On the last day of the group phase, one of the most exciting groups, Group G, drew to an exciting close. All 4 teams were in with a shot of going through to the next round. There was a lot of tension in the air in the build up to this game as a draw was enough to take both sides through, and many had doubts after Germany’s performance against Austria in the 1982 World Cup. That aside though, this was also set to be a very tough game as two very evenly matched sides very going up against one another. Coach Jogi Low, who was assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann during the latter’s time in charge of Die Manschaft went up against his former colleague as well, to add some more spice to the occasion.
USA: Howard; Johnson; Gonzalez; Besler; Beasley; Jones; Zusi (Yedlin, 84); Beckerman; Bradley; Davis (Bedoya, 59); Dempsey.
Germany: Neuer; Boateng; Mertesacker; Hummels; Howedes; Lahm; Schweinsteiger (Gotze, 76); Kroos; Podolski (Klose, 45); Muller; Ozil (Schurrle, 89).
Scorers: Muller (55)
USA full backs getting exploited
In the first 2 group games, Germany unveiled a slightly different system with no real striker, and a False 9 doing the job for them. Generally, it was Muller who took up this responsibility. Their 4-2-3-1 had been discarded for the 4-3-3 to add extra protection in midfield as a sort of shield against counter attacks. Philipp Lahm, the additional man, served as a holding midfielder, who sat to protect the defence. The full backs too, were actually centre backs, and didn’t really get forward too often to support the attacking players. This worked out very well in the first game against Portugal, with Germany effectively ending their World Cup campaign at that point. In the next game against Ghana though, Die Manschaft struggled as Ghana sat deep, and tried to play on the break with quick wingers used to target the German full backs. This worked out very well for Ghana and exposed a potential weakness.
Due to the lack of width they offered in the previous game, Klinsmann probably expected Germany to keep their attacks focused through the middle of the pitch. However, only 30% of the German attacks came through the middle, primarily because USA left the wings quite open. The pressure from the USA early on in the game came in the middle of the pitch. The USA midfielders got quite close to each other to try and cut out vertical passes that the German midfield might try and play through them. Doing this left Germany with a lot of room on the wings.
In response to this, Low encouraged his full backs to get forward and support the midfield. Boateng and Howedes spent a lot of time in the opposition half early on in the game. The Germans played a number of horizontal passes to move the ball from side to side and create spaces for the wide players, before eventually releasing one of the full backs to cross. On most occasions, it was Jerome Boateng who got in behind to cross the ball. The Bayern Munich player attempted 8 crosses, but only managed to find success with 2. That’s still a good figure when you consider how successful crosses are in general. When you consider the types of crosses that were played too, you can only praise Boateng, as it was often poor finishing from the strikers rather than an inaccurate or weak.
As you can see from the graphic above, most of the chances that the Germans created from open play had something to do with the wide areas. A number of them have come from crosses.
USA wingers dropping deep
In response to the overwhelming effect that the German full backs had on the USA and their ability to hold the ball and create, Klinsmann made his wingers drop a little deeper off the ball. When the Germans did get the ball and hold it, the two USA wingers, Zusi and Davis dropped very deep, to form a back 6 of sorts. This way, they afforded the full backs some protection. It also meant that the USA had a few more numbers defending their box and marking zones carefully, reducing the effectiveness of the German attackers running into the box. Unfortunately for the USA, this a lot made it a lot easier for the Germans to keep possession when they had the ball. A 91% completion rate over 90 minutes is no joke, and what we saw was utter dominance of the midfield area. They managed to restrict the Germans in open play, but struggled to get forward. They were looking to long diagonal balls to break down the German defence, but Clint Dempsey wasn’t really able to do a great job holding up the play, and so the USA struggled to mount any real pressure on the German defence.
- World Cup Tactical Analysis: Germany 4-0 Portugal
- World Cup Tactical Analysis: Ghana 1-2 USA
- Analysis of USA’s tactical approach, set-up & formation
- Analysis of Portugal’s tactical approach, set-up & formation
Lahm bursting forward
Another key part of the midfield battle was the exceptional Philipp Lahm. Nominally selected to play as a holding midfielder, the captian did a very good job of supporting the attacks as well. On a normal day, his job would be to screen the back 4 and allow the likes of Kroos to get forward and link up with the front 3. But with the USA playing so close together, it became a bit difficult for the likes of Schweinsteiger and Kroos to dominate proceedings. Those two were forced all over the pitch, and received a lot of rough treatment for their efforts. This is where Lahm came into the picture. The Bayern player’s vertical movement made him hard to pick up for the USA team, and he was able to get in between their block and make passes to try and scramble them. THe USA did well to retain their shape, but Lahm served well as a passing hub, making 116 passes with his 125 touches at a 95% success rate. He was extremely effective, and it’s easy to see why he is rated so highly in this position by so many.
Schweinsteiger was a nominee for this prize, with some good play through the game. His battling performance though, wasn’t as effective as that of his compatriot Philipp Lahm. As mentioned above, the German was phenomenal in midfield, allowing his team to take control of this area and the game. He will be crucial for German hopes going forward into the tournament, and if he can keep up this level of performance, it will be difficult to stop Germany.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM?
In the knockout rounds. The USA did just enough to make it past a very difficult group, and fans at home must be in love with a certain John Brooks for that crucial late goal. They will probably face Belgium next in what should be an interesting encounter, but will need to add some more attacking verve to their line up if they are to trouble the Belgians.
The Germans put in a domineering performance that saw them win the group with ease in the end. The team, like so many tournaments in the recent past, looks strong going into the big games. They now need to ensure they get their tactics right in the upcoming battles to finally lift some silverware.
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