As we move into the latter stages of the competition, we will look ahead to the enthralling encounters with three key tactical questions that could determine which way this game swings. Nikhil Krishna here has a look at the France vs Germany World Cup Quarter-Final clash.
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In a tournament where European giants have been falling like a house of cards, two of the continents brightest and most menacing contenders at this year’s World Cup are set to collide in what should be a fantastically entertaining quarter-final fixture at the Maracanã on Friday. The game will not only boast of some of the finest European players on the global stage today, but also two great managers in Joachim Low and Didier Deschamps. The tactical battle between these two great minds will be the decider between these two well matched sides.
How will Germany address their fullback woes and control the obvious threat from out wide?
Germany throughout the campaign haven’t played a natural fullback in the wide positions. They’ve always had a backline comprising completely of 4 natural central defenders. This even from the pre-tournament build up raised huge question marks about the sensibility of team structure. The fullback is one of the most underrated positions on the football pitch. Yet, his combined attacking and defensive responsibilities are almost unparalleled to any other position. This responsibility has been entrusted to the likes of Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes.
Make no mistake, Boateng and Howedes are talented centrebacks having decent pace and showing good composure on the ball, but they simply lack the familiarity and decision making that a natural fullback possesses, in addition of course to the fact that Germany’s wingers are rather infamous for their unwillingness to help out defensively. You cannot simply throw a centreback in at right or left back and expect him to adapt. This was rather glaringly exposed in the previous games. Take the round of 16 victory over Algeria itself. Algeria, played in a smart compact system thereby requiring the fullbacks (on that night young Mustafi and Howedes) to orchestrate more of the free space on the flanks. This task proved to be difficult as their inability to balance out forward runs and tracking back was easily exploited by Algeria.
The strangest thing about the situation is that Germany in Phillip Lahm, have arguably one of the best fullbacks in the world, capable of playing on either flank. But instead, he’s asked to play in his new role, which he has done at club level, as a holding midfielder in Germany’s already over flowing talented midfield, greatly compromising the defence. Joachim Low should start considering his priorities.
France will almost certainly target the wide areas as the most central part of their game plan. After Griezmann’s game changing substitution that was integral to them winning their game against Nigeria, expect them to ditch the double strikered lopsided 4-3-3 and set up in their standard 4-3-3 with the trident of Griezmann , Benzema and Valbuena. Greizmann and Valbuena in particular are far more dangerous when given space to cut in and run behind fullbacks. Also, France’s own fullbacks Evra and Debuchy are inherent attackers and will look to bomb forward at every opportunity. Expect a large part of the game to be played on the far side when France attack.
How will France deal with the floating German attack?
Germany have thus far deployed a good hybrid between a false nine and a standard 4-3-3 system which helps them get the most out of their penchant possession play as well as quick counter attacking prowess. The front three occupy extremely fluid roles, drifting and interchanging positions among themselves. Thomas Muller who plays at the head of the attack has been their most impressive player. He exhibits a great tendency to drop deep and overload the midfield, thereby helping Germany to maintain good possession and also creating menacing space for him to run into. Within the box his goal poaching instincts are extraordinary. All in all, he will be an extremely dangerous player for France to handle. He proved almost unplayable against Portugal, but Ghana were able to minimize his threat. France will surely take a leaf out of their cautioned approach in the 2-2 group stage draw, with the Ghanaian midfield pressing the Germans smartly without compromising the space behind, forcing Muller out wide further away from goal to get on the ball.
The centre back combination that France picks will be incredibly important. Raphael Varane, almost assured a place at centre back in particular will be importantly tasked to make these smart decisions and to ensure that he isn’t left stranded while chasing Muller further forward. Varane’s impressive pace for a centre back will certainly aid him in his cause. The other centre back position will be either Sakho or Koscielny, in what should be a tough call for Didier Deschamps. My personal opinion would be to go with the Arsenal man over the in-form man Sakho, for the predecessor’s quickness and good reading of the game to combat the quick counter attacking threat of Germany.
Another concern for France will be the defensive contribution of Yohan Cabaye. Playing as a regista, he will be tasked with an unfamiliar defensive contribution of tracking the deep play from the front three, as well as forward runs from the midfield. He’s no dummy in the department, capable of a good tackle every now and then, but he often does little to disprove his Paul Scholes-esque defensive contribution.
Who will win the midfield 3-v-3?
Both these teams deploy an incredibly talented three man midfield and it wouldn’t be too foolish to say that the clash at the centre of the park will more or less decide the outcome of this tight contest. For France, the trio of Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye have been fantastic throughout the campaign. Cabaye has taken wonderfully to the regista role, cherishing the good possession he gets on the ball picking out the front three with smart well timed long balls. He’s been able to put in the degree of performance he has by no small reason because of the two workmen who play alongside him and protect him, Matuidi and Pogba.
Matuidi has shown to be a terrific destroyer in midfield, breaking down opposition moves and is also more or less France’s best man for setting up counter attacks. He will have to put in a double shift to combat the German midfield three on the night. However more than Matuidi and Cabaye, France’s hopes will be the most on their man of the moment Paul Pogba. His value to the team is almost unquestionable, producing fantastic box to box play driving France forward when the Les Bleus are stuck with fruitless possession, by occupying a role almost directly behind the striker. While his shooting outside the box will by far be his greatest threat, he is one to be closely followed on set pieces, as his impressive physicality give him a great chance of winning headers, like when he scored against Nigeria.
Germany, for their vast plethora of midfield talent have had nothing more than a satisfactory set of performances by their high standards. Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Lahm and Khedira are four players that have featured in the three man midfield. Against France, my personal opinion is that Toni Kroos will be dropped with the other three setting up in midfield. Khedira would get the nod above Kroos, as Germany should primarily look to shutdown Paul Pogba. Khedira, one of the best markers and tacklers in world football at present, would be more or less the perfect man tasked with keeping the exciting Frenchman quiet. He will be assisted by the superbly talented Bayern Munich captain, Phillip Lahm. The equation is quite simple, if Germany keep Pogba quiet for 90 minutes, they should be through to the semi-finals. While most of the huffing and puffing will come from Lahm and Khedira, expect Bastian Schweinsteiger to be the one getting more forward and attacking the French defence.
All in all, these two midfields are quite evenly matched. While Germany may fight for possession a bit more than France, both of them are extremely capable in the patient and direct approach.
Thank you for reading. What are your thoughts on the game and do you see some other important questions that need addressing? Let us know with a comment below. Please share this piece through one of the buttons below, you don’t have to but we’d appreciate it if you do!
Obsessed with tactics, in love with Chelsea and AS Roma and their captains #JTcaptainleaderlegend & #Notottinoparty
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