Right moves win it for Germany

Joachim Low’s tactical acuity came to the fore as he made all the right moves to help Germany grab a 2-1 win over Netherlands.

The intelligent Ozil on the run...
Kelvin Yap

By Kelvin Yap

Joachim Low and Bert van Marwijk ostensibly put out a 4-2-3-1 formation, but both managers set their teams out differently.

First, the holding midfielders could not have been more different. Van Bommel and De Jong are tough tacklers and slow to facilitate attacks while Khedira and Schweinsteiger are better known for their playmaking abilities than their defensive capablilties.

Up front, Netherlands were very wide - Robben and Afellay are both out and out wingers while Van Persie tended to drift to either flank, while Germany were slightly narrower as Gomez is a target man and Muller, Ozil and Podolski play a lot more centrally.

Bright start for the Oranje

Coming into the match, van Marwijk named an unchanged side from the one that lost 1-0 to Denmark and chose to continue deploying two defensive midfielders - a seemingly logical choice as it allowed the back four more protection against Germany's fearsome attack.

It worked out well for him at first. Netherlands were the brighter side in the opening exchanges because of their high defensive line, where the back four were playing almost up to the halfway line (in fact, the first attack from the Dutch ended with all 10 of their outfield players in the German half).

It was also a smart move given that Mario Gomez lacks the speed to threaten them on the counter attack and it prevented the Germans from camping out in the Dutch half and sending in crosses for the striker to head in.

(This also follows the basic rule of deciding how high a defensive line to play: Against a big striker who's strong in the air but slow - play a high line and force him to chase the ball at his feet. Against a speedy finisher, use a deeper line to prevent him from capitalising on space behind the back four while forcing him to feed on crosses.)

In the 1-0 defeat to Denmark, the biggest problem for the Oranje was that De Jong and Van Bommel were both too deep and disjointed from the front four. This time, the short distance from Mathijsen (their last man) to Van Persie (their striker) was so short that there wasn't any gap for this to happen again.

As an extra precaution, Wesley Sneijder dropped deep frequently to link up play by joining up with the holding midfielders, and the strategy as a whole worked in the opening exchanges to force Joachim Low's side into their own half.

Watch: Germany leave Netherlands on the brink... More Videos

Low's right moves

The German manager responded with brilliant tactical acuity to make early changes when he saw things were not flowing and made two significant alterations in the 15th minute that eventually led to both goals.

First, Muller was pushed high up the right wing until he was almost a second striker right beside Gomez. This meant that the Germans now had the speed to counter and break through Netherland's high defensive line, forcing Van Marwijk's side to sit deeper into their own half and allowing Germany time and space to develop play.

Second, Ozil was told to drift out to the right from his starting position as the central attacking midfielder, and it disrupted Netherlands' shape as Nigel De Jong, who was tasked to man-mark the Real Madrid midfielder, was dragged out of position and left the less mobile Van Bommel alone holding the area in front of the Dutch defence.

Given that Khedira was the right-sided central midfielder and since Germany's attacks mainly came from the right, it was logical that Van Bommel picked him up, leaving Schweinsteiger free to make the late run into the box from deep and control play.

Although that left Sneijder unmarked, but the principle of defending while attacking via possession of the ball applies, which meant that the Germans would be fine as long as they don't lose the ball - and they happen to be very good passers of the ball with the extra man up ahead.

As a whole, Germany's shape changed from their conventional 4-2-3-1 to a pseudo 4-4-2, with Muller playing as a second striker-winger, Ozil a right winger and Schweinsteiger and Khedira occupying the two middle positions. 

This was an astute move from Low as it pitted the Ozil's intelligence and Muller's ability to penetrate up against the inexperienced Jetro Willems - the youngest player ever to play in the Euros.

If it were a more experienced full back like, say, Germany's Phillip Lahm, he would have ordered his team mates to help out and win the ball but Willems was stranded and looked very much like a schoolboy being taken to task.

Van Marwijk was partly to blame - he was being tactically inflexible. A better solution would have been to pull back the left winger (in this case, Afellay) to deal with Ozil instead and have De Jong continue patrolling the area in the middle and cut out the late runs.

Because that didn't happen, Low could utilise two of his most intelligent players in Ozil, whose movements wreak havoc in the opponent half by dragging people out of place, and Schweinsteiger, whose vision and passing is right up there with the best in the world.

Ultimately, the tactical change told with two goals from Gomez - the first within 10 minutes of the switch. Also, both goals had plenty in common: 1) Both moves started out on the right, 2) Both were assisted by Schweinsteiger, 3) There were at least four Dutch players caught on the flank ball-watching when the final pass came in.

Not to take away credit from Gomez though - both goals were borne of excellent touches and finishes on the Bayern Munich striker's part. 

Too little, too late from the Dutch

With nothing to lose and everything to play for, Van Marwijk decided to come out of the shell and brought on Rafael van der Vaart for the outmatched Van Bommel and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the isolated Afellay, who probably had less than five touches of the ball in the entire half.

Without an extra holding midfielder, Netherlands did look more vulnerable at the back, but they had more options up front to attack. The presence of Van Der Vaart had a defensive benefit as well - as it meant that either Khedira or Schweinsteiger had to hold back to track his movements.

Also, Sneijder, who was deployed deeper in the first half to link up play due to Van Bommel and De Jong's inability to swiftly facilitate an attack, was allowed a role higher up right behind Huntelaar as almost a second striker.

This opened the game up as Schweinsteiger and Khedira both had defensive duties to fulfil and consequentially had fewer chances to foray up field and facilitate the German attack.

However, Van Marwijk's men reverted to their previous disoraganised self yet again. The front five or six (depending on Van Der Vaart's position), pressed Germany high up the pitch but De Jong and the defenders were content to sit deep in the five yards outside their own box, allowing the Germans to relieve pressure by dropping the ball into the zone in between the two groups of Dutch players.

And, like in Denmark game, the Oranje were over-reliant on individual skill rather than a cohesive team strategy to conjure up a goal. The goal eventually came via a fine individual effort from Van Persie - the Arsenal man picking up the ball deep on the left flank before turning past Khedira and firing a powerful shot with his right foot.

Even then, it was too little and too late for the Dutch.

Conclusion

Low outsmarted a stubborn Van Marwijk in terms of tactics - it was simple as that. The Germany coach dared to sacrifice the original game plan and showed flexibility in going for the win while his counterpart yet again displayed a sense of stubbornness and lack of originality.

Still, this wasn't the final act in the ‘Group of Death'. In fact, the result has set up a most intriguing finish. 

Should Germany beat Denmark and Netherlands win against Portugal on Sunday, the second and final qualifying spot will go to head to head goal differences. Should Denmark shock Germany and Portugal beat Netherlands, it could also mean that the Germans go out on head to head goal difference.

So, yes, everything is pretty much alive in the trickiest of groups.


For more tactical insights and updates, you can follow Kelvin's Twitter account @plevyakin



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