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Jun 07

A Tottery Defense, An Artist & A Raumdeuter: Germany EURO 2016 Tactical Preview

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Die Mannschaft enter Euro 2016 as one of the favourites to win the cup. Their squad, a perfect blend of youth and experience is an amalgamation of diversly talented players, working under a tactician who has been at the helm for almost a decade. Joachim Loew will attain legendary status if he manages to deliver a Euro Cup win to the Germans after a 28 year wait.

Though the results in the recent friendlies suggest waning form and lack of tactical discipline, one can dismiss those remarks by claiming that it was mere experimentation to find the right starting XI. Their record in the qualifiers is hardly impressive, as Loew tried to make the transition into the new era. With some dressing room leaders departing, it was high time someone bore the torch and carried the team forward. And this will be the only concern for Loew, especially in the knockouts where the pressure is immense.

Euro History

Die Mannschaft has a rich heritage when it comes to the European Championship. In the 14 editions that have been played, Germany participated in 12, won the competition thrice, was runners-up thrice and finished in 3rd/4th positions twice. However, they got their hands on the cup last in 1988, and it has eluded them since. The latest memories being the final defeat to Spain in 2008 thank to a Torres goal and a Semi-final defeat to Italy in 2012, after Balotelli bulldozed their defence. This time around, they will try to emulate their World Cup winning form and clinch the Euro Cup in almost 28 years.

Current Squad

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona).

Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Emre Can (Liverpool), Jonas Hector (Cologne), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Dortmund), Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia), Antonio Ruediger (Roma).

Midfielders: Julian Draxler (Wolfsburg), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Andre Schurrle (Wolfsburg), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United), Julian Weigl (Dortmund).

Forwards: Mario Gomez (Besiktas), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Leroy Sane (Schalke).

The retirement of Phillip Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose after the World Cup left big voids to fill at both ends of the pitch for Joachim Loew. The qualifiers gave him a good opportunity to shortlist possible candidates to permanently replace the retired veterans. Until now, it seems Loew has only partially succeeded. Antoine Rudiger has cemented his place, and Jonas Hector along with Emre Can has been promising.

Klose’s retirement leaves only Gomez and Podolski as the senior most members in attack.

To replace a legend as big as Klose means some big shoes to fill and that task has not come to fruition as Mario Gotze and Mario Gomez remain the only main striking options. The search for a striker with the consistency and attributes of Klose remains an elusive task for Loew, forcing him to adjust his tactics elsewhere and nullify the inadequacies in the striking department.

The German squad selected for the Euros has a good blend of youth and experienced players, who have had very good seasons with their clubs. Youngsters Leroy Sane, Julian Weigl and Joshua Kimmich have been exceptional in their respective club campaigns and the opportunity to showcase their talent for country doesn’t come at a better time or stage.

For the future, Mario Goetze and Marco Reus

Marco Reus will be a big miss for Die Mannschaft

The most surprising and notable misses in the final squad are Marco Reus and Matthias Ginter. While Reus was left out due to chronic injury problems, quite ironically Bastian Schweinsteiger, who himself was injured for a good portion of two years, was favoured over Ginter for the defensive midfield role. The sheer commitment and leadership Bastian brings to the table would probably have tipped the scales in his favour.

Tactics

Joachim Loew and his team were deserved champions in the World Cup in Brazil. That squad had everything in their bag of tricks. You give them a team sitting deep in their defensive third, their goalkeeper becomes a sweeping defensive midfielder; give them an opponent with a physical midfield, they bring on Schweinsteiger; give them a host nation in semis, they run riot with 7 goals. The versatility of the German World Cup squad allowed Loew to make minor tweaks to his tactics and achieve positive results with devastating accuracy.

But the retirement of veterans Klose and Lahm hit the Germans hard. Their Euro qualifiers campaign was lacklustre albeit few big goal runs against minnows, Gibraltar. The new look defence shipped 9 goals in 10 qualifying matches and their record in friendlies was even worse with 16 goals conceded in 9 friendly matches since 2014, incurring 5 losses in the process. The fact that Loew fielded an unchanged defence in consecutive matches only once since the World Cup, highlights the importance Lahm and Mertesacker had in the team prior to their retirement.

HUMkroos

Toni Kroos will be the midfield dictator for the Germans

Even with so many goals conceded, Germany dominated almost every match with their possession based approach. Almost all the 9 goals conceded in the qualifiers were from quick opposition counters, when the defence was caught napping. The statistic that the Germans had an average pass completion rate of 91% in those ten matches is testament to their possession philosophy. In fact, in the games they lost, they had a pass completion rate of upwards of 93%, a mind-boggling but skewed statistic.

Joachim Loew generally favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mario Gotze as false nine and on few occasions with Mario Gomez as a traditional No.9. In matches against less strong opponents, Loew fielded a 3 man backline with two variations of 3-3-4 and 3-5-2. With the current squad, Loew can also opt for a 4-3-3 shape, to match a strong opponent midfield.

Possible Formations

4-2-3-1 (False-Nine)

The 4-2-3-1 is a very versatile shape in modern football, allowing coaches to adapt it to any kind of philosophy. Be it Pep’s inverted fullback setup, Simeone’s counter kings, or Mourinho’s functional teams, 4-2-3-1 offers many tweaking options in terms of player spacing and passing sequences.

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The 4-2-3-1 Formation with a False-Nine

Jogi Loew primarily likes to field a false-nine setup with intricate wing play. Coupled with an Inverted Winger (Schurrle/Draxler) on the left, an intelligent Playmaker (Ozil) in the middle and a Raumdeuter (Muller) on the right, the False-Nine (Gotze) has a vast array of talented options behind him with which he can create magic. And then there are the Pass-Master (Kroos) and the Ball-Winner (Khedira) in midfield who maintain the tempo of the game with composed passing and robust tackling. And that’s where the anecdotes end. The German defence is still a work in progress in terms finding a stable combination. The most probable back 4 would be Hector, Hummels, Boateng and Howedes, with Emre Can or Rudiger replacing the fullbacks in other permutations.

Barca cannot under-estimate Muller

Thomas Muller – The Raumdeuter who moves stealthily into spaces

German football is known for its attacking transitions. The speed and accuracy with which these transitions are implemented are directly proportional to the quality of the players implementing it. This German team is adept at pressing high up the pitch, retaining the ball fast and opening up defences with lightning quick transitions. The role of fullbacks in the attacking build-up is very crucial. Their high positioning on the pitch helps create passing triangles and in turn find spaces between the lines. With the new format of 24 team Euro tournament, the group stages are bound to be monotonous. It is anticipated that the smaller teams will adopt a Defend & Counter approach like Leicester City in EPL. This essentially translates to the fullbacks needing to stretch the play even more with their overlapping runs.

Mario Gotze’s role will see him dropping into a No.10 position to pull a center-back out of position and also provide a passing option. This in-turn allows the likes of Schurrle/Draxler to run into the space vacated by Gotze and the defender marking him. Muller on the other side of the pitch will try to get into pockets of space in his natural stealthy fashion and influence the play. In fact, it will be Muller who will be exchanging positions with Gotze more often as Ozil drifts wide and Gotze drops deep. Muller’s ability to be at the right place in the right time bodes well with the fullbacks’ overlapping runs and subsequent crosses into the box. While Schurrle/Draxler offer a direct threat with their speedy dribbling, Ozil’s creativity will be crucial to unlock tight defences, particularly in the group stages.

Ozil_Muller_Gotze

Ozil, Muller and Gotze: The trio that creates magic in the final third

From a deeper position, Kroos will try to dictate the tempo of the match with his composure on the ball and calm passing. His runs from deep will also help overload the opponent midfield and further help in finding that final pass. With so much attacking prowess, it is probably natural to be susceptible to quick counter-attacks. With Hummels and Boateng not particularly a quick pair, Loew will need to be careful with his instructions on the depth of the defence line.

 

4-3-3/4-2-3-1

This shape will be the second option for Loew, if he wants to use Mario Gomez as the striker. Here, the 4-3-3 could easily change to a 4-2-3-1 depending on the opponents’ tactics. In case of a requirement for a robust midfield, the trio of Schweinsteiger, Khedira and Kroos could be deployed. Or for a more fluid midfield, the trio of Weigl, Kroos and Schweinsteiger could be used.

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The 4-3-3 Formation

On the wings, Loew could probably bench Muller and experiment with Leroy Sane on the right and Draxler on left to get that electric pace to complement a slow striker. Faster players, translates to pro-active, high pressing and high tempo game. And with the height advantage of Gomez, the wingers and fullbacks will have a target to aim at with their crosses. Gomez also helps to hold the ball up when he drops deep, in-turn pulling a defender out of position. Draxler will then have vacant space to run into. This shape however will be particularly useful to outnumber the opponent’s midfield.

Schweinsteiger will provide experience and strength to midfield

In a 3 v 3 situation in the middle, Khedira will stay deep and try and cover the furthest opposition midfielder, while Schweinsteiger and Kroos play further up the pitch linking up play with the wingers and Mario Gomez who is holding the play. With the help of wingers moving laterally across the pitch and overloading the central areas, Kroos or Bastian will be free to pick out either the overlapping fullbacks or the striker who is now running into the channels. In this formation, the fullbacks will need check their positioning and cover the pockets of space vacated by the wingers ahead of them. Else, they will risk getting countered and outnumbered easily.

3-4-3/3-1-4-2

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The 3-4-3 Formation

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The 3-5-2/3-1-4-2 formation

This formation will be used when the need is to intimidate the opposition with extreme attacking play, or when the opposition plays with a 3 or 5 man defences. Loew used a 3-1-4-2 and 3-5-2 against Gibraltar in their two qualifying matches, and came up top with 11 goals scored and none conceded. Against Italy, who field a 3 man defence, Loew opted for a 3-4-3/5-4-1 formation with Mustafi playing a Libero role and outclassed them 4-1 with better statistics in every department.

Jogi Loew will probably not be using this formation in the Euros, as almost every group stage match will require a 4 man defence. But the fact that adopting this shape resulted in positive outcomes will add to the confidence of the manager and the squad.

Conclusion

Contrary to the World Cup where they blew every team out of the park, Euro 2016 will not be an easy journey for the Germans. With lower ranked teams favouring defensive tactics, the first task for Loew and Co. would be wrap the group stage as quickly as possible. This will also help in providing some valuable minutes to youngsters Sane, Weigl, Kimmich and Can.

With potential clashes against Belgium in Quarters and France in Semis, Germany doesn’t have an easy road to the final. Their strengths lie in attack and particularly in Muller who excels in his Raumdeuter role, and Ozil who unlocks the stringiest of defences. But, the results will ultimately depend more on how composed and resilient Hummels and Boateng are in defence.

About the author

Sai Kumar

A Sports fanatic. I watch almost every sport, even golf. A core Germany and Chelsea fan. Ferrari and Schumacher in F1, Federer and Sampras in Tennis, Lakers in basketball and Yankees in baseball. Zidane, Ronaldo(Phenomeno), Beckham, Drogba, Kaka, Ganguly are my idols.

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