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Nachiketh Ramesh provides us with a detailed tactical breakdown of the Euro 2016 Quarterfinal fixture that ended Germany 1–1 Italy (6-5 Pens).
Joachim Low, in order to tackle Antonio Conte’s almost unbeatable 3-5-2 formation, decided to change his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to 3-5-2. Germany took the lead through Mesut Ozil and Italy equalized through Leonardo Bonucci’s penalty. In the penalty shootout after the extra-time, 7 kicks failed to end up in the back of the net. Finally, it was Germany that managed to sneak through to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 just like Jonas Hector’s shot slipped under Gianluigi Buffon in the ultimate and decisive kick of the match. Here’s my tactical analysis of the game.
Germany (3-5-2): Manuel Neuer; Joshua Kimmich, Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector; Sami Khedira/Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil; Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez.
Italy (3-5-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Alessandro Florenzi, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Mattia De Sciglio; Marco Parolo, Stefano Sturaro, Emanuele Giaccherini; Eder, Graziano Pelle.
Although Germany and Italy were playing the same formations, both the teams had different approached when it came to actually executing their plans within those formations. Italy, while attacking was direct and tried to get the ball to the higher middle third in only three or four passes. Germany, on the other hand, waited and opened space to carry out the attacks.
Germany high pressed Italy. There were a few man-oriented players in the German midfield and back line. The man-orientation and high pressing coupled with wide movements of Italy’s central midfielders was allowing space in the middle for the Italian attack. Germany, apart from man-marking and a few high press failures, were good at defending – especially with the use of cover shadows to push Italian players to take up bad positions.
Germany was pressing Italian goalkeeper, Buffon, while defending in the attacking third. Muller and Ozil were putting pressure on the wide center backs – Chiellini and Barzagli respectively, by positioning in the half-spaces. Striker Gomez was trying to disrupt Buffon’s short central passing options to Sturaro and Bonucci. To beat this frontline pressing by Germany, Italy was changing its shape as it has done a lot of times in this tournament. The central midfielders – Parolo and Giaccherini were spreading out wide to the wings while the wingbacks –De Sciglio and Florenzi were pushing higher up the pitch.
Due to the wide positioning of Italy’s central midfielders, Schweinsteiger and Kroos were also getting dragged wide which was leaving a big gap in the middle. To successfully beat Germany’s high pressing, Italy had to just get the ball into the free space. Italy was doing this in two ways. One, a pass from Buffon to Sturaro after some clever movement from the latter to get Gomez off his back and Sturaro’s run into the space or combination of passes with the players close to him. Two, a pass from the goalkeeper to one of the widely positioned central midfielders and from the midfielders a diagonal ball to one of the center forwards. The second way is depicted in the graphical image. The ball to Giaccherini coupled with Parolo’s inside run into the space in front of Germany’s defense was one deadly move as it left Kroos outnumbered in the colored area.
After Italy was safely getting the ball moved from the goalkeeper to Bonucci, Germany was using cover shadows to close down the passing lanes of Bonucci. Gomez was shielding Bonucci from passing to Sturaro while Muller, who started alongside Gomez, was shifting to the left half-space to cover shadow Giaccherini. Ozil was doing the same to Parolo. Thus Bonucci’s passing options were blocked. This was forcing him to pass sideways to reach out to his defensive partners Chiellini and Barzagli.
See how Italy was lacking presence in a crucial space. Germany’s presence allowed them to win the ball back easily.
As Bonucci was passing the ball to Barzagli (for the sake of an example let us consider Barzagli – image below) Gomez was moving close to him to press him. Muller was shifting inwards towards the centre and was falling on Sturaro as Ozil was moving closer to Parolo. Giaccherini, without Muller to block him, was being tracked by Schweinsteiger.
When Bonucci was passing to Chiellini, Muller was confronting him just like Gomez was doing to Barzagli. Gomez was moving back closer to Sturaro to deny diagonal passes to him. Since Giaccherini was on the ball on the near side of the pitch, Schweinsteiger was marking him more aggressively than he was doing when the ball was on the other side (with Barzagli).
In such situations Kroos was free in the centre was acting like a midfield sweeper by intercepting the long balls from the back aimed towards Eder and Pelle and was helping in pressing by covering the space around him quite well. The one issue for Germany was Ozil. Ozil was switching off frequently which was exposing Germany’s left to attacks from Parolo and Florenzi.
Italy, when playing from the back, was creating a bad positional structure with both Giaccherini and Parolo remaining wide even after the ball was being passed from the goalkeeper to the centre backs. While Bonucci had the ball he was left with no other option but Sturaro, who was moving out of Gomez’s cover shadow, to pass the ball to. Sturaro had no central support since both the central midfielders were combining with the advanced wingbacks to create overloads on the wings. This meant that Sturaro couldn’t just pass the ball straight to the centre forwards in a situation like in the image attached below – he couldn’t risk losing the ball to Kroos. But due to Ozil’s poor back-tracking, Sturaro was able to target Hector by playing the pass to Parolo and Florenzi to double up on the German. So through some good movements and clever passing of centrally staying Sturaro, Italy was able to utilize its wing overloads.
But observe how Italy was manipulating the midfield trio of Germany. Giaccherini and Parolo were moving away from Muller and Ozil forcing a few man-markings in the middle from Germany. In this scenario, Schweinsteiger is man-marking Giaccherini, who is getting around Muller’s cover shadow region, and the wingbacks – Kimmich and Hector are man-marking Italian wingbacks. Ozil, as explained earlier, is unsure whether to close down Sturaro or to move back towards Parolo to block him. Kroos’ position is also very vulnerable once the ball reached Sturaro.
Giaccherini, the more vertical oriented central midfielder in comparison to Parolo and a menace to the defenders due to his direct running, was man-marked by Schweinsteiger. If not man-marked, then Giaccherini was under Muller’s tracking.
In order to facilitate the long ball – lay off attacking plan of Italy, it needed a midfielder in the central zones. So Giaccherini was slipping to this zone from his advanced position (close to Germany’s defensive line) to offer the layoff option for the long ball from behind. However, Schweinsteiger was following him to the heart of the midfield. This was opening the ten-space for Pelle and Eder to exploit.
Here, due to Kroos’ poor decision the centre has opened and Schweinsteiger is trying to cover Kroos. But he is not aware of the fact that Giaccherini is running back towards the free space to rejoin the attack.
Germany adopted zonal marking or coverage while defending corners. German players positioned themselves in two lines – a 5-man line at the edge of the six-yard box and another line of three players just a few yards in front of the first line. These two lines were quite capable of shielding the shots coming from outside the box and clearing the ball to safety. While there are chances of opposition players becoming free of marking during corners – which is a disadvantage, there will very less confusion amongst the defending team players due to not tracking the movements of the attacking team players. In addition, all the defending team players can remain almost static and thus can concentrate on marking anyone who enters the zone.
The player standing at the edge of the 18-yard box was trying to clear second balls, block the shots coming from outside of the box and pressurize the player on the ball. The player close to the corner of the box was pressing the short passing option of the corner kick taker.
Italy defended narrowly and denied central access for Germany. This was the main reason why German players were trying to breach the Italian defense by attempting to play from the wide areas through crosses and diagonal balls aimed inwards towards the players positioned centrally.
When Boateng had the ball, both the center forwards were staying narrow due to the narrow positioning of Hummels and Howedes. This was forcing Italy to take up a narrower shape than its usual defensive shape. The narrow shape of the first defensive line was forcing the defenders to be narrow as well. This was leaving spaces in the wide regions for Hector and Kimmich to exploit. Germany’s midfielders were being blocked which was forcing the center backs to either go wide and progress the attack through the wings and be more wing oriented in terms of creating the chances or play long balls over Italy’s defense.
When Boateng was passing to Howedes or Hummels, the whole defensive shape was shifting to the ball side to block the diagonal balls. There were multiple layers of defence in a tight shape. In the illustration below, the first layer of defence is that of the near side centre forward (Eder here), the near side central midfielder (here, Giaccherini) and the near side wingback (here, De Sciglio). Sturaro, covering in behind the first layer, was usually the second layer along with the near side centre back (here, Chiellini) and far side centre forward (Pelle here). The third layer consisted of the middle central defender (Bonucci) and the far side central midfielder (here, Parolo). Barzagli was the only player in the final one-man player of defense. He was keeping track of the German player close to the far-side half-space.
This layered and compact shape was allowing Italy to attain and maintain the numerical advantage over Germany in the central regions while defending and to press in unison without leaving any gaps in the middle.
Being narrow and too cautious in closing or blocking the short and diagonal passing options of the player with ball possession, Italy was leaving oceans of space open on the far side where Germany’s wingbacks were free and taking up advanced positions, almost in line with the attacking line. Hector and Kimmich were usually the free players in the far side.
In the graphical image where Hector is free on the far side, observe the positioning of the German forward (Muller) close to Parolo (the far side central midfielder in the image). Apparently, Muller could’ve slipped unnoticed into the far side half-space. Since Khedira was positioned in the wing he was manipulating the midfield chain of Italy by dragging it more towards him. This was keeping Parolo a little bit away from his usual position from the far side half-space. This scenario was actually a good chance for Germany to switch the ball to under loaded side through one of the center backs (Boateng mainly). Had Muller slipped into the half-space, Boateng would’ve had two passing options – one to Muller and one to Hector rather than the only option of Hector (as it happened in the game) and it would’ve helped in switching the ball effectively and to penetrate more.
Here’s Ozil, who was in a similar position in a similar scenario to the previous one. Ozil, sensing a switch ball, moved swiftly from compact Italian shape to the free half-space and received the ball in a dangerous position. This image shows how well Germany used the advantage of having a ball receiver in the half-space while receiving a pass with almost no pressure.
In the second half, Howedes started to move more towards the left wing while the attacking build-ups as opposed to his half-space oriented position in the first 45 minutes. This was allowing Kimmich to position in a more advanced position that he was doing in the first half. Schweinsteiger and Muller were also getting involved a lot in the attacks by positioning in the half-spaces. Germany became more staggered in the middle which was allowing for more passing options for the player on the ball. The change of shape was allowing a lot of position swaps and rotations among the players.
This was creating two advantages to Germany. One, it was forcing Italy to tilt more towards Germany’s right side and open space on the left side of Germany – thus allowing room for Gomez and Hector to make runs. Two, as Italy were compact while defending, they were conducting the play through the same side most of the time. Thus, the four German players who were positioning in the right wing and half-space were able to counter-press effectively.
A tight game between two tactically excellent teams. While Germany tried to create openings through wing orientations, half-space openings and a small change in shape in the second half, Italy was more structured and stuck almost to a single plan. The wide movements of the central midfielders, their inward runs to join the centre-forwards, the compact pressing shapes were the features of the Italian team not just in this match but in the entire tournament. In the end, it was down to penalties, which was very harsh since both the teams were playing well. It would’ve been a much better ending had one of the teams managed to outsmart the other.
Written by Nachiketh Ramesh