A Hummels header and Müller hat-trick completed Germany’s 4-0 mauling of Portugal. Here are five tactical takeaways from a dominant performance by the Germans.
On a day when it mattered most, the German stars finally delivered. In what can be classified as a typical and efficient German performance, Die Mannschaft showed the world why they are one of the favourites for lifting the World Cup. The victory also all but guaranteed Germany will top Group G barring any upsets in the coming matches. Three goals from golden boy Thomas Müller and a towering header from Mats Hummels completed a 4-0 mauling of a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal side that lost key defender Pepe midway through the first half for head-butting Müller. Their misery was further compounded when Coentrao pulled up with a groin strain, which has put his chances of participating further in the tournament in serious jeopardy.
The Germans started the game on the right note, with clever movement and one touch passing between the front three of Götze, Müller and Özil, each of whom had their doubters before the start of this match. Joachim Löw started with a 4-3-3 (as was widely speculated) instead of their usual 4-2-3-1, enabling their attackers to roam more freely and exploit spaces in the Portuguese defense with their quick passing and movement. The formation also allowed Germany to be more assured in defense with a minimum of two players always being present in the centre of the park even if one of them had joined in support of the attack. The tactic worked perfectly with Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos in particular having a good day offensively and defensively. In summation, the Germans planned. The Germans executed. Here are five tactical takeaways from a dominant performance by the Germans.
1. Toni Kroos can control the game from midfield
Last month, we had explained how Toni Kroos will be a key man in Brazil for Germany. Yesterday’s performance was a testament to all things that Kroos can do. And do them well. Kroos controlled the pace of the game from the very beginning, distributing the ball with deadly accuracy and dictating play from the centre of the park. Having completed a jaw-dropping 76 out of his 79 passes and 11 long balls to boot, Toni Kroos made Germany tick. Playing on the left hand side of a three-man midfield, he was also important in negating Joao Moutinho’s presence by denying him space to play his balls into and constantly pressing him when in possession. With Lahm covering behind him, he also did not fear having to support play in the opposition half as evidenced by his assist for Müller’s goal. Toni Kroos had a great game. Germany will hope he keeps on delivering in the same fashion.
2. Özil was back… Well, almost!
A player who had come under intense scrutiny for going completely off the boil, came good as he always does in German colours. Having had the backing of his manager, Mesut Özil did what he does best: creating a number of opportunities for Müller and Co. with some brilliant through balls and one-touch football. He was instrumental in some of the counter-attacking play from Germany, holding up play nicely and then playing the ball square for Götze to run onto. He might have had two assists as well, but for Götze to have missed two glorious chances. This is what the Bundestrainer must have expected from his star man when he put Özil in on the right side of attack, and he did not disappoint. The only disappointing moment for him was missing a fairly straightforward chance one-on-one against the goalkeeper. Özil of old would have buried that. One step at a time though, and the signs from yesterday’s match were encouraging.
3. Khedira and Lahm grew into the game
The other two players apart from Kroos who were manning the German midfield, Khedira and Lahm did their jobs to the tee. Lahm, playing at the base of the three-man midfield, had a shaky start being dispossessed twice under pressure from Miguel Veloso and it looked as though he wasn’t fully fit for the match. But as soon as Germany got the first goal in the 12th minute, we saw a different Lahm altogether. Having completed a neat 74 out of 79 passes and making a number of important defensive contributions (1 block, 2 interceptions, 4 clearances and 2 tackles), Lahm typified how a defensive midfielder should operate. He also was assigned to look after the balls coming into Ronaldo and Nani; and seeing as to how quite they were throughout the match, he did a great job of it.
Eyebrows must have surely risen when Khedira was played ahead of Schweinsteiger. Whether it was merely down to match fitness or tactics, the move proved to be a shrewd one from Löw as Khedira gave a good account of himself playing most of the match as a box-to-box midfielder. He was involved at either end of the pitch, making four clearances and two tackles while also being involved in the attacking play providing the perfect foil for Müller and co. He completed 47 out of 51 passes attempted, and although he did not have an assist to his name, he was very important in keeping possession of the ball and keeping tabs on a certain Cristiano Ronaldo’s runs, which is never an easy job to do. Germany did not miss Bastian Schweinsteiger yesterday, and that is indicative of how well the midfield was anchored.
4. The defense looked steady; Hummels was a rock
On paper, this German defense looked rather fragile. Going in with four centre-backs and two of them playing out of position, the defense must have been an area of concern for Löw before the game. But Boateng, Mertesacker, Hummels and Höwedes did a very good job of keeping the Portuguese attackers at bay. They were opened up on one occasion when Lahm conceded possession early on in the match but were reasonably faultless otherwise. Boateng entered the match with a no nonsense approach making a game high 6 tackles and also made some necessary clearances. Per Mertesacker had very little to deal with in terms of direct opposition and was fairly anonymous along with Höwedes, whose only telling contribution was a flick on for Kroos to get the ball into the box for the third goal. However, the star man was Mats Hummels. Coming into the game on the back of a good 6 months with Dortmund, the centre-back was superlative in defense. Winning three tackles as well as making key interceptions, clearances and winning five aerial duels, he showed the kind of form he was in at the Euro 2012, which got him selected in the team of the tournament. To add to all his defensive solidity, he also scored from a towering header in the first half, out-jumping Pepe and drilling the ball into the back of the net. If not for the three-goal-Müller, he may well have been the Man of the Match. Löw, must have been buoyed by his performance all the same. It was unfortunate Hummels took a knock on his knee while landing, and Löw will be hoping it will be nothing for than a bruise as he looks to play him at the heart of the German defense in all further matches.
5. Müller can finish them; Götze can’t!
If there was a book on being in the right place at the right time, Thomas Müller would have authored it. His anticipation for two of his goals was world class. For his second goal he knew that Bruno Alves would look to clear the ball, so instead of tussling with him, he instead just put his leg across when Alves tried to clear it. The result: the ball ricochets straight into his path, Müller swipes at it with his left foot and the ball is in the back of the net. That is intelligent play and typifies how overall Germany played the game yesterday. His third goal was also all about anticipation and making the run to get on the rebound. He is a brilliant runner and as he himself calls it, he is a “space investigator”. He looks for the little holes between defenses, timing his run to perfection and finishing clinically. His goal off the penalty was a prime example of his composure and finishing ability. He has now equaled the great Diego Maradona in the number of goals scored in World Cups by scoring 8 in just 7 games. If he keeps on making those clever runs and keeps on getting on the end of those crosses, this German team can go deep into the tournament.
And while one Bavarian was in top goal-scoring form, the other one erred. Mario Götze missed two fairly simple chances to make the score-line even more emphatic. But while his finishing boots were not on, he also had some brilliant touches on the ball and dribbled past players twice and also drawing them into making fouls as in case of the penalty which he won. His general hold-up play was also encouraging and he had a passing rate of 92%. He did well cutting in off the left hand side of the attack supporting Müller with his movement and one-touch football. If only he had buried his two chances, he would have given Müller a run for being named Man of the Match. This makes one wonder will it be more feasible for Löw to play a more potent finisher like Podolski, who can also provide width instead of Götze. A pedigreed performance from the youngster all the same.
Germany have come out of arguably their toughest match of the group with an encouraging and efficient display. Their next match will be against Ghana on Sunday at Fortaleza, and they will be hoping that their key men can deliver again. With Schweinsteiger also being fit to play that match, and a record from Miroslav Klose looming large, the signs are ominous. The German fans and Jogi Löw will be hoping that this German blitzkrieg can win them the cup.
(All stats courtesy of Whoscored.com)
Written by guest author Anuj Chiplunkar