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As the hype and excitement continues to build for the 2014 World Cup final, we look at three tactical questions that could decide how the game pans out. Siddharth Pruthi analyzes Germany vs Argentina, a game that decides it all.
Seeing Argentina and Germany qualify to face each other in the World Cup Final would have made most football pundits happy as they were touted as the front runners to do well in the latter stages of the tournament. Germany were always the favorites, considering the depth they have in their squad and one South American team was always expected to be there, given the World Cup being played in their backyard. Many expected it to be Brazil, but Argentina have found a way to get the best out of their star man, and unsurprisingly, are in the World Cup Final.
How will the German midfield deal with Messi?
This question has been discussed before every game he has played in the World Cup and the finals are no different. Such is the caliber of the No.10. In my opinion, the Germans, to successfully deal with Messi need to significantly alter their midfield shape and set up more rigidly and with more discipline to deal with him. For most of the matches that Germany has played this World Cup, Loew’s favored trio has been of Kroos, Khedira and Schweinsteiger. Bastian is the primary holding player while Kroos and Khedira handle attacking responsibilities ahead of him. But using Bastian alone in the holding role can cause him a lot of problems against Messi and if Khedira were to start alongside him, would put too much attacking onus on Kroos who isn’t a classic no.10. So, what he can do is play Gotze, Ozil or Muller behind the striker, instead of the deep lying Kroos who, to be fair to him, has been brilliant. Keeping this in mind, it might happen that Loew starts with him to dominate the midfield and then substitute him with Gotze. The German midfield have not yet faced a brilliant no.10 this tournament. It would have been interesting to see how they would have lined up in the centre against Brazil, had Neymar been fit to play.
The image below is the chances Messi created against Switzerland despite being marked by two players. Now they might not have been successful in stopping Messi playing key balls, but what they were able to do was to stop him from directly attacking the goal for most part of the game. He just managed two successful shots on goal. Most of the chances he created were either blocked or saved. So it can be said that their game-plan worked. They prevented him from going on his mazy runs from the edge of the box and going on to score and instead made him pass in areas they were better off defending (note the number of passes on the right side, all shots from there apart from the goal were blocked.) Now, if the same approach is followed by Germany, we expect them to execute it better than the Swiss, due to significantly better players in their back four. So, if this approach is followed, who should be the ideal player to replace Kroos in the centre?
The probable choices as suggested earlier would be Ozil, Gotze or Muller. Now, Muller’s performance this World Cup doesn’t need much analysis. His performances speak for himself. Gotze is highly unlikely to start considering he has only started one game this tournament. This brings us to our final choice, Mesut Ozil. He has had a fairly poor campaign considering his standards. He has a goal and an assist in the six games he has played. If we look at his passing map against France, arguably the toughest opponent they have faced, you’ll see that his passing is quite ordinary for a no.10 whose primary job is to create chances.
Should Ozil be dropped for Schurrle?
Schurrle has mostly been used as an impact sub this World Cup and has scored some crucial goals for his side. He offers something completely different from Ozil. He is a much more direct player, concentrating on finishing and getting into the box, unlike Ozil who likes to create from the ‘hole’. But Ozil, who hasn’t been used as a no. 10 even once this tournament, instead has been cutting in from the flanks and moving into the space between the lines. But as mentioned earlier, he has been quite ineffective. So, instead of dropping Kroos to change his midfield shape, he could simply use Schurrle instead of Ozil. Although it would be a straight swap on paper, it would change the whole tactical approach of their attacking play.
He provides some crucial width to the team which is only provided by the full backs. He makes some intelligent runs behind the defense which Ozil rarely does. This would also mean that Muller would play behind Klose in the ‘floating’ role, where his finishing ability as a second striker can be utilised more. Muller has had two more assists and scored four more than Ozil, while statistically creating the same number of chances. So, this simple change gives them an option to keep their shape, be more direct and use Thomas Muller better. Also, Schurrle provides much more than Ozil does defensively. He is ready to track back the opposition full backs and challenge them. Ozil however, doesn’t track back enough partly due to the fact that he is often found in the middle areas and is caught off guard when facing counters. This was significant in their club games last season as well, Schurrle under Mourinho was a much more disciplined player than Ozil was for Arsenal.
In the final, which tends to be more cagey and nervous affair than most other games, it might be better to use a disciplined player on one flank and a creative floating player on the other, rather than using two of the same kind. Schurrle is also a much more effective player on the counters than his team mate, which can prove decisive in games like this.
How will Argentina counter Germany’s possession dominance?
Argentina haven’t faced an opposition with a world class midfield yet in this World Cup. The Dutch or the Belgian midfield was arguably the best they have faced so far. But, in either of them were they quite tested because against Belgium they went up quite early and thus, were comfortable to play on the counters. Against the Dutch , it was fairly balanced, as teams are much more impressive without the ball and on the counter nowadays, when compared to the total football era. But the Germans pose quite a different threat in possession. They have a midfield which is very much capable of knocking the ball around, and a right back who is as comfortable with the ball as he is without it. In a nut shell, they are a perfect team to play possession football.
In contrast, the Argentine midfield is not quite competent to play keep ball. They have a good ball player from deep positions in Mascherano and a no 10, who is the best at what he does, players like Perez, Rodriguez and Biglia aren’t quite world class. They could really use Fernando Gago, who although hasn’t started the last two games, is quite good at passing a ball as his 91% pass accuracy suggests. Their midfield relies more on the energy and pace of Di Maria to link midfield and attack rather than intricate passing triangles and fancy football. But he is unfortunately injured for this game. However, they can instead use Aguero,who is now fit ,on one flank to support Higuain in a more advanced position and use Messi a bit deeper. A partnership of Gago and Mascherano is capable enough of protecting the back four against Germany.
This may however lead to Argentina being a bit too ambitious, using three ‘true’ strikers, which might create an imbalance on the field. Or, another option could be to drop Higuain for Aguero; purely because he offers pace and trickery on the counters with equally potent,if not better finishing abilities. He can also vary his position by pulling out wide, or driving with the ball from deeper positions. But his form this World Cup hasn’t been suggestive of his abilities so far. He is yet to score or complete a dribble this World Cup. Higuain too has been poor except for the game against Belgium where he scored his first of the tournament. It might be a risk starting Aguero against Germany considering he has just returned from his injury and poor form; but if Sabella can get the best out of him, he will certainly be the better choice to Higuain.