Germany 4-1 England: Brilliant German performance demolishes lifeless England

June 27, 2010

The starting line-ups

A monumental thrashing for England, at the hands of a German side who had pace, movement, tactical awareness and ruthlessness in front of goal.

At times they appeared to be playing football from a different world. England were simultaneously boxey and positionally woeful - quite a difficult combination to achieve. Germany, on the other hand, played superbly. This performance from a young side in a high-pressure situation demonstrated remarkable quality in both technically and mentally. The analysis of the goals will go on for days, the obituaries of English football will go on for weeks, but Germany’s performance should not be underestimated.

England remained unchanged from their win over Slovenia, a slightly surprising decision considering Matthew Upson had started the tournament behind both Jamie Carragher and Ledley King in the pecking order. Jermain Defoe continued upfront, and there were no major positional shifts from previous games, it was a 4-4-2.

Germany also played their expected side. Mirolav Klose returned after suspension and replaced Cacau, whilst Philip Lahm and Jerome Boateng continued in their full-back positions. Bastian Schweingsteiger was fit to start.

Germany were on top from the start. As expected, Mesut Ozil was the key man, playing between the lines of attack and defence and causing England problems even when he was nowhere near the ball. Ozil is an interesting player because his positional awareness and movement are far better than his touch on the ball. That’s not to say he is bad with the ball – he is clearly very good – but he’s a player whose ability stems from his intelligence and understanding of the game, and in this game against an England side who were tactically woeful, that was all the more obvious.

England fail to deal with Ozil

The natural England player to try and pick him up was Gareth Barry, and he started the first five minutes in close proximity to Ozil. But Ozil had been given something approaching a free role and was able to wander across the pitch towards the flanks, always providing an option in a dangerous position. Another reason for his excellent performance was the return of Klose, a really underrated player who is so much more than just a finisher. His movement is wonderful, he’s able to occupy both centre-backs at the same time, which leaves Ozil able to drift in unnoticed behind the defence. The first opportunity of the game was on six minutes through that very approach, as outlined below. The writing was on the wall from that moment.

The movement for Ozil's chance in the sixth minute. Klose (green) drops deep, dragging Upson (pink) towards the ball. Gareth Barry is looking at the ball, and lets Ozil (yellow) go free, and he has a glorious chance.

England’s problems stemmed from the simple and predictable fact that they had a numerical disadvantage in the centre of midfield. This is a problem even when the sides are evenly matched in terms of quality, but when England had both a numerical disadvantage and an inferiority  in terms of passing ability, it was absolutely suicidal. Gareth Barry had a really poor game in the holding role, but you can’t help feeling slightly sorry for him and Frank Lampard. What were they supposed to do? Track Ozil and leave Schweinsteiger with time and space in the centre of midfield to dictate play, or close down Schweinsteiger and leave Ozil free? In truth, they didn’t really do either particularly well.

Problems with 4-4-2

The first half could be held up as an example of why teams have moved away from playing 4-4-2 and started playing 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations. Germany simply always had a spare option in midfield, and England were playing with two strikers doing either (a) the same thing or (b) nothing, depending on your perspective. There are wider arguments about how to use Wayne Rooney, but the most surprising thing tonight was that there was no thought to move him into a slightly different position, even within a broad 4-4-2 shape. He didn’t drift wide, he didn’t drift deep, he stayed upfront and waited for service that never came.

Bob Bradley identified this same problem with his 4-4-2 against Ghana yesterday and changed his shape at half-time, moving to a 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 system that gave the US another option in build-up play, as well as closing down Anthony Annan, the spare man in midfield. Fabio Capello persisted with a formation and shape that, regardless of the good performances in qualification, or the terrible performances in the group stage, was clearly not working in this game.

The formation had nothing to do with the first goal, of course, with Matthew Upson and John Terry getting in crazy positions from a long punt down the pitch from Manuel Neuer, which travelled 100 yards before Klose tapped in.

Klose (yellow) this time drags Upson (pink, right) out of position again, this time to the flank. Terry (pink, left) is concerned about Ozil, and the gap in the centre of the pitch, between the green dots, is huge. Muller exploits the space Klose has created, and creates the second goal.

Upson put in a horrible performance and was exposed again when Klose’s drift to the flank took him out of position, creating space for Muller’s run into the centre. He casually knocked it over Glen Johnson for Lukas Podolski, who steadied himself before firing it past David James. Upson got a goal back from a corner, Lampard scored a perfectly good goal that wasn’t given, but 2-2 would have flattered England at half-time.

No changes at half-time

The late rally towards the end of that half covered up England’s deficiencies, and presumably convinced Capello that there was nothing wrong with the system England were playing. There didn’t appear to be any change in the second half, bar the fact that Ashley Cole was pushing forward more and giving England natural width on the left-hand side.

But Germany continued to dominate, although they were playing slightly deeper and more conservatively in the second half. Lampard again hit the bar from a free-kick, and another Lampard free-kick resulted in the third German goal. Barry’s poor touch on the ball was unforgivable considering how many defenders England had forward for the free-kick, and Germany countered with a classic quick three-man break. Schweinsteiger went left, Muller went right, Ozil made a decoy run through the centre, barely looking to receive the ball, but distracting the England defence and making space for Muller on the far side. His finish was superb – watch the replay from behind the goal to see him stare momentarily towards the far post, before smashing it in at the near, sending James the wrong way. Awful play from England, but Germany took 12 seconds and 8 touches to get the ball from their own penalty area, to the England goal.

The final goal was also Barry’s fault – given a significant head start on Ozil, but being beaten to the ball and outrun as Ozil gradually brought the ball towards goal. And ‘gradually’ was the key – OK, it was a fairly simple path to goal with England’s defence high up the pitch, but a lesser player would have sprinted as fast as possible towards James. Ozil held the ball up slightly, allowed Muller to catch up with him, before squaring the ball across the six yard box. It was 4-1, and not an unfair reflection on the balance of play.

Capello’s second half substitutions were irrelevant but nevertheless frustrating – Joe Cole and Emile Heskey on, but no change of shape. Ultimately, no combination of England players in 4-4-2 would have beaten Germany today.


Some sections of England football supporters hate the fact that two foreigners – Sven-Goran Eriksson and Capello – have been brought in as manager in recent years. The ironic thing is that both foreigners have been fixated on the standard English 4-4-2 for the duration of their time in charge; Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and even Steve McClaren tried different shapes to make England less predictable. You could probably list 100 things that have, in some way, contributed to England’s disastrous performance at this tournament, but the formation must be the biggest factor.

For the past six years, the major talking point regarding the England team has been an inability to get the best out of both Gerrard and Lampard. Both Lampard and Gerrard? Neither are at their best in a 4-4-2. Nor is Rooney, nor is Barry, nor is Carrick, nor is Joe Cole, nor are any of England’s small band of creative players. Even if Capello thought 4-4-2 was best before the tournament, he surely must have seen that it wasn’t working when England limped to draws against the US and Algeria, and a narrow victory over Slovenia.

But the main focus should be on Germany, who were fantastic throughout and exploited England’s weaknesses from the first whistle. The performances of individuals was not the highlight, it was the understanding between them, the way they interacted and swapped positions, the way they retained the ball, the way they created a shape to drag England’s defenders out of position.

Germany didn’t just outclass England, they offered a template for what England must seek to become.

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