If you missed Part 1, you can find it here
Part 2 of 3: Tactical Analysis and Alternative Systems
Joachim Löw generally sets his side out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is very similar to lots of other national teams.
In defence, this system becomes more of a 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-4-2. The reasons for this are that, 1) Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller drop back to help out their full-backs, thus creating two rigid lines of 4, 2) Mesut Ozil often pushes high up on the defence to try and win the ball back as quickly as possible. Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger act as two defensive midfielders normally would, squeezing the space between the lines and aiming to stop the opposition central/attacking midfielders playing.
Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber/Per Mertesacker often sit deep and do not let their opponents play in behind them and this cleverly covers up Badstuber and Mertesacker’s lack of pace. Lahm and Boateng on the outside are two quick and solid defenders and so they rarely get beaten on the outside.
This system differs from their biggest rivals next summer in that the two wide forwards drop back and the central attacking midfielder pushes up, while for Spain the opposite is the case, as Xavi drops deep to help out Busquets and Alonso while whoever plays wide stays up the pitch to try to win the ball back quickly through fierce pressing. Spain also play with a high line while Germany prefer to sit back, soak up pressure and counter.
First things first, Germany’s transitional play (counterattacking) is superb. They attack with speed and in numbers, helped out by the great passing ability of Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield. Of course, the main skill of being a good counterattacking team is to have pace, and Germany have it in abundance. The two full-backs, Lahm and Boateng are very quick, as are the two wide forwards/wingers Podolski and Muller. Klose himself is no slouch either.
However, to suggest that Germany are purely a counterattacking side would not be wholly true. Not one of their six goals in the last international break (3 vs Ukraine, 3 vs Holland) was scored from a counterattack. Under Jogi Löw, they have developed into a passing side and they can open up stubborn defences by passing through them. Their ability to keep possession and wait for the right moment to attack (like Spain, just quicker) is an underestimated asset. When Germany want (or usually need) to, they can also play direct football with the Starting XI, and the same cannot be said of Spain (unless they start with Torres or Llorente). Klose is a great header of the ball (as seen in this goal against Holland last week) and in Muller, Podolski and Lahm, they have some great crossers too.
I agree that Germany may have been undone at the World Cup in South Africa because of their failure to keep possession against Spain and because their counterattacking style did not work in this type of match, but since then they have developed considerably and I am sure Löw has recognized all the mistakes he (and his team) made in 2010 and has worked hard on them since.
Although Löw has, to my knowledge, not yet tried out the 4-3-3, I will try and explain why I think it could work as a plan B for Germany.
- The 4-3-3 is perhaps the best system for possession-based play and it would allow Germany to keep possession even more than they already do. The introduction of Kroos, who has been playing brilliantly for both club and country, in a central midfield role would give greater passing options to the side and would also mean that Khedira (or Schweinsteiger) could get forward more, like he did for Real Madrid against Zaragoza on Saturday.
- In fact, these three midfielders could take it in turns to go forward, as they are all adept defensively and offensively, and this would give Germany the element of surprise, whereas their system is rather predictable at the moment (except for the movement of the front 4).
- With a solid three-man midfield, the full-backs could push further up the field and move into the space vacated by Ozil (who would definitely drift inside) and Muller. Lahm and Boateng have excellent attacking abilities and, if this system was used, they would be able to show that more often.
- The counterattacking play of the side would not diminish severely, as they would have three good passers of the ball in midfield (Khedira’s ability in this respect is massively underrated) and they would still have the pace of Muller, Klose and the full-backs. They would only lose the speed of Podolski on the left and Ozil spraying the ball out to the flanks.
- Miroslav Klose would have the opportunity to drop deep into ‘the hole’ as he loves to do. He does this quite often at the moment but Ozil is usually occupying that position. This would help drag defenders out of position and allow Muller, Ozil or one of the three midfielders to try and attack the space left by the defender. (This would be slightly like a ‘false 9,’ although Klose would not drop off as often as Messi for Barcelona, Silva for Spain, Fabregas for Barcelona etc.)
- As far as my untrained eye can see, one of the only real weaknesses to this system would be the obligation to use Ozil on the wing, where he is not quite as effective, and he tends to drift inside anyway. They could also lose the attacking threat of Muller coming inside, because it is very difficult to play with two wingers who come inside, as Spain showed against England last Saturday.
This is the system Löw used against Ukraine, although he did not have the right players fit in order to use it to its full potential. I have a few points to make about the 3-4-2-1.
- Arguably the two key players in this system are the wing-backs and Löw started with Denis Aogo and Christian Trasch against Ukraine, whereas the first-choice pairing would be Lahm on the left and Thomas Muller or Andre Schurrle on the right.
- Having Gotze and Ozil in the team rather complicates things as they tend to make the same runs and want to do the same thing. Perhaps this could be fixed by switching to a 3-4-1-2 with Ozil in behind Klose and Gomez.
- The 3 centre backs were often caught too high up the pitch against Ukraine and would need to provide more defensive solidity. Generally one of a 3-man defence likes to step out of the back and act as an additional midfielder. In my opinion this should be Hummels who has been playing this role brilliantly for Dortmund since the beginning of last season. The ‘libero’ can help to start attacks or even counterattacks by stepping out of defence and Hummels would be ideal for this.
- In terms of disadvantages, this system would really hinder the movement and understanding between the trio of Muller, Ozil and Klose. Muller would have far more defensive responsibilities and as such, would be unable to contribute as much in an attacking sense.
- Also, despite it being a 3-man defence instead of a 4-man one, it is arguably less attacking (obviously this depends on how Löw uses the system, but the players suggest it would be) because there are only 3 out-and-out attacking players in the team.
- Width is a real problem. Muller and Lahm would be very capable wing-backs but they would have to be more careful when attacking as they don’t have any full-backs in behind them to cover. In a defending sense, the opposition full-backs and wide forwards could double up on the wing-backs and create opportunities out wide, something Germany found out against Ukraine.
Well, this was just a brief look at how Germany play at the moment. Head over to Zonal Marking to check out this piece about Germany or Bundesliga Fanatic for this article about the game against Ukraine and this one for the match against Holland. Part 3 will be up sometime during the week!