma involves replacing the injured Mario Gomez. Thomas Muller hasn’t been at his best throughout the tournament, and though he’s struggled in a no.9 role for his country, he still offers an aerial threat upfront. Mario Gotze started the tournament in a false nine role, but Germany were frankly too predictable in possession and unable to create multiple chances from open play. Gotze can still feature in an attacking midfield role, with Muller moving upfront, as precise passing and quick interchanging between the lines would pose several issues for the French.

Germany can also turn to Andre Schurrle who has been utilized as a super sub over the past few years. Schurrle offers a direct threat beyond the defence, and his pace would force the French back-line to sit deeper, which could prove beneficial with Boateng and Kroos’ range of passing. In truth, Gomez’s absence is a massive blow for the Germans, because the striker offered a threat in the penalty box, thus offering variety to an attack that can sometimes become too predictable.

Nevertheless, Kroos still remains the key man for Germany. France will have to be wary of Germany’s threat between the lines, but halting Kroos’ ability to dictate the tempo of the match is equally crucial. Italy were forced to have Graziano Pelle and Eder stick tight to the German throughout, and Olivier Giroud may be tasked with this duty. But with Boateng capable of deputizing as an additional playmaker from centre-back, Deschamps will have to instruct Pogba or Matuidi to press forward and negate Kroos’ threat.

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to predict how this match will unfold. Both managers can utilize several formations and are capable of shifting between systems throughout the match. Ultimately this could be down to which midfield can negate service between the lines, but both managers may opt for defensive-minded systems to ensure they avoid defeat.

While majority of the matches at this tournament have been fairly predictable, this showdown offers several plot twists that are truly fitting for a cup final.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Italy 1-1 Germany

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Courtesy of Flickr/Itaru Chiba

Germany advanced to the semi-finals by avenging their Euro 2012 defeat via penalty shootout against Italy.

Joachim Low completely altered his formation and made one change to his starting XI. Bendikt Howedes slotted into a three-man defence, which ultimately forced Julian Draxler to the bench.

Antonio Conte, however, was also forced to replace the injured Daniele De Rossi in midfield. The Italian manager therefore turned to Stefano Sturaro to join Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini in midfield.

Joachim Low was at fault for altering his system when Germany exited the competition four years ago against the Italians, but his decision to also instill a three-man back-line proved successful in a tight affair between two elite national teams.

Low makes bold change

The announcement of Germany’s XI was the main facet of the match considering Low’s bold move four years ago, and the repercussions that followed. Nevertheless, Low decided to stray away from the patented 4-2-3-1 to field a three-man defence.

Ideally, this made sense considering Italy’s success against Spain, who also pride themselves in dominating possession. But more importantly, while the decision to play an identical system risked a dire encounter where both teams cancelled each other out, it ensured Germany wouldn’t be overloaded or left vulnerable in isolation situations against the Italian forwards.

Now, the wing-backs pressed the wing backs, the midfielders combatted in central zones, whereas both sides, on paper at least, would have a numerical advantage at the back.

Italy Press

Low deploying a three-man defence equally helped the Germans cope with Italy’s pressing from the front. Graziano Pelle and Eder took turns pressing Toni Kroos, and occasionally alternated roles in this respect – when one pressed the German, the other cut off passing lanes into the midfielder – but the Italians’ attempt to suffocate the Germans within their third proved unsuccessful unless Giaccherini or Sturaro stepped forward.

Although pressing Kroos negated his ability to dictate the tempo of the match, Germany still possess excellent ball-playing defenders in Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, and while the former was often forced to play the ball towards both flanks, the exterior centre-backs were often spare outlets that received time to play passes into midfield.

Hummels was Germany’s main threat in this respect by clipping passes into Gomez that just missed the striker and a delivery to the far post that substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger nodded past Gigi Buffon only to be penalized for a foul on Mattia De Sciglio. Germany’s possession was patient and over-elaborate, and while Italy’s pressing was partially responsible for the world champions’ pedestrian attack, they didn’t successfully thwart the opposition’s creativity.

Germany without the ball

The Germans, however, adopted a slightly contrasting approach out of possession. Low was wary of Leonardo Bonucci’s passing, and Giorgio Chiellini charging forward so frontmen Mario Gomez, and Thomas Muller quickly closed the defenders down. Gomez, in particular, was pivotal with his positioning as he prevented Bonucci from playing long balls over the defence, whilst negating passing lanes into Marco Parolo.

Italy’s difficulty playing out the back hampered their entire approach. Conte’s men found it difficult to instantly play passes into the strikers, and even spare man Andrea Barzagli was unable to play forward passes with Mesut Ozil occasionally cutting off passing lanes into Sturaro, while Muller’s pressing equally deprived Giaccherini of service in midfield zones.Where Conte would have preferred Hummels didn’t receive ample time and space on the ball, Low didn’t mind Barzagli carrying the ball forward.

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Considering Italy’s midfield is based around brawn opposed to creativity, Germany’s intent to prevent the centre-backs from spreading play to the attackers was quite significant. Where Italy allowed Howedes and Hummels to push forward with the ball, Low encouraged his attackers to limit proactive passing lanes.

Blunt attack

The one issue that often arises when two opponents utilize identical systems is the possibility of a dull game. Therefore, one of the few ways to create openings ultimately comes down to which team can win their battles in certain areas of the pitch.

In truth, neither side was convincing in the opening half when they attempted to bypass the opposition: The Germans dominated possession whereas the Italians retreated into a 5-3-2, with the intent of breaking forward on the counter. Although Conte’s men deserve credit for their defensive discipline, Germany’s patient buildup lacked a link between midfield and attack.

Ozil and Jonas Hector rarely combined, whereas the former struggled to outfox Sturaro in central areas. On the opposite side of the pitch, Schweinsteiger was unable to offer the vertical running and dynamism Khedira showcased in the opening 15 minutes, which appeared to be a plausible route to goal. Apart from Hummel’s lofted passes beyond the Italian defence, Low’s men were underwhelming in the final third.

Meanwhile, the Italian’s decision to sit deeper and break on the counter also proved unsuccessful. When Conte’s men regained possession in deep areas, their sloppy passing was responsible for their inability to bypass Germany’s counter-pressing in midfield. Similar to the Germans, Italy’s best chance of the half was created by their ball-playing centre-back: Giaccherini stormed past Schweinsteiger to latch onto Bonucci’s pass in left half-space, but his pull back pass saw Sturaro’s deflected shot earn a vital corner.

Ozil

Oddly, the least effective attacking player in the first half played a crucial role when moved to the right. Initially, the move witnessed De Sciglio receive space and freedom to run at Kimmich, with Ozil unsure of his defensive duties on the right – Schweinsteiger was positioned slightly deeper in various scenarios in the opening half, whereas Ozil roamed around pockets of space in advanced positions before he was caught out.

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However, Ozil improved as the half continued by varying his movement from the right, and completing nifty passing moves with Muller and Kimmich. When Ozil dropped deeper he was free to play the initial pass to ignite lengthy spells of possession, and his disguised reverse ball to Gomez illustrated his threat in those positions.

Ozil didn’t produce the best performance of his career, but the freedom he received following his move to the right was pivotal. He was more involved in passing triangles, identified space between the lines to receive the ball, and both his passing and movement were crucial to Germany’s best attacking moves.

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Germany’s opener briefly shifted the complexion of the match, but there were so many elements to the buildup that went against Low’s approach. Italy’s attempt to press up the pitch saw the Germans pull Conte’s frontmen out of position before Manuel Neuer cleared his lines. Yet, on one of the few occasions where Gomez drifted laterally to the left flank, Florenzi slipped due to the striker’s attempted challenge.

More so, it was Gomez’s stellar reverse ball into half space for the advanced Hector that saw Ozil direct the left-back’s low cross like a legitimate poacher. It was one of the few times Germany offered a third man running into the box, but Gomez drifting away from pressure to produce a moment of brilliance surprised an Italian defence that appeared comfortable coping with the striker’s threat.

Italy react

Gomez’s squandered chance subsequent to Ozil’s opener enabled Conte to adjust his initial approach. Italy suddenly transitioned to a 3-4-3 with Giaccherini pushing forward to press Howedes, whilst the defence maintained an extremely high line.

Julian Draxler’s inclusion for the departed Gomez suggested Germany now offered a threat behind the defence, but Italy’s pressure pegged Low’s men deeper into their box, as their ball playing midfielders were unable to supply the attackers. Perhaps the buildup to Boateng’s mistake didn’t correlate with Italy’s sudden improvement, but the minor alteration resulted in one goal opportunity – De Sciglio’s pull back that Pelle snatched wide – and a brief spell of dominance from Conte’s men.

Conte, though, was aware of the risk his side took by attempting to regain possession in Germany’s third, and quickly instructed his side to revert back to a 3-5-2 following Bonucci’s equalizer. With that being said, the remaining 40 minutes of the match was drab – Germany continued to dominate possession without finding many openings, and though Italy received more opportunities to break as legs tired, it was an over hit Draxler pass in a 3v2 counter-attack that served as the closest chance either side came to winning the match.

The recurring theme of uneventful extra-time periods at this tournament continued, here, and though Germany finally defeated Italy at a major tournament, the overall match offered very little tactical talking points.

Conclusion

The decisive factor throughout 120 minutes was Low’s decision to move to a back three. Germany stifled Italy’s creativity with their pressing, and Conte’s men failed to consistently filter the ball to their attackers and break as a unit. A few last-ditch tackles aside, Germany’s defence were hardly tested which justifies Low’s bold move.

It’s difficult to criticize Conte’s Italy considering they were a few penalty kicks away from defeating the World champions. Italy’s defensive solidity was unprecedented, and their attention to detail and ability to carry out Conte’s instructions with devastating efficiency provided two memorable results against the tournament’s highest ranked team in Belgium, and holders Spain.

More so, Conte utilized this stage to display his tactical prowess. A move to a 3-4-3 steered the Italian’s back into the game, and frankly a lack of genuine creativity – due to injuries – halted what may have been a memorable title run. Germany, however, set their sights on France, and with several key players unavailable to suspensions and injuries, Low be called upon to outwit the hosts.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Toni Kroos display against Ukraine showcased he may control Germany’s Euro destiny

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Toni Kroos of Germany runs with the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Germany and Ukraine at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 12, 2016 in Lille, France. June 12, 2016| Credit: Alexander Hassenstein

Toni Kroos made it his mission to persuade Germany manager, Joachim Low, to start the 26-year-old in their Euro 2012 semi-final exit against Italy.

Consistently displaying his displeasure from the bench throughout the tournament, Kroos received extreme faith from his manager to aid Mesut Ozil in combatting with Italy’s abundance of ball-playing midfielders. On the day, Low’s men were considerably outplayed, whereas Kroos failed to impress in a right-sided attacking midfield role that ultimately limited space in the final third for either German to maximize their talent.

Four years later, in a completely different midfield role, Kroos has transitioned into key component in Low’s setup.

Where the German excelled in an advanced playmaker role prior to Euro 2012, now, Kroos is at his utmost best in a midfield trio as the designated passer, rather than a destroyer or a chief creator. Ultimately it wasn’t an entirely new prospect for the Real Madrid star considering he’s always showcased his ability to fulfill various duties in central areas – put simply, Kroos is the ideal all-round midfielder that can meticulously dissect the opposition with his metronomic passing, yet is also capable of utilizing his physical stature to dominate the centre of the pitch.

However, the evolution of Kroos’ game didn’t occur overnight. Since that tragic defeat to Italy in Warsaw, Kroos has played a significant role in Germany’s World Cup success, and most recently, Real Madrid’ eleventh Champions League title. From open play, Kroos sets the tone of the match with his composed passing and willingness to locate open space to receive the ball. And from set-pieces, the German’s deliveries have been the catalyst to several pivotal goals for both club and country.

To be frank, his impact in midfield is unparalleled from a stylistic standpoint, as Germany are now suited to play on the counter-attack, but equally adopt a false-nine system that heavily emphasizes quick movement, constant interchanging, and possession dominance. But Kroos faced a different task in Germany’s Euro 2016 opener against Ukraine, where he was responsible for directing the route of attack, but also offering protection for a backline without the injured Mats Hummels, and the retired Phillip Lahm.

Essentially, German supporters and Low would prefer Kroos perform superbly in both phases, but here, his limitations were on display. From an attacking perspective, he was one of Low’s best performers – which isn’t saying much due to several average performances from his teammates – as he recorded the most passes, created the most chances, whilst winning all of his take-ons.

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In other words, Kroos did what he does best, and that’s passing his side to victory. Whether it was quick combination plays to evade defenders, an inch-perfect free-kick that resulted in Shkodran Mustafi’s opener, or the splendid ball over the Ukraine defence for Sami Khedira, Kroos provided penetration and invention to a German side struggling to create chances from open play.

Yet, out of possession – mostly in the opening half – he was left with too much space in midfield to cover, thus enabling Ukraine to pose a threat via swift counter-attacks.

Nevertheless, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s late cameo and insurance goal suggests he’s nearing full-fitness, which provides Low with the midfield trio that starred in Brazil two-years ago. Schweinsteiger offers additional muscle in central areas, and a defensive shield that will enable Kroos to play within closer proximity of the interchanging attackers.

Low’s attack was at their best when they played quick intricate passes amongst each other, and while the German manager may insist several shots from outside of the box was a tactic to limit counter-attacks, in truth, they simply lacked runners behind the defence. Mario Gotze didn’t offer much as a false nine, Mesut Ozil’s appreciation of space was evident, but he lacked runners to supply passes, whereas Thomas Muller’s movement from the right was lacklustre. At times, the reigning world champions were simply guilty of circulating possession casually, opposed to quickly moving forward and combining in tight spaces – they were dangerous when doing the latter.

On the other hand, apart from Mustafi’s winner, and Jerome Boateng’s distribution, Germany’s defence were vulnerable when Ukraine pushed men forward to deliver crosses into the box. In fairness, Low is forced to play an inexperienced make-shift back-line, which once again emphasizes the risk of presenting Kroos with such significant defensive duties.

Although Germany have developed a ‘getting the job’ done identity in recent years, there were too many underwhelming performances in one night to assume they won’t improve as the tournament progressed. Schweinsteiger’s return to fitness offers a new dimension to Low’s midfield, while Mario Gotze’s role as a false nine could be sacrificed for a classic centre forward in Mario Gomez.

What can’t be denied is the numerous options available to Low, and similar to Brazil, regardless on whether he persists with the same XI or makes various changes, anything less than a winner’s medal will be deemed a failure. But unlike four years ago, Low can now rely on Kroos’ passing to control the tempo and outcome of a nations fate.

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2016 in Euro 2016, Published Work

 

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Wolfsburg 3-2 Manchester United: United have no answers for Wolfsburg swift counter-attacks

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WOLFSBURG, GERMANY – DECEMBER 08: Naldo of Wolfsburg celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League match between VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester United FC at the Volkswagen arena on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Wolfsburg recorded a historic victory over Manchester United to knock the English side out of the Champions League.

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Dieter Hecking preferred a mobile attacking quartet, and therefore started Max Kruse ahead of Andre Schurrle, Julian Draxler and Vieirinha. Max Arnold and Julian Guilavogui formed a midfield duo, while Ricardo Rodriguez was fit to start the match at left-back.

Louis van Gaal faced several injury issues prior to kick-off, which eventually saw Guillermo Varela start at right-back, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini sat in midfield. Juan Mata was the creative conductor behind the pacy attacking trio of Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Wolfsburg counter-attacked superbly in what proved to be a fairly open match that once again exploited Manchester United’s shortcomings on both ends.

United press

The most striking feat regarding the overall result was that United started the match fairly well. Wolfsburg prefer to pass their way from the back into the opposition’s third, so it was logical for Van Gaal to instruct his men to press from the front.

Essentially, United attempted a combination of high-pressing and man-marking with the centre-backs tightly marking Draxler and Kruse, while the full-backs prevent the wingers from getting a second or third touch in their attempts to turn towards goal.

Martial and Lingard pressed the centre-backs, and when Guilavogui dropped deep, Mata pushed forward to ensure it was 3v3 at the back. At times, the personnel varied with Mata and Martial pushing forward, while Fellaini closed down the Wolfsburg holding midfielder.

Though United’s pressing wasn’t entirely efficient, it led to some nervy moments for goalkeeper Julian Benaglio, whereas Memphis prevented Christian Trasch from surging forward. Memphis dispossessed Trasch and slid a pass into half-space for Martial, which ultimately troubled Benaglio. Later on, it was substitute Cameron Borthwick-Jackson that robbed Vieirinha in the buildup to Lingard’s contentious offside goal.

United created chances on the break due to their pressing, and successfully prevented Wolfsburg from enjoying long spells of possession in their half.

Wolfsburg without the ball

The hosts adopted a more simplistic approach out of possession, preferring to drop into a 4-5-1 rather than fully committing to pressing from the front. The midfield three were aligned and compact to ensure passes didn’t meet United players between the lines, but it was evident Wolfsburg aimed to prevent Schweinsteiger from dictating the tempo of the match from deeper positions.

Arnold stepped forward to fluster Schweinsteiger who’s been exposed in recent years when encounter dynamic pressing. However, when Wolfsburg sat off, Draxler was instructed to negate his compatriot’s passing lanes, where as Guilavogui matched Fellaini’s physicality in midfield.

United’s issue in open play has been apparent, so Hecking’s aim to press Schweinsteiger out of the game highlighted his intent to nullify the away side’s activity in the final third.

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With that being said, Van Gaal’s men still scored from open play, and occasionally surged into key areas in the final third, but often lacked the final pass.

United’s attack was filled with pace, and Van Gaal intended on encouraging his ball-players to slide passes behind the defence for the onrushing runners. Daley Blind stepped forward to find Mata between the lines, and he instantly turned and located Martial’s diagonal run behind the defence for the opener.

It took United three passes to get to the Wolfsburg box, but it fully indicated their attacking intent going forward.

Minutes later, Memphis dispossessed Trasch and slid a through-ball into half space for Martial, but his cross on goal was hesitantly recovered by Benaglio. In the 27th minute, Guilavogui stepped forward to press Blind leaving space vacant between the lines, and though the Dutchman located Memphis between the lines, the United winger’s pass to Martial in the box was over hit – summing up United’s productivity around the penalty area.

Unfortunately for United, they were penalized for six offside calls throughout the match, with majority of the scenarios stemming around the box, as their attacking quartet failed to replicate the brilliance of the opening goal.

Wolfsburg counter-attack

The key attacking trend on the night was Wolfsburg’s counter-attack. This was partially down to United’s inability to collectively press as a unit for the entire first half, and Hecking’s men simply bypassed the opposition with nifty short passes.

Wolfsburg, however, stuck to their patented counter-attacking module by playing quick short passes around pressure and subsequently switching play to the opposite flank –  this element of attack was also implemented in last year’s riot of Bayern Munich. The hosts intended on isolating full-backs Varela and Matteo Darmian – the former is inexperienced and the latter’s form is poor – but Schurrle, in particular, failed to get the better of the youngster.

Hecking’s men attacked with five players as Arnold often ventured forward, and Vieirinha’s go-ahead goal represented the ideal Wolfsburg attack under this set-up. Following Wolfsburg successfully bypassing pressure in their half, two long diagonals were played to Schurrle and Draxler on both flanks, before the latter stormed past Schweinsteiger to combine with Kruse, thus resulting in a Vieirinha tap-in.

Schweinsteiger and Fellaini were both culpable for Wolfsburg’s ability to easily storm through midfield on the break. Schweinsteiger’s vertical passing in midfield zones was underwhelming, and he suffered under midfield pressure with Fellaini caught in advanced forward. One move saw Schweinsteiger give the ball away to Schurrle, who quickly located Draxler free on goal but David De Gea made a key save.

Fellaini and Schweinsteiger isn’t the ideal midfield duo against Europe’s better sides, and their inability to dictate the tempo of the match, combined with constantly being overrun by tricky dynamic players led to their first half issues.

Fellaini

On the defensive end, Fellaini was a liability, playing slightly ahead of Schweinsteiger. Van Gaal has retreated to playing through Fellaini late in games when chasing a goal, but the Belgian international represented an additional attacking threat that consistently worked opposed to a last-ditch approach.

The Belgian’s aerial prowess created several dangerous United moments, as he initially towered over Dante to force a terrific Benaglio save from an in-swinging Blind corner. In the second half, Benaglio made another sensational save to stop Memphis’ acrobatic shot, as Fellaini’s nod-down from a Martial cross placed United in a legitimate goal-scoring position

United’s equalizer was basically a carbon copy of Fellaini’s initial first half chance, as another Blind corner saw the Belgian shrug off Dante to nod the ball in the ground, but Guilavogui directed the ball into his own net. Fellaini’s offensive contribution vividly showcased why the Belgian is efficient in advanced areas, but here, in terms of overall balance, he was positioned in the wrong position.

United improves

United enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the oppositions half during the final 45 minutes, with Hecking’s men dropping into two banks of four opposed to the initial 4-5-1. Hecking was wary of Blind’s vertical passes into pockets of space and encouraged Draxler to apply pressure on the Dutchman, while Kruse tracked Smalling.

This enabled Schweinsteiger to split the defenders to make it 3v2 in deep positions, with Arnold and Vieirinha occasionally pushing out of position to close the German down. However, majority of Schweinsteiger’s passes went to the flanks, and United persisted with astray balls over the Wolfsburg defence.

With United pushing so many men forward, Wolfsburg’s threat on the counter-attack increased. The trio of Schurrle, Draxler and Kruse consistently surged forward, with the former Chelsea man getting behind the United defence to force De Gea into key saves. Van Gaal turned to Michael Carrick and Nick Powell upfront, but neither player substantially influenced the match.

Set-pieces

Oddly, while United were fairly dominant attacking set-pieces, they were severely poor from a defensive aspect, conceding two goals in the process. In fairness, defensive solidity is a combination of familiarity and effective partnerships, so United’s injury woes at the back initially placed Van Gaal’s men at a disadvantage.

Still, the simplicity in Naldo’s movement for both goals frustrated Van Gaal because they came minutes after United had scored, stemmed from simple runs away from the marker. The Brazilian international ran across several defenders to side-volley Gustavo Rodriguez’s free-kick past De Gea.

The winner saw Naldo simply run past Carrick to powerfully nod the ball off the ground and past the United goalkeeper. Basic man-marking proved costly, as Wolfsburg exposed United’s make-shift back four, whom failed to carry out simple defensive responsibilities.

Conclusion

It was possibly the most adventurous brand of football United have played this season, yet consequently they were overrun in midfield and still failed to translate possession dominance into creating ample quality chances. For the second time in the group-stage round, United took the lead away from home, and failed to sustain the lead due to poor set-piece marking and quick counter-attacks.

Nevertheless, this is what Wolfsburg are about, and what makes Hecking’s achievement so remarkable is the fact that the German side topped the group following the sales of Bundesliga player of the year Kevin De Bruyne, and Ivan Perisic – two key players to last year’s success. They simply worked hard to shut down United’s creative ball-players, and aimed to play their way out of trouble before charging past an immobile pairing of Schweinsteiger and Fellaini.

schwein smalling united

WOLFSBURG, GERMANY – DECEMBER 08: Bastian Schweinstieger of Manchester looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League match between VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester United FC at the Volkswagen arena on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)

United had no answers to Wolfsburg’s counters with Morgan Schneiderlin unavailable, and the heavy reliance on Schweinsteiger to be the focal point of United’s midfield at this stage in his career is peculiar. It’s difficult to question Van Gaal’s approach going forward, but apart from the opening 10 minutes, United’s work out of possession was shocking.

This puts Van Gaal’s work at United into question. In a group that many tipped United to win, the Red Devils rarely imposed sustained dominance in any match, whilst the recurring issues on both sides of the pitch played to their downfall. Van Gaal’s a stubborn man, but this should serve as a lesson to the United manager who risks stagnation if the required tweaks to his philosophy are overlooked.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized

 

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Bayern Munich 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Courtesy of Flickr/Dirk Vorderstraße

Courtesy of Flickr/Dirk Vorderstraße

Borussia Dortmund’s swift counter-attacks and energetic pressing played an integral role in their convincing victory over reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. 

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Pep Guardiola’s 3-4-3 missed a few World Cup stars with only Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer in Bayern’s XI. Xherdan Shaqiri, Robert Lewandowski and Muller started upfront; Juan Bernat and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg operated as wingbacks, while Sebastian Rode and Gianluca Gaudino formed a midfield duo.

Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spearheaded Jurgen Klopp’s 4-3-1-2 with Jonas Hofmann sitting behind the strike duo. Sebastian Kehl, Oliver Kirch and Henrikh Mkhitaryan formed a midfield trio.

Although both sides fielded weaker XI’s, the football philosophies remained the same, as Klopp outwitted Guardiola to guide Dortmund to their second consecutive German Supercup.

3-4-3 vs. 4-3-1-2

One of the main talking points prior to kickoff was Guardiola’s decision to field a three-man defence. Bayern’s aim was to push the wingbacks into advanced positions and hold a numerical advantage in their third as they intended on building attacks from the back.

Klopp’s system, however, handed Dortmund the advantage in central areas. The main man, though, was Hofmann, who pushed high to make up the numbers when Bayern tried to play out of the back, but quickly dropped deeper to overload the midfield zone.

Kehl was equally the spare man in midfield as he didn’t have to track a no.10, his freedom in central areas saw Dortmund easily bypassed Bayern’s pressing.

Dortmund Press 

Dortmund’s pressing has been a recurring theme in previous encounters, as Klopp’s men tend to start the match well, but fade away in the latter stages. Here, Guardiola and Klopp encouraged their attackers to press the opposition’s defence on goal kicks, and both sides failed to build play from the back.

Dortmund’s pressing, though, disrupted Bayern’s passing tempo, which prevented Guardiola’s side from controlling the match. Rode and Gaudino occasionally dropped deeper to help Bayern bypass Dortmund’s pressing, but Mkhitaryan and Kirch tracked the midfield duo’s movement, forcing Guardiola’s side to concede possession. Klopp’s side nearly took the lead in the ninth minute when Dortmund’s pressure forced David Alaba into poor pass that ricocheted off Aubameyang and into Immobile, but the Italian fired his shot wide.

Dortmund’s effective pressing also forced the champions to play direct football. Muller and Lewandowski couldn’t link play or turn past the impressive Sokratis and Matthias Ginter, who quickly closed down the forwards when they received the ball. Equally, Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer pegged the Bayern wingbacks into their half.

In the first half, Bayern recorded a sole shot on target which illustrated Dortmund’s efficient pressing.

Wasteful Shaqiri

While Dortmund’s pressing was deemed effective, Bayern occasionally moved into key areas in the final third, but the German champions failed to test goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak.

Shaqiri created a great chance to take the lead two minutes into the match, when he cleverly turned Piszczek and ran towards goal, but the Swiss attacker fired his shot directly at Langerak. That was Bayern’s sole chance of the half, but Shaqiri’s movement guided the 22-year-old into the final third on a few occasions.

However, Shaqiri’s final ball was too short, while his deliveries from wide areas and decision-making around the box was dire.

Dortmund break

Dortmund’s best moves were been orchestrated in transition, but unlike Bayern, there was variety in their attack.

The first element was Kirch’s off the ball running. Kirch’s movement into half-space led to a shot that Neuer pushed aside; he also combined with Aubameyang with intricate passing around the box and a lofted long ball that saw the attacker outpace Dante, thus leading to Kehl and Hofmann firing powerful shots at Neuer.

Kirch was also the catalyst in Hoffman’s dominance in transition, as his passes ignited attacks that saw the Dortmund midfielder exploit pockets of space with his pace. Hofmann flourished in advanced areas due to Bayern’s lack of a natural holding midfielder, as the 22-year-old exploited Gaudino’s defensive limitations and his inexperience at this level.

  • 14th min: Kirch slides to win a 50/50 challenge against Rode and Dortmund breaks through Hofmann, who has acres of space to run into and he spreads the ball wide to Aubameyang, but the attacker’s cross was cleared by Javi Martinez.
  • 22nd min: 1-0 Mkhitaryan. Dortmund takes the lead, as their pressure and willingness to target Gaudino were key elements in the build up. Immobile’s pressure saw Neuer’s clearance fall to Piszczek, and the right back nodded the ball into Mkhitaryan in a pocket of space. The Armenian winger ran past Gaudino and surged towards goal, before he slid a pass to Aubameyang that was poorly cleared by Alaba, and Neuer could only watch Mkhitaryan fire the loose ball into the net.
  • 25th min: Lewandowski lost possession in midfield following a challenge with Mkhitaryan, thus leading to Kehl and Kirch bypassing Bayern’s pressure and the latter found Hofmann between the lines. Hofmann slid a pass into Aubameyang in right half-space, but Neuer stopped the Dortmund attacker’s shot.
  • 31st min: Piszczek combined with Kirch and the former’s pass connected with Hofmann, who made a run behind Gaudino into the box, but Boateng blocked his shot and the Dortmund right back fired the loose ball over the net.
  • 43rd min: Hofmann outmuscled Rode in midfield to win possession, and he effortlessly ran past Gaudino, and played a pass to Mkhitaryan that forced Hojbjerg to clip the midfielder and earn a booking. 

Somehow, Dortmund only carried a one-goal lead into the break, but the countless chances created in transition showcased their dominance.

Guardiola tinkers

Guardiola reacted immediately at half time, introducing Phillip Lahm for Thomas Muller as Bayern transitioned into a 3-5-1-1, with Shaqiri operating as the chief playmaker. Lahm’s introduction was logical as Bayern now had a natural defensive player ahead of the back three to limit Hofmann’s threat.

Shaqiri’s central role also gave Bayern the advantage in midfield, and they came within inches of an equalizer in the opening minutes of the second half. Lahm found Shaqiri between the lines, but the Swiss midfielder’s through ball to Lewandowski was heavy, and the Polish striker could only poke his effort at Langerak.

Dortmund limited their energetic pressing in the second half, allowing Lahm time to string passes together, and although the 31-year-old connected with his teammates in advanced positions, the lack of quality in the final third hindered Bayern’s attack. Mario Gotze was also involved in the second half, but the former Dortmund player failed to lift his side’s performance.

Dortmund focus on wide areas

Klopp’s side, however, directed their attack into wide areas in the second half, as substitute left back Erik Durm constantly exploited space behind Hojbjerg, which eventually led to a Lahm booking.

Immobile, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang attacked the space behind the advanced Hojbjerg in transition, as Guardiola’s side were consistently caught on the counter, pushing men forward to snag an equalizer. The issue Bayern encountered following their switch to a 3-5-1-1 involved Gaudino and Rode allowing the full backs to attack vacant space in the channels and isolate their wingbacks.

Dortmund doubled their lead in this manner as Piszczek was allowed to surge into the final third; the Polish full back overloaded Bernat with Aubameyang before playing a great cross from the byline to the onrushing attacker, who snuck behind Lahm and out-jumped Jerome Boateng to nod the ball past Neuer.

Langerak made a key save from an Alaba free kick to preserve his clean sheet, as Bayern provided no response for Dortmund’s dominance.

Conclusion

Dortmund’s dynamic pressing was no secret heading into the match, and it played a significant role in the outcome as it disrupted Bayern’s attack. Guardiola’s side encountered difficulties moving up the pitch as a unit, and without a holding midfielder, Dortmund successfully overloaded central areas, as Hofmann and Mkhitaryan terrorized Gaudino. 

While very little can be taken from this result, due to both sides missing several first-team players, Dortmund was undoubtedly the better side over 90 minutes, showcasing their adaptability, variety in attack, and disciplined pressing. 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Brazil 1-7 Germany

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

Courtesy of Wikicommons/Steindy

Germany avenged their 2002 World Cup final loss by convincingly battering Brazil at Estadio Mineirao.

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Luiz Felipe Scolari made three changes to his XI welcoming back Luiz Gustavo alongside Fernandinho in midfield, while Dante formed a centre-back duo with David Luiz, and Bernard replaced the injured Neymar.

Joachim Low named an unchanged XI.

Germany played to their strengths and scored four goals in a six-minute span in what proved to be relatively straightforward tactical battle.

Germany’s shape

One of the key aspects to Germany’s success in the first half was their shape out of possession. Low’s side dropped into a 4-1-4-1 without the ball with Sami Khedira pressing Luiz Gustavo, Toni Kroos tracking Paulinho, and Bastian Schweinsteiger monitoring Oscar’s movement.

With the German’s keeping close to the Brazilian midfield, the vacant centre-backs had no passing options available, and were forced to play direct. For the most part, Low’s side negated the host’s threat in midfield, and without midfield runners, and Fred upfront –– he’s not renowned for his pace –– the German back-line was free to play higher up the pitch.

Brazil encountered identical issues throughout the tournament, but relied on quick transitions to score goals, and with Neymar unavailable, it always felt that a moment of brilliance or execution from set pieces would be their solitary goal outlet.

Direct Brazil

Similar to previous matches in the tournament, David Luiz’s long diagonal balls were pivotal towards Brazil bypassing Germany’s pressing. Luiz was Brazil’s creative outlet in the first half playing diagonal balls into the front four and surging through midfield to feed Hulk; the winger’s distribution in the final third, however, was putrid. Defensively, Luiz struggled due to the lack of protection in midfield, but he was undoubtedly Brazil’s most creative player on the field.

Luiz Germany

Likewise, Germany’s pressing in midfield prevented Brazil’s chief creator from receiving the ball in advanced positions in the final third. Prior to the goal fest, Oscar was most influential when he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and link play. Brazil’s best move was created in this manner, as Oscar combined with Fernandinho and Fred, thus leading to the ball being played into Marcelo in the box, but Philipp Lahm made a key tackle to halt their attack.

Germany’s pressing nullified Brazil’s attempt to play through midfield, and impeded Oscar’s role as the no.10, while Luiz’s deliveries and surging runs from defence served as the successful method in bypassing Low’s side.

Germany dominate right flank

In last year’s Confederations Cup, fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves played key roles in Brazil’s attack. The attack-minded fullbacks would surge into the final third, and their crosses from wide areas created several goals en route to the final. 12 months later, the former endured possibly the worst match of his career, while the latter was dropped for Maicon.

Germany’s dominance stemmed from Marcelo’s advanced positioning as Thomas Muller, Khedira and Lahm exploited this space in transition. This approach was evident from the opening minutes, and equally played a decisive role in the buildup to Germany’s opening goals.

Lahm Muller BrazilFirst, Khedira stormed past Oscar and Fernandinho before playing the ball wide to Muller, and his cross to the far post saw Mesut Ozil return the favour to Khedira who fired his shot off Kroos. Then Marcelo conceded possession cheaply, and Khedira shrugged off Gustavo, thus playing in Muller who earned a corner following Marcelo’s recovery run. Muller side footed Germany into the lead from the ensuing corner kick.

On an interesting note, a similar incident occurred on the right flank with Schweinsteiger looping a ball into space in the left channel for Ozil, who ran past Luiz, but the Brazilian centre-back out-muscled the diminutive playmaker to retain possession. Still, the massacre on the right continued as Muller surged into space behind Marcelo who was caught out of possession once again, but Dante cleared his corner to award the Germans a throw-in; seconds later, Klose slid the ball past Julio Cesar to double Germany’s lead, following great passes from Muller and Kroos.

Finally, the build up to Germany’s third goal was also created down this flank, as Lahm surged forward to receive an exquisite pass from Ozil, and the right-back’s low-cross fell into the path of Kroos, who fired a powerful effort past Cesar. A year ago, this appeared to be the logical approach to adopt from a Brazilian standpoint, but the quality from the fullbacks in the final third was putrid, whereas Bernard and Hulk failed to track the runs of Lahm and Benedikt Howedes.

This was a logical plan executed brilliantly by Low’s side, and it was surprising that Scolari didn’t instruct the fullbacks to sit deeper, or his wingers to trackback.

Brief Brazilian fight back

Scolari made two changes at the interval, introducing Ramires and Paulinho, and transitioning into a 4-3-3. This was the system the Brazilian manager should have utilized from the opening whistle, and there was an immediate response at the start of the second half.

Germany retreated into their half, whereas Ramires played as the highest midfielder to help Fred lead the press, and surge forward into attack. Ramires and Paulinho’s powerful running posed a few issues for Low’s side, and forced Neuer into making key saves to deny the latter and Oscar.

Low reacted brilliantly, introducing Andre Schurrle for Klose and moving Muller in the centre-forward position. Now Germany possessed pace upfront, and they were favoured to create chances on the break as Brazil pushed numbers forward in the second half. Likewise, Schurrle scored two wonderful goals in the second half, halting any chance of a miraculous comeback.

Conclusion 

In what should have been a tight-affair between two prestigious international sides, Germany annihilated Brazil on home soil in a match that will be remembered for years to come.

This was a one-sided affair that saw Germany play to their strengths, and dominate nearly every aspect of the match. There were three factors to Germany’s success: they exploited space behind Marcelo, their pressing in midfield –– an approach various sides have utilized in this tournament against the hosts –– prevented Brazil from playing through midfield, and Scolari’s reluctance to play a 4-3-3, saw Germany’s wide players drift centrally to overload central areas.

Shots Brazil Germany

Germany combined approaches that were unsuccessful against Scolari’s side in previous rounds, but their ruthlessness and execution in the final third proved decisive. Neymar and Thiago Silva were missed, but Scolari got his tactics wrong, and failed to react to Germany’s dominance in the opening half hour.

Under Scolari, Brazil’s biggest strength was their ability to win games, and how they react to this emphatic defeat will define whether this group of players is capable of making the next step in future competitions.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Published Work, World Cup 2014

 

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