For so long, German teams were perceived as cohesive, diligent and supremely disciplined. But at the 2010 World Cup, that notion was obliterated, as a youthful team swept teams aside a host of nations with a stylish swagger. Four years on, they currently look like a team stuck in limbo between those two aforementioned philosophies.
Joachim Low’s team pass the ball with panache, for sure. But having lost Dortmund forward Marco Reus prior to the tournament, there is a sense that this German team is lacking an attacking edge to their play.
But without wanting to be clichéd, they’ve been very efficient and extremely tough to beat. They were given a scare by the counter-attacking prowess of Algeria in the Round of 16, but they eventually forced their way through to the quarter-finals, where they’ll take on a France team that have shown glimpses of real quality throughout this competition.
Here’s a full rundown of Low’s team ahead of their clash with Les Bleus, and a look at how they are likely to fare against Didier Deschamps’ progressing French outfit.
Likely Line-Up vs. France:
Editor’s note: The team selection was created before news was announced that Lahm may start in defense, instead.
What have they done well?
Primarily, kept the ball. In the metrenomic Toni Kroos, they have arguably the best playmaker remaining in the tournament, and a central midfield triumvirate of him, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm have proven extremely effective at preserving the German initiative in that area of the pitch.
Some of the movement between the front three has also been very pleasing on the eye. Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil are the men Low has chosen to spearhead the German attack, but with none of those players what you’d call a natural centre forward, they tend to roam about the pitch.
That makes it very hard for the opposition defenders to pin the German forwards down, and when these three get it right—like they did in their 4-0 hammering of Portugal in their tournament opener—they’re perilously difficult to contain.
Off the ball, the Germans have also been very industrious their work. They press high up the pitch with plenty of aggression, limiting the time afforded to the opposition players on the ball. Teams have tried to exploit this high line with some direct passing, but so far, sweeper-keeper extraordinaire Manuel Neuer has been able to prevent any major scares.
Which players have shone?
Typically, the German skipper Lahm has not put a foot wrong. After starring in a central midfield role for Bayern Munich throughout the course of the 2013/14 campaign, Low has utilised his broad skill-set in the heart of the pitch too. Lahm’s impeccable standards never seem to waver and whether as a full-back of a midfielder, his influence is irrepressible.
Muller has been Germany’s other star performer, leading the line with distinction. His performances have been bristling with endeavour, intelligence and a clinical edge in front of goal. He has the desirable trait of popping up with big goals for this Germany team and looking ahead, he’s the most likely of the front three to cause big problems for the French defence.
Where can they improve?
Germany must to be more penetrative in both their passing and in their off the ball movement.
Against Algeria, the Germans passed the ball around at a very slow tempo, making it easy for the Fennec Foxes to hassle them off it and spring dangerous counter-attacks. Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Kroos are all capable of knocking it round at a brisk pace, and they’ll need to do exactly that against a very powerful, physical and technically adept French midfield.
Off the ball, they need add a direct threat to compliment the abundance of intricate players that Low has at his disposal. Germany looked much more of an offensive threat when the raw pace of Andre Schurrle was introduced into the team against Algeria and the Chelsea man would give their attacking forays a lot more balance if he was to feature from the off.
The likes of Gotze and Oeil need to bring more to the table too. The latter in particular—while he was employed in an unfamiliar wide-forward role—looked utterly disinterested against Algeria. The Arsenal man saw a lot of the ball, but he was uncharacteristically profligate when he wandered into threatening areas.
Defensively there are also a few concerns. The German “full-backs” are centre-backs in earnest, meaning they find it difficult to provide ample attacking support, but their lack of genuine pace can be left horribly exposed by the high line Low has deployed so far.
What problems can they pose France?
Here’s how the two teams look set to line-up for the quarter-final:
Deschamps’ team have been very impressive in spells, but for periods against Ecuador and Nigeria—teams who play direct, reactionary style—they’ve looked very vulnerable. For that reason, Schurrle must start this one from the off. The Chelsea man can be a vital outlet for Low and he has the quality to catch expose the chinks we’ve seen in this French defence.
Midfield will also be vital. We’ve already touched upon the front-foot manner in which Les Blues operate in that particular area, and the German trio simply have to move the ball with a lot more purpose in that position. If they can play through the French press in midfield, then that’s where the likes of Muller and Ozil can utilise the space and make their mark. Yohan Cabaye sits deepest of the three midfielders in Deschamps’ system, and while he is an adept passer of the ball, his defensive instincts are not the best.
If Germany can find the right balance in their pressing and implementation of a high line, they are more than capable of sapping the impetus out of France’s game. They need to prevent Cabaye from dictating the tempo, restricting the amount of possession that comes into Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, who like to burst forward with the ball.