Germany 4-0 Australia: Germany excellent, but quality exaggerated by poor Australian tactics

June 14, 2010

The first-half line-ups

We’ve now seen half of the 32 teams that will be contesting this tournament, and whilst we haven’t yet sampled the three most exciting sides – Holland, Brazil and Spain – it is undeniable that Germany have been by far the most impressive so far.

The starting XIs

Germany lined up as predicted – with an attacking band of three behind Miroslav Klose. In defence Philip Lahm started in the right-back role he’s become used to at Bayern this season, whilst his club teammate Holger Badstuber came in on the left.

Australia sprung a slight surprise in their starting line-up, as they fielded no conventional striker. Instead they played a loose 4-4-2 shape with Tim Cahill just behind Richard Garcia, who tended to drift towards his usual right-wing position.

German brilliance

Firstly, the Germans were fantastic. The technical quality of individuals was remarkable – almost every outfield player comfortable on the ball. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira passed the ball quickly and intelligently from the centre of midfield, whilst the timing of Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller’s runs was exceptional. Philip Lahm provided a constant outlet on the right-hand side and Miroslav Klose’s movement upfront dragged the two Australian centre-backs around all game. Most impressive of all was Mesut Ozil, who picked up the ball in a variety of positions, but invariably ended up playing it into a dangerous area.

One has to question the tactics of Pim Verbeek, however. His decision to omit Josh Kennedy, their usual striker, hinted that he would try and pack the midfield with six players, or leave Cahill on his own upfront and get midfield runners supporting him. Instead, the reason Verbeek selected that XI was because he wanted intense pressing from the front of the pitch, with each Australian working hard to close down the Germany players, even when the centre-backs received the ball from Manuel Neuer on the edge of their own area.

The idea was to stop Germany building from the back, but their back four were relatively comfortable even when subjected to pressure from Australia’s forwards and wingers, with Lahm and Arne Freidrich in particular happy to take a touch and play a simple pass sideways, and Germany managed to play their way out of the back quite easily.

Germany's pressing from the front often left Ozil (in red) in space

Not only was the pressing unsuccessful in forcing the German defence into mistakes, it also caused problems further back, in five separate ways.

Why Australia’s pressing failed

Firstly, if you ask your forwards to close down, you need your midfielders to do the same, to prevent an easy ball into midfield. The knock-on effect of this is that your defence then has to play a high line, to prevent players between the lines getting too much time on the ball. Therefore, Lucas Neill and Craig Moore were playing an extremely high defensive line against pacey players like Klose, Podolski and Muller, and it was so easy for Germany to knock the ball through the Australian backline to their forwards rushing onto the ball.

Secondly (on a related note), with Germany playing two direct wingers and three players capable of playing a defence-splitting pass, the high line of the Australian defence meant that the angle of the through-ball between the centre-backs and full-backs, towards an onrushing winger, was very easy. This is an extremely popular ball in modern football (at Barcelona, for example – Inter’s deep line against them in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final made it an impossible pass to play) and Muller and Podolski thrived on it all day.

Thirdly, and most crucially, it’s difficult to press effectively if you have a numerical disadvantage in the centre of midfield, as was the case for Australia in this game. In a straight 4-4-2 v 4-4-2, it’s relatively easy as each player has a direct opponent in front of them to close down. With a 4-4-2 v 4-2-3-1, however, Australia were leaving Germany’s main playmaker with time and space on the ball. Australia’s forwards pressed the centre-backs, their wingers pressed the full-backs – but when the central midfielders did the same to Khedira and Schweinsteiger, it left Ozil free. Or, even if they didn’t press them, it was still Germany’s three creative midfielders up against Australia’s two in the centre of midfield, with the Australian wingers out of the game in a defensive sense. Ozil was allowed the ball, and used it brilliantly.

Fourthly, it “forced” Germany to move the ball swiftly from defence to attack, which played into their hands considering the good technical qualities of their midfielders and the direct nature of their wingers. They were happy to conduct lightning-quick counter-attacks, and the fact Australia were actively attempting to move up the pitch suited Germany perfectly.

After 30-35 minutes, Australia shifted to 4-3-3. This was their second half shape, that matched Germany in the centre of midfield and allowed Australia to get into the game, until Cahill's red card.

Finally, it’s simply not the way to play against Germany. “We always have trouble playing against teams that pack their defence, just as we did against Azerbaijan”, said Philip Lahm after his side could only draw with Finland last October. With this in mind, playing high up the pitch was precisely the opposite strategy of what was required.

Australia switch formation

Australia shifted to 4-3-3 for the final 15 minutes of the first half, and after being briefed on their new instructions by Verbeek at half-time, and with Brett Holman replacing the out-of-sorts Vince Grella, looked like getting more of a hold on the game in the second half. Germany no longer dominated possession because they didn’t have an extra man in the centre of midfield, with Carl Valeri dropping deep to pick up Ozil, who was less visible in the second half.

How effective it would have been in getting Australia back in the match, we shall never know, because it was game over as soon as Cahill was dismissed just before the hour.

Conclusion

Australia were poor both technically and tactically, and the loss of Cahill for the next game against Ghana (at least) is a huge blow. They lacked creativity in wide areas and a natural striker, and barely posed a goal threat aside from set-pieces.

Their lack of quality makes it difficult to judge Germany, but they did look very, very good. They retained the ball in midfield very well but also moved it forward quickly when needed, and the most impressive thing was that the players were all on the same wavelength despite the fact it is a relatively new XI.

They were not tested defensively and the two central midfielders rarely had to track any midfield runs or get tackles in, but each player was composed on the ball and understood their role well. Muller and Podolski worked hard on the flanks and Ozil was given something approaching a free role – drifting deep and to the right, and taking advantage of the fact no-one was picking him up. The next match against Ghana will be a much more rigorous test, but Germany are a fine team.

Thanks to Shane Davis for the Lahm quote

Germany 4-0 Australia: Germany excellent, but quality exaggerated by poor Australian tactics

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