Germany v Spain: tactical preview

July 7, 2010

Probable starting line-ups

The pre-tournament favourites versus the most impressive team in the competition so far. A repeat of the 2008 European Championships final it may be, but this is completely different contest.

For a start, David Villa and Mesut Ozil – the two star men – were not involved two years ago. Of the Germans, only Miroslav Klose, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski remain in the same positions from that final, whilst Spain will start with a different formation to in 2008, even the side contains a number of the same players.

Both sides have one selection dilemma ahead. Germany are without Thomas Mueller, suspended (because of the ludicrous rule that two minor offences in 450 minutes of football means a player missing a World Cup semi-final). Joachim Loew has four options for replacing him – Raphael Honigstein believes the most likely starter is Toni Kroos, another exciting young creative player. He spent last season playing on the left for Bayer Leverkusen, but is equally comfortable on the right (or in the centre).

Vicente del Bosque doesn’t have any suspensions – Spain have only picked up three bookings in the tournament – but he does have a problem with Fernando Torres. The Liverpool striker hasn’t looked fit so far, and there is speculation that del Bosque has finally lost faith in him, and will instead turn to David Silva, with Villa pushing into Torres’ central striking position.

This wouldn’t require a great shift in the way Spain play – in fact, it would return them to their starting line-up against Switzerland in their opening game. That’s the only game Spain haven’t won so far, however, and if it is to be Silva and Andres Iniesta on the flanks, there must be more natural width – playing centrally is clearly a deliberate tactic, but it makes Spain’s build-up play so simple and predictable.

It’s more likely that del Bosque will give Torres one more chance, however. Silva hasn’t been particularly impressive himself, Cesc Fabregas coming into midfield doesn’t give the team any more width, whilst Fernando Llorente and Pedro seem to be seen as impact players. After what happened in 2008, the German defenders won’t be too enthusiastic at facing Torres again, even if he isn’t quite on top form.

Torres broke German hearts two years ago - will he get another chance?

So where will the game be won and lost? The two formations are similar, assuming the predicted line-ups are correct. Both broadly 4-2-3-1s, both with very direct attacking players on the left combined with a player wanting to come inside on the right, both with the right-back more adventurous than the left-back, both with three central midfielders who all have the ability to create.

The battle in the left-wing / right-back areas are particularly exciting. Podolski and Villa don’t want to defend, whilst Philip Lahm and Sergio Ramos don’t want to be constrained to purely defensive jobs, as both are forced to provide the width attacking from the winger ahead of them. The onus is on the two full-backs – they need to be brave and get themselves forward – they do, after all, have the safety net of one spare centre-back behind them.

More likely, though, the game will be won in midfield. There is no other match-up in this tournament that would feature such composed, intelligent footballers in the midfield. In terms of ball retention, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso are near-unbeatable, but Germany’s midfield trio have been even more impressive in this tournament.

Loew has a decision to make about pressing. Should he instruct his team to sit relatively deep, and focus on not allowing Xavi and Iniesta time on the ball (as Switzerland did), press higher up and disrupt the passing game of Busquets and Alonso (as Paraguay did), or press all over the pitch (as Chile did)? Even with Germany’s technical proficiency, it would be a surprise if Spain didn’t dominate possession, and so how Germany break up their attacks is particularly important.

Pressing is also a key factor in terms of del Bosque’s tactics, but a more immediate problem is how to deal with Mesut Oezil. He plays very high up the pitch, making it difficult for a holding midfielder to track him, but then treating him as a withdrawn forward (and therefore the domain of the centre-backs) gives him space between the lines. Sergio Busquets has had a good tournament and is possibly the key player in that sense.

But the most important player is David Villa. Spain are far from a one-man team, but when you consider that of Spain’s six goals in the tournament, Villa has scored five and assisted the other, stopping him is clearly the most crucial feature of the game for Germany.

This has the potential to be a classic.

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