EURO Italy v Germany: How Loew stopped Italy, an analysis

Highly anticipated Euro quarter final between Germany and Italy didn’t disappoint even if only one goal was scored from open play and the game itself dragged through the extra time and then penalties. In the end Simone Zaza, who made more steps running up for penalty than in actual game, together with Pelle, Bonucci and Darmian sealed the faith of Italy while Jonas Hector brought Die Mannschaft through to the semis.
It wasn’t only the name and reputation of the teams that made the game intriguing. That little bit was added up by two managers who were up against each other and were expected to make few surprises for their counterpart. In the end it was JoachimLoew who came up with tactic that mirrored his opponent to cancel Italy out of the game. Conte had little space for manouver as, already mediocre individual quality of his players, was furtherdepletedd by injuries to Candreva and De Rossi while his back upThiago Motta got suspended.

German manager stated after the game he decided immediately after Italy v Spain match how his team is going to confront Italians. Easier said than done. It was a surprise when official team sheets for Germany came out with positions marked on the pitch. It is always a risk for manager to change the shape of the team in just four days and for such an important game. However, Germany showed its versatility and individual class to adopt so well and counter the team that masterfully countered everyone else, including the defending champion Spain.

Germany had a plan to defend three different situations when Italy had the ball and they all had the same goal. Prevent the ball easily reach either of the forwards.

buffon goal kick.jpg
First rule of playing against Conte: Don’t let them easily move the ball forward

At goal kicks Joachim Loew set up marking tasks to block passing lanes but also to immediately pressure any player Buffon would hastily pass the ball. This forced Italian goalkeeper to punt the long balls forward where Germany had numerical advantage to win any second balls.

die manschaft block italy
Second rule of playing against Conte: If they get on the ball in defence, mark the strikers tightly and cover passing lanes to middle zone

Once the ball reached Italian defensive line, and if his team wasn’t able to press immediately, they went to block passing lanes into the middle zone from front. Lot of credit has to be given to Mueller and Gomez as well as Oezil who was joining them in this. You can see above how they looked to cover the midfield letting the Italian defenders on the ball. Although Bonucci and Chiellini are exceptionally dangerous when they are allowed time and space to pick the pass this was fine as last line of German defence had time to man mark Pelle, Eder and Giaccherini who was often playing as third attacker making runs from deep. Wide players, Kimmich and Hector are in half spaces ready to support Kroos and Schweinsteiger as well as their direct match ups. This combination of man marking in last line of defence and passing lane block in the first line ensured two things.

Italy had eventually to punt the ball forward where Loew’s men had a spare man (Hummels in this case) and firmly marked opposition ready to get to any second balls, or risk making a mistake and lose position very deep in their own half.

However, whenever opportunity presented, Germany would press immediately the carrier of the ball with the aim to push him to sidelines and then gang up to take the ball and counter. This wasn’t particularly successful, however, you can see below they managed to tackle the ball carrier six times during 90 minutes of play and intercept it twice in Italy own half.

Even when on the ball Germany positioned itself on the pitch very high to congest the space for Italy forwards who need the space as they drop deep. This worked well for Loew as even when they lost the ball Germany could execute quick counter press to win the ball back high up the pitch.

ger high up pit.jpg
Third rule of playing against Conte: Even when you have the ball push high so if you lose it you can counter press quickly and deny space for their strikers who’d love to drop deep before spreading the play down wings

Although we didn’t see too much from Italy in the first half mainly because defensive phase of Die Mannschaft, elaborated above worked so well, Italy managed to show what happens when defence loses concentration for a moment on image below. All principles of German defence failed to kick in and in 43rd minute Italy was allowed unopposed possession in middle zone. Germany had a backup plan but even that failed.

when  it fails
If all the above rules fail, set up the offside trap but take care of Giaccherini’s run from midfield

As Bonucci picked up a ball unopposed German defence pushed up to make an offside trap successfully leaving out of play Eder and Pelle. However, Kimmich fails to react in time and lags behind just enough for Giaccherini’s trade mark run from deep. Schweinsteiger has forgotten him and was moving out with defensive line to set up off side. Didn’t take long for Bonucci to spot that deep run as it is rehearsed move and hi lofted a long ball over the defence for Bologna midfielder to run on to. Despite a cut back and follow up shot by Sturaro Italy fails to punish rare mistake from German defence.

First half finished as a hard fought battle with Germany more in possession due to Italy playing a waiting game, similar to their first match against Belgium. Die Mannschaft countered this very well mimicking Italian shape and had more options in attack. However, that was cancelled out by great defensive effort from Italy.

While both teams were defending in very similar fashion, except Italy was less eager to press high up the pitch, they attacked quite differently. Above example from Italy is their typical move and their limited squad offered little diversity to what was seen before. It was either long ball from Bonucci to on rushing Giaccherini or for strikers who dropped deep to receive the ball and spread it to wings. If opportunity arose, they would quickly combine to get directly to goal. However, Loew had all those moves well studied and largely prevented.

Germany, on other hand offered much more versatility going forward. Frequent rotations of offensive players had Italian defence constantly on toes. Additionally, Germany didn’t hesitate to move both outer central defenders, Hummels and Hoewedes, up the pitch where Hoewedes would often overload right side with Schweinsteiger, Mueller and Kimmich while Kroos was dropping deeper to help out Boateng.

cb high up pitch.jpg
Even if Germany pushed their center backs forward, they only broke Italy on penalties

Above you can see how far Hummels went to create overload, same happened on the other side where Hoewedes would go high (although, not with the ball). This high positioning of center backs drained slowly drained the energy from Italian team that had to defend and keep concentration high throughout the match. Finally, Germany scored due to overload on left and cut back for Oezil who wasn’t tracked as he was running from deep.

Italy was lucky to equalize fairly quickly from a lucky penalty but the game essentially change little from second half till the end. Germany was ever more dangerous with numbers and towards the end of 90 minutes Italy switched to 5-4-1 with Eder dropping back to cover for German CB’s going forward.

There were few key areas that shaped the game. First, Joachim Loew who decided to mimic Italian shape in order to cancel it out and, consequently, Germany defence from front. Both teams defended extraordinarily well but Germany did it so well that they defended even when they had the ball. Pushing central defenders high up the pitch allowed them to regain possession quickly with counter pressing when they lost the ball and also provided them with more players in offensive zone to control the possession tiring Italy out.

In the end, limited Italian talent stifled Antonio Conte and his ability to change anything in a way he attacked, he made most with this squad and only penalties denied Italy the chance to progress to semis beating current World Champions.

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