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Ham Mpanga writes a detailed tactical analysis on the International friendly that ended Germany 1-0 England.
With the ‘meaningless’ international friendly soon to be replaced with the UEFA Nations League, games like these could eventually carry some weight.
The night was dedicated to one man in particular, Lukas Podolski. This was the German’s last international game before he retired from Die Mannschaft duty and he was graciously handed the captaincy for the game. It was almost an international ‘testimonial’ if you will, with Podolski also scoring an amazing effort from distance to round off his Germany career with 130 appearances and 49 goals.
It was a very tight game with Podolski’s swansong being the decider. Germany were as drilled and talented as ever (bar the likes of the injured Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil). The new look England were without captain Wayne Rooney who wasn’t called up and Tottenham’s main threat, and Harry Kane who was nursing ankle ligament damage.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Joshua Kimmich, Antonio Rudiger, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector, Julian Weigl (Can 66), Toni Kroos, Julian Brandt (Shurrle 59), Lukas Podolski (Rudy 84), Leroy Sane, Timo Werner (Muller 77)
England (3-4-2-1): Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Michael Keane, Chris Smalling (Stones 84), Gary Cahill, Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Jake Livermore (Shaw 83), Ryan Bertrand (Ward-Prowse 83), Dele Alli (Lingard 71), Adam Lallana (Redmond 66), Jamie Vardy (Rashford 70)
This was Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge as England’s permanent manager. Although it ended in defeat, the fact that this was a friendly and that they faced eternal rivals (and favourites) Germany, a substantial amount of pressure and expectation was alleviated. With Podolski taking most of the limelight it was largely ignored that Timo Werner received his first call-up and appearance for his national team. The 21 year-old Red Bull Leipzig striker has had a terrific season so far, scoring 14 goals in 24 Bundesliga games so a call-up was beckoning sooner or later. England too signalled in a new era by giving James Ward-Prowse, Nathan Redmond and Michael Keane their international debuts.
In a back three, it is essential that at least one of the three centre-backs is comfortable at bringing the ball out of defence. This is evident with David Luiz at Chelsea, Toby Alderweireld at Tottenham and Leonardo Bonucci at Juventus. Their ability on the ball gives other players a trustable passing option and it allows the team to start attacks from defence if necessary. Another key component for playing out from the back is having a midfielder who can receive the ball between the lines of the opponent’s press, which is something neither Dier nor Livermore did. Notice on the passing network map (bottom image) how thin the lines between Smalling and Dier are. The thicker the line, the more often this particular passing lane is used and with Smalling rarely playing the ball forward, England literally walked into a trap – a pressing trap. Germany defended in a high, compact 4-4-2 shape. This allowed them to capitalise on Smalling’s nervousness by pushing up after every sideways or backwards pass.
This was improved late on with the introductions of James Ward-Prowse who excels at finding a good forward passing option and John Stones who is more than comfortable at taking on the first line of press. In future, it may benefit England to start with John Stones in the middle of the three and also play with a more technical midfielder such as Ward-Prowse alongside Dier or Livermore as opposed to having two robust, physical specimens in the middle of midfield.
Whilst defending, England defended in a 5-3-2 shape, with the wingbacks falling back to create a back five, then Lallana and Alli filling the two gaps in midfield and attack depending on how close they are to the open space at the time. This was effective as it stopped Podolski receiving the ball near the box, although his lack of movement didn’t do much to help either. The double pivot of Toni Kroos and Julian Weigl meant that both would want to sit deep and direct traffic which aided the England midfield as they wouldn’t be flooded with runners from deep. Julian Brandt would occasionally come inwards to create a central overload but his failure to forge an effective partnership with any of his teammates meant his runs and contributions went largely unnoticed.
With Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur being renowned for the ability to press hard and fast it meant the players from those clubs would be synonymous with the way England pressed during the game. Patient and accurate, Adam Lallana intercepted a poor pass which led to him hitting the post off the back of a tremendous individual run. If Southgate does opt for a Liverpool-Spurs core in his squad, it may make his approach in terms of pressing easier to implement.
With England achieving central superiority for parts of the game, Germany had to use the wide areas to their advantage. It was almost as if Joachim Löw knew England would use wing-backs as Germany had their full-backs overlapping with their wingers from the first minute of the game. Diagonal runs inside England’s wing-backs meant their wide centre-backs (Keane and Cahill) would regularly have to track these runners, leaving either Dier or Livermore to, in turn, cover the space vacated.
After 30 minutes, Germany’s two fastest players Timo Werner and Leroy Sané changed positions and moved to play on either wing. This was done to attack England’s defence more directly, peg back Walker and Bertand and to link-up with their own full-backs with more threat in attack.
With Tottenham using wing-backs too, it meant that Kyle Walker was more than adept at occupying this role and by using his unique blend of pace, power and focus it meant that he was rarely beaten 1 v 1-or even 2 v 1 at times during the game.
With Dele Alli man marking Weigl (both circled) this meant that it wasn’t worth the risk to pass to him, so to counter this Toni Kroos (bottom of the image) would move himself into the defence to form a back three when required. This allowed Germany to recycle the ball and have a passing rhythm set. This would leave Alli in two minds; stay with Weigl and let Kroos build from the back or go to Kroos and leave Weigl free to orchestrate the game higher up the pitch. He opted to stay with Weigl and this is where possession began to turn in Germany’s favour. Germany began to stamp some authority and influence into the game as it grew and soon they were rewarded with a goal.
This image comes literally seconds before Podolski shoots and scores from that distance. Notice how Kimmich (circled) comes centrally. His high football IQ means he wise enough and positionally sound enough to pick his moments to venture forward. England are left confused and disarrayed as Kimmich moves towards their penalty area, the chaos leaves him and Podolski unmarked which allows the captain for the night to score a goal worthy enough to cap off any career.
England maintained their structure well and provided Germany a good challenge with their attention to detail. Both sides created little but neither team was at full strength. Germany will up a gear when they’ll need to although they were far from stellar. The Three Lions can build on this, with Gareth Southgate only needing to make some slight fine tuning to his line-up to find his best XI.
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