Germany booked their quarter-final place at this summer’s World Cup with a 2-1 victory over an outstanding Algeria side following extra-time. With the toll of extra-time expected to have an impact on Germany’s fitness, Joachim Löw’s side are being rather prematurely written off going into the clash with France on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
However, following France’s performances at the tournament thus far, there is one particularly area of weakness where Germany could find real joy.
Didier Deschamps has surprised a lot of people by avoiding selecting Manchester City right-back Bacary Sagna, with Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy his preferred choice. On the opposite side, Patrice Evra, the captain from the ill-fated 2010 campaign in South Africa, is preferred over the young Lucas Digne.
Both are impressive full-backs in their own right. However the 4-3-3 system, which Deschamps has looked to use in order to make full use of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi’s box-to-box capabilities, has had an adverse effect on the full-backs.
Yohan Cabaye has found himself positioned as a holding midfielder. Not a position he is fully comfortable in with the best aspects of his game fitting the role of a playmaker positioned further up the pitch, although with that being said Cabaye has still performed exceptionally. He is not however a naturally holding player. He does not cover the same areas a Sergio Busquets or a Javi Martinez does and thus the French full-backs are tucking in ever so slightly to offer him a bit more protection.
The 4-3-3 system in this case essentially becomes a 2-3-2-3 with there being a large amount of space on either flank for an opposing team to take advantage of. The clearest example of this tactical shift came in yesterday’s match with Nigeria.
Obviously aware of the physical threat Emmanuel Emenike provided, Debuchy and Evra tucked into a more central position to offer Cabaye a helping hand. This was clever as it prevented Emenike isolating one of the two central defenders. Ahmed Musa also struggled as the central area became more congested.
As previously mentioned however, there were almighty gaps on either flank but Nigeria just failed to exploit them on a regular basis. If your main attacking weapons consist of Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses and Emenike, it makes sense to use the full length of the wings, especially with Emenike becoming increasingly more isolated as the match wore on.
Musa and Moses only drifted into wide positions on a handful of occasions, and incidentally these were the African champions’ best chances. Emenike’s disallowed header in the first half was an example of Debuchy being caught out of position and there being a pocket of space on the right-hand-side.
Germany, despite not setting the tournament alight since their opening game against Portugal, will be insightful enough to make best use of France’s lack of attention to the wide areas.
If you look at the current German team, you have Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller all performing as fluid attackers. Muller is often stationed through the middle whilst Gotze and Ozil stick to one of the two flanks.
Whilst not blessed with the speed of the likes of Musa and Moses, Ozil and Gotze have the know how to take full advantage of situations. Ozil is wonderfully adept at finding space, which most others fail to see. He tends to drift into the slightest of gaps and then has enough speed about him to fully exploit the space. Gotze is the same.
With the match against France in mind, you do fear for Deschamps’ side defensively if Ozil and Gotze can take full advantage of the flanks. The danger is heightened even further when you consider Muller will be in the middle looking to continue his impressive goal-scoring form.
An option for Deschamps would be to play with a flat two up front, with Valbuena just playing off Benzema, which allows Morgan Schneiderlin to come back into the side in Giroud’s place and sit as part of a double-pivot alongside Cabaye. This would allow both full-backs to stay closer to the touchline and not leave such inviting gaps for the German attackers to exploit.
Conversely, this tactic would limit France’s effectiveness against the German’s weakness — the full-backs. With Löw struggling for natural full-backs, even with his insistence of positioning Philipp Lahm at the heart of midfield, Germany have been forced to use two naturally central defenders in the full-back roles.
This has caused Germany countless difficulties with the protection for Per Mertesacker’s lack of speed limited as a result. It all depends on whether France want to take the game to Germany and try and dominate, or be cautious and sure up their own weaknesses against what is still a premier European side.