Germany 1 (6) x (5) 1 Italy — QF — Euro 2016
Germany changes the fomation.
After watching Italy’s victory over Spain, coach Joachim Löw chose to change his formation to mirror Italy's. So, he chose to put both Howedes and Kimmich on the pitch. Previously, both were options for the right-back position. Against Italy, the first was used as the right CB, and the second as a right-wingback. The goal here was to have players in a better position to occupy the Italian wingbacks, which caused many problems for the spanish in the previous match. So Hector and Kimmich, the Germans wingbacks, clashed with Florenzi and De Sciglio, the Italian ones.
The great Italian loss in terms of personnel was Daniele De Rossi, out injured. Sturaro entered the team with Parolo becoming the anchor in midfield.
With both teams similar in formation, the difference was in the attitude. Germany learned from Spain that too much pressure on Italy only creates the space the italians want. Therefore, when Italy tried to pass from the back, the Muller, Gomez and Ozil positioned themselves so as to block passes towards the Italian midfielders. Germany only pressed when the ball reached a midfielder or wingback. Thus, Italy just kept exchanging passes between their defenders in the area in front of their goal, unable to carry the ball forward, except with long balls.
Italy, meanwhile, tried to press strongly when the ball was with Neuer, denying him of passing options. This created a good chance for Italy in the initial moments of the game. Peculiarly, the italians were so keen on pressing and the germans so keen on passing from the back that Manuel Neuer lingered unusually long on goal kicks, waiting for some team-mates to get unmarked. Sometimes, however, Neuer was forced to go long.
When, at great cost, Germany was able to get the ball forward, Italy would retreat its lines, with a line of five men in defense, and the other five men (3 midfielders and two forwards) very close, shuffling sideways according to the ball position. Thus, the German possession was concentrated in the area in front of the midfield line with the defenders, who passed the ball to each other, from one side to the other, trying to get around the Italian lines. However, the Italian positioning meant Germany wasn't going to get into the danger zones so easily.
Teams cancel each other out
Due to their coaches intelligence, both teams were able to work well to reduce the impact of their opponents' strength. This led to a tense match, and a great tactical battle.
The italian wingbacks, who had plenty of space against Spain, this time had to deal with direct opponents in the form of Germany’s own wingbacks. Hector and Kimmich advanced and pushed Florenzi and De Sciglio into defense, and were able to better track them down without the ball.
Another Italian strategy that didn’t work as well in this game was using Pellè as the main outball. Against Spain, he found plenty of space between the lines, moving in sinergy with Éder to cause problem to the two Spanish defenders. The use of three defenders here facilitated marking Pellè, and the fact that Germany did press so hastily meant less space between the lines for the italian centre-forward.
Despite having the ball more, Germany was also unable to penetrate Italy’s penalty box as they would like. With the middle of field so congested and playing with wingbacks, Germany tried to find the goal by shuffling the ball across the pitch up on wide areas, and then seeking to cross in the area for Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller. However, this was in fact exactly what Italy wanted, as their three defenders are very good in the air. The only cross that actually worked was the one from Hummels which resulted in a disallowed goal from Schweinsteiger who had commited a foul before heading in. Most of the wing play were through the right, with Kimmich, but his end product was poor.
Italy’s most interesting player was Giaccherini. With the wingbacks occupied, and without De Rossi in the midfield, the player with the most dynamic positioning was Giaccherini. Positioned on the left of midfield, he would advance to become a third forward on the left, pressing Howedes and killing Germany spare man. His workrate at the beginning of the game caused two ball recoveries in Germany defence that created good goalscoring chances.
The Italian team usually played through the left, mainly for Giaccherini presence. Generally, his closest marker was Schweinsteiger. The German captain has great technique and strength, but is not 100% physically, giving room for Giaccherini to beat him using his energy. The Italian made several vertical runs, starting from deep position while marked by Schweinsteiger and then joining the offensive line as a surprise element, without the Germany able to follow him. This oscillation between midfield and attack was the main problem source for Germany in the game. On one occasion, Kimmich failed to form the offside trap, allowing Giaccherini through, giving him an enourmous opportunity that was wasted.
Germany scores in Italian fashion
The pattern repeated throughout the game: Germany had more of the ball but was denied space in the box, and Italy didn’t had many that many opportunities to counterattack, but was somewhat more dangerous, especially with Giaccherini’s movement. Ironically, the goal that opened the score happened on a play that resembled more the Italian way than Germany’s. Italy pressed high so effectively that Neuer was forced to go long. Mario Gomez challenged for the ball and lost it, but the ball ended up with Ozil, who passed to Gomez on the left. He took the ball forward, and waited for Hector overlap inside. He played a perfect pass to the german left wingback, who crossed back to Ozil, who scored.
The goalkeeper playing longballs; old-fashioned centerforward as a aerial target and passer; wing penetration and midfielder runs into attack were all more Italian features than German. Neuer in place of Buffon, Gomez for Pellè Hector for Florenzi and Ozil for Giaccherini. This showed how Germany has more variety and is dangerous in more ways than Spain. They can play the patient game, but can also go direct if needed.
Soon after the game, Germany had its best moments in the game. They tried to stifle any Italy possible reaction by scoring the second right away. It almost worked: Gomez had another clear chance, beating Italy’s offside line to have a 1v1 against Buffon which ended in a heel kick deflected by the italian goalkeeper. It could have been the goal that would have ended the game.
Italy improves by going right
After the goal and the German blitz that followed, Italy began to recover. An interesting change was how they shifted the attack side. Until then, most of the Italian offensive plays were on the left. When they were behind, Eder began to appear more, by running the channels on the right. This change seemed to surprise Germany, which struggled to fend off attacks on that side. Boateng was forced to give a corner there, and in the subsequent attack, a cross from the right resulted in a penalty with a great Boateng contribution, who jumped with arms open in the area. The goal can be attributed to an individual error, but was also the result of a change in style of play by the Italian team, that the Germans were not expecting.
A very even game that took 9 penalties for each side to determine the semifinalist. Tactically, the two coaches did their homework and their teams worked very well to neutralize each others strength. Despite the Italian team having less stellar players, Germany was forced to change its stablished formation to face Italy, which is a testament to the strength of the team led by Antonio Conte. He was able to level the playing field against the current world champion, who had the same coach for 10 years. Conte will now take over Chelsea, leaving Italy’s future uncertain.
An interesting feature of the game was as how the ball spent so much time with the defenders. The three Italian defenders and the three Germans actively participated in the playmaking of their teams. This shows the current need for defenders with passing skills.
The game was very well played, tense, and incredibly balanced. A lesson in well played and well thought-out football.