Nothing as grand as the finale of the World Cup! While a certain diminutive Argentinian had dragged his team all the way to the final, the Germans had just steamrollered the hosts Brazil in the semi-finals by an appalling score line. Die Mannschaft emerged victorious in the final after extra time in which Mario Gotze assumed the role of hero with the winner on 114 minutes after coming on as a substitute. Germany and Argentina fought it out in an even match where Germany held the ball well while Argentina were resolute throughout the game. It was not particularly an attack versus defence strategy as the South Americans threatened well with their occasional forays forward. We take a look at the how the final unfurled.
Neuer // Lahm – Boateng – Hummels – Howedes // Kramer – Schweinsteiger – Muller // Kroos – Ozil – Klose
Romero // Zabaleta – Demichellis – Garay – Rojo // Perez – Mascherano – Biglia – Messi // Lavezzi // Higuain
Argentina’s defensive scheme and man orientations:
Argentina in their 4-4-1-1 shape looked to stay compact and press Germans within their own half. They did not completely fall back in a deep block and rather looked to press the pass receiver. With Higuain pressing Hummels and Boateng, Messi stayed free of much defensive burden throughout the match. Instead he was seen blocking pass lanes to the central midfielder (usually Kroos or Schweinsteiger) and directed play outwards.
The midfield four was the most interesting among Argentina’s strategies.
Mascherano and Biglia adopted heavily man oriented positions throughout the match. Biglia usually advanced towards the ball carrier on his side (Kroos) while Mascherano lagged behind a bit. Depending on how Germany aligned themselves, Biglia and Masch were staggered in their positioning and pressed on. The narrow distance between the Argentinian central midfielders meant that Germany could not have a clean progression at all times despite having Ozil roam about in those areas.
- Lavezzi and Enzo Perez were highly vital in covering for the advancing German full backs with Lavezzi especially having to deal with the advanced positioning of Howedes in many instances. The staggered positioning was contributed to at many times by these wingers as they were the instigators of the press. The trigger was usually a pass to a German full back and once they advanced down the wings, Perez or Lavezzi would press them with advancing momentum. This momentum would ensure that they guided the ball circulation towards the back. While this was not successful in all cases, the strategy worked out well to an extent and such situations resulted in back passes to Neuer.
- Also the staggered man orientations meant that the narrow nature of this Argentinian midfield four would make life hard for Germany to progress through. However due to the nature of their man orientations, this sometimes led to uncompact situations, especially in the half spaces as they struggled to stay tight horizontally. This in addition to the off the ball movements of Muller, Ozil and Kramer meant that Germany could exploit this. But the Argentinians had Mascherano and their defenders to anticipate well and nip the attacks before they could build into something dangerous. The two banks of four were quite narrow within themselves and this meant Germany did not have it all their way.
Germany’s structural adaptations:
The Germans played their usual 4-3-3 with Kroos and Schweinsteiger aiding in build-up and Kramer situated further up field. The first phase of build-up was quite solid Germany as they had both the afore-mentioned midfielders dropping down to create overloads if both Messi and Higuain were present. Howedes and Lahm acted as outlets away from the swamped midfield and their positioning was crucial in Germany’s advancing possession. With Biglia and Mascherano closely monitoring the midfielders the Germans sought to use this to their advantage and exploit the half spaces on either side of the Argentinian midfield pivot.
The key features of the German possession play were:
- Ozil and Muller were more of inside forwards and roamed in the half spaces. They looked to receive passes in between the lines and advance through the center. They had spaces to receive the ball but good reading of the game from the defenders meant that they had little time to do anything with the ball and translate their ball dominance into meaningful possession.
- Kramer was more of an advancing 8 before his injury and was involved in integrating play on the right wing. A typical situation would see Kramer link with Lahm and release Muller down the right half space so that he could link with Klose and use quick combinations to break the last line of defense.
- After Kramer’s injury, Schurrle was brought in and Ozil acted as the third midfielder. This withdrawal of Ozil meant that Schurrle was more of an outside player while Ozil could still command the half space due to the stability offered by the presence of Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Germany had good prgressions down the right wing with Muller’s off the ball movement proving key in his side’s dominance of the ball. However, due to the cramped nature of the Argentinian defensive setup, added with the excellent marshalling of their defense meant that Germnay could not tailor a lot of clear cut goal scoring opportunities.
Messi-centred attacks and counter attacking obviously:
Argentina relied on turnovers in possession and the quick release of the through ball to try and score. They created a few half chances but the Germans defended well and astutely to contain them. There was only one chance in the half where a under hit pass from Kroos fell in the path of Higuain who failed to hit the target. Messi was the chief creator for Argentina as he tried to unlock the German defense. The strategy was to drag the defenders towards him and release an overlapping Lavezzi or a team mate. Messi is Messi and he did well to create a few chances in the final third but the ploy was too simple to break open a tactically and technically sound German team who were holding a very high line. Due to this facet, Argentina were able to enjoy some freedom down the flanks on the back of turnovers but they did not lead to anything serious.
Another reason why the Albiceleste could find joy down the flanks was because of Lavezzi. The pacey winger was nimble with his feet and had space down the flanks to run at. Howedes sometimes drifted too narrow and did not meet the winger further up the field which meant he could build up momentum and run at the defense. It was also to be noted that Perez was not used as an outlet to counter and it was always either Lavezzi or Messi who were the focal points. The long balls down the line or frim the center were also effective as this helped Argentina break free of the counter press from the Germans. With Kroos, Kramer and Schweini well positioned and the advanced positioning of the fullbacks, Germany had a solid counter pressing struvture in place to regain possession of the ball when lost up field.
Second half formation change for Argentina shuts down the center:
With Germany increasingly gaining a foothold on the match, Alejandro Sabella ade a change at half time as he brought in Aguero in the place of Lavezzi. Though Lavezzi was effective as an outlet and integral in attack in the first half, the move was done in light of cramping the midfield further with the slotting in of Perez alongside Biglia with Masch as the dm.
The shift to a 4-4-2 diamond saw Messi move to CAM while Aguero and Higuain were up front. Perez and Biglia slotted onto either side of Mascherano and in defensive phases were seen in a very deep 4-3 block. Despite not seeing much of the ball in the first half, they did not resort to a deep block much. However after the change in formation, the 4-3block ensured that there was not much space for the German players to exploit in between the lines or in the half space. Sabella also looked to address the problem seen in the first half where there was insufficient coverage of area laterally and thus the half spaces being left exposed. By adopting this change in structure, the ball near half space was never left unattended by the Argentinian midfield.
The full backs were aggressive in their man marking once the ball reached the wings and this again led to a staggered structure. The three man narrow midfield block came in handy here as the ball near midfielder would automatically slot into the vacated space so that a half space runner from the German side could not capitalise. The simple yet effective tactic ensured that the Germans could not gain access to dangerous areas in the final third with time on the ball.
This tactic also made sure that the attacks were diverted to the wings and the Germans were quick to fall into that route. Defending is made easier in such circumstances and a localised density in coverage ensures that the team in possession cannot make threatening vertical progressions.
With no central occupancy in many such instances, Germany could not penetrate easily beyond Maascherano marshalling the midfield excellently. This also meant that the second balls were easily recovered at times by the Argentinians and Messi could initiate counter attacks. This is where Jerome Boateng’s game reading abilities came to the fore as he was immense for the german side with his anticipation. The defender was first to react in most situations and ensured that Argentina did not benefit from any turnover in possession. The second half led to more of the same as the Germans kept improvising in their play. Their defensive strategy was competent enough with more than competent individuals to contain Messi and co. Schurrle and Muller repeatedly tried to stretch the game. Lahm and Muller were major attacking outlets with Ozil drifting towards the right half space as the half wore on. This in turn meant that Argentina attacked majorly down their left when they had the chance to counter as their staggered structure allowed them to do so.
Extra time for Super Mario:
Extra time saw Germany and Argentina do more of the same. Argentina kept retreating further deep into a block and looked to see out the time. Germany took the impetus to keep knocking the door and were rewarded with an extra time goal from Gotze. Schurrle breaking down the left was able to cross for Gotze who managed to finish expertly. They were able to easily hold on to the lead and were deserved winners.
All in all it was a deserved victory for Germany. They were head and shoulders above all the other teams tactically and were a team of brilliantly talented individuals. The world champions were well and truly remarkable throughout the tournament with Toni Kroos being simply outstanding in midfield. Miroslav Klose broke the goal scoring record in World Cups while Thomas Muller once again had a fruitful World Cup. It was simply not to be for Lionel Messi who single-handedly took Argentina to the final. But it is not to be mistaken that the organisation of the Argentinian defense and midfield had no role to play in their run to the final. It was a fitting send off to Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger who bid farewells to their international careers after the triumph.