Germany go into Saturday’s quarter-final clash against Argentina as the underdogs. Despite their 4-1 win over rivals England, Germany will still be looked at as second best compared to Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
Argentina’s form so far during the World Cup has been sensational, and the goals from the albiceleste have been flowing. Diego Maradona has his side playing controlled, attacking football, while also being responsible defensively.
At the back, Argentina essentially play four center-halves. Otamendi and Heinze at the full-back position are natural center-halves, which means that they rarely make any forward runs, and focus more on being strong defensively. This is tactically astute from Maradona, because with Di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez playing wide further up the pitch, there will be little tracking back from either of them and so Otamendi and Heinze’s defensive mindset is crucial in Argentina remaining solid in defense.
In midfield, Argentina will play a diamond formation that includes captain Javier Mascherano in the anchorman role, Di Maria and Rodriguez playing wide, and Lionel Messi playing behind the strikers. Mascherano rarely ventures 20 yards away from the backline, and so plays a pivotal role in breaking up opposition attacks and distributing the ball to more attack-minded players. Di Maria and Rodriguez out-wide will look to control the midfield will possession passing and play balls into Lionel Messi, as well as cross into the box for Gonzalo Higuain. While they lack the pace of traditional wingers, their creativity is key in Argentina’s midfield.
Up front is where Argentina are most dangerous. Lionel Messi, the World Player of the year winner last year, is virtually unplayable. The only problem Messi is having during this tournament is that all the shots that end up in the back of the net for Messi at his club side FC Barcelona, have been just a scratch under-par so far. Despite that, he’s been able to create as much for his team in place of his goals. Ahead of Messi, there is Carlos Tevez, who’s workrate and bulldog-like approach to a match has the ability to unsettle any of the world’s best defenses. He is also one of the great finishers in the game, and despite his size, can be quite handy in the air as well. His combination-play with Messi makes him an asset to the side’s attack. And then, Gonzalo Higuain. The targetman in Argentina’s attack is excellent in the air, and he can hold the ball up and play it into the feet of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez to devastating effect.
Now that we’ve looked at Argentina, how does Germany beat them?
Because Otamendi and Heinze play so defensively and rarely make forward runs to support the midfield, Podolski and Mueller out-wide for Germany will have a hard time running in behind them. While this at first may look a problem, it could work in Germany’s favour. Mueller and Podolski, now, would be able to cut in and either craft out an opportunity for Miroslav Klose or Mesut Ozil who will play centrally for Germany, or look for a shot themselves. Argentina’s center-halves are also not the sturdiest, and will probably be even easier to beat for pace than England’s were.
If Germany can control the midfield, they can control the game. It’s been said time and again, but it could never be more true than when it is applied to this match. Khedira and Schweinsteiger will be pivotal in Germany’s chances. If they can stifle the creativity of Lionel Messi, and essentially mark him out of the game, Argentina’s attacking moves will suffer a considerable blow. Schweinsteiger’s dynamism and movement from a deep position just ahead of the defense and then into an attacking position supporting Mesut Ozil means that Germany can quickly convert defense, where they will be marking the likes of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, into attack in an instant.
At the back, Mertesacker’s size will most likely rule out any high balls into the box from the Argentines into Gonzalo Higuain. Argentina will look to play short, quick passes through the defense and slice Germany open along the floor. Messi and Tevez have the speed and dribbling ability to be able to pull it off, but if Khedira can drop back and support Friedrich and Mertesacker, who are not the fastest center-halves, then Germany may be able to contain them. Lahm and Boateng will be essential at the back for Germany as well, because their pace will allow them to cope with Messi and Tevez a lot better than Friedrich and Mertesacker will be able to.
Both sides have concerns at the back, and I believe it will all come down to which side finishes their chances, and which side can remain stable at the back. Penalties are a real possibility in this tie.
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