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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Germany too German for Slovakia – an analysis

Sometimes you stumble upon a game of football where usual rules of minnow having always a chance just doesn’t apply. Die Manschaft was so overpowered and early goal didn’t fool them at all. They kept plugging and took themselves so seriously that Slovakia could do very little on the day. Germany was huge favourite in this match up and prepared as such.
They went for high pressing in offensive zone and despite not being able to win any significant advantage in terms of scoring chances, they did manage to disrupt ball distribution of Slovakia team very well.

Once Germany got possession they relatively slowly went up field controlling possession and taking their passes wisely. After all they are blessed with two center backs, Boateng and Hummels who can distribute ball and once Joachim Low decided to put Gomez in CF slot, they were dangerous from all positions.

The versatility of their attack is impressive. They can go on solo runs via individual quality of Draxler, Muller, Ozil… Creativity of players such as Kroos, Ozil and Muller allows them to use vertical through balls… Off the ball skills of Muller, Ozil, Draxler serves them well to receive those balls… Potent full backs allow them to overlap and overload wide areas as well as cross for tall and strong Gomez that is still a class striker. He might lack technical ability to play wall balls, but there are Ozil, Muller and Draxler to compensate.

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Everybody participates in German play, a true team effort

They don’t just have those possibilities, they also use them. Germany is extremely versatile on the ball and they can hurt you however they want, or, wherever you are weak. If you take a look at the diagram from @11tegen11 above, you can see ball usually travels via Kroos who is playing sort of deep lying play maker, but you also notice Germany is using all players in roughly equal manner emphasising that versatility. They go left, right and centre. Lone player who seems cut off is Mario Gomez. However, his role of designated finisher is the reason. When Goetze plays false nine role that changes, but that kind of approach puts them in cul de sac position too much as they try and pass the ball in the net with so many creative players upfront. With Gomez their game looks much more clean and efficient.

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Above is an example how far two centre backs go with Hummels and Boateng deep in Slovakia half. Slovakia defence is all set up in two banks of four but off ball movement of Kroos, Draxler and Muller is quickly disrupting well positioned defence and Hummels can chose where to pass as defenders are occupied by number of opposition players that exchange positions.

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A team can defend these movements so long as it is keeping its shape. Above you see what happens once a defensive shape collapses. Slovakia Right winger Kucka failed to block the pass or mark the overlapping Hector and at this point the Slovakia defence collapses. Hector plays it quickly into space for onrushing Draxler coming from inside. In meanwhile, Horovsky has to cover for Pekarik who had to cover for Kucka. Once Draxler is one on one with Horovsky he uses his skills to go past. Collapsing defence chain reaction continues as now Skrtel has to step up and cover for Horovsky, This leaves Gomez in front of his marker Durica and as Skrtel is late to close down Draxler, German CF has little trouble to put Germany two nil in front.

It all happened some 35-40 meters away and quickly escalated to goal after only one mistake that Draxler used really well to go by his marker and pass it for easy finish.

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Above you can see how high RB Kimmich plays widening the field. This allows Muller to come deeper and inside, looking for his forward runs between the defenders breaking through the pentagon created by his team mates. Notice how whole German side shifts as Ozil goes wide in place of Muller while Draxler pushes inside to allow more space for Hector (out of picture) to receive the ball without pressure.

Slovakia could do little against their opponents on the day. Early goal and impeccable movement as well as high pressing constrained them to look how to survive. Once Germany was firmly set on result they came out much more cautious in the second half and Slovakia tried to change their fortunes. Their manager Jan Kozak decided to break German dominance in midfield. Substitution of Weiss by CM Sestak meant that Hamsik is free to go more forward. Although, Slovakia retained retaining 4-3-3 formation, Hamsik didn’t play as wide as Weiss and Kucka came more central as well. This allowed Slovakia to control the central zone better letting the Germany have wide areas.

However, Germany changed their approach in second half. Their Full backs didn’t go so aggressively forward while Boateng and Hummels occupied much deeper position. Additional security was given to Kross who was often sitting between centre backs in possession.

Germany in possession secondd half.jpg

Above is an example of more conservative German play with RB Kimmich and LB Hector playing much deeper while Ozil is making horizontal movement between the lines to search the space for a pass. Although Slovakia looked more lively the third goal and, again, poor marking at corner, allowed Draxler to score the third goal which made the game effectively over. Slovakia didn’t have nor quality nor will to make any significant change to the game.

Only changes that were made were those that saved Khedira and Howedes from receiving the yellow card that would make them unavailable for quarter final.

While in theory minnows can upset favourites, that needs quite a few additional factors. Poor day of opposition, luck, an extraordinary defensive performance, an inspired player… Slovakia didn’t have anything and confronted highly professional German teams that knew what to do and how to do it.