The November women’s football international break brought us a massive matchup of England vs Germany. Both teams narrowly lost during the knockout stages of this summer’s Women’s World Cup. The match brought both nations an opportunity to engage in improvements in tactics as well as assert themselves on the international stage.
Through analysis, we can see that Germany quickly took control and kept England on their heels throughout the rest of the match. This tactical analysis will analyse and elaborate on exactly how that was accomplished.
Team notes and line up
England entered the match looking to redirect their current run of form into a more positive direction. England have won a single match since their 2-1 loss against the United States in the World Cup semi-finals.
Germany, on the other hand, have won every match since being eliminated in the World Cup quarter-finals. They have won their last four matches by a combined score of 31-0.
England (4-3-3): Earps; Bronze; Houghton; Williamson; Greenwood; Scott; Walsh; Nobbs; Parris; White; Mead
Germany (4-3-3): Frohms; Hendrich; Doorsoun; Oberdorf; Kleinherne; Marozsán; Däbritz; Magull; Starke; Popp; Bühl
Germany press disrupts England
Germany entered the match with the goal of not allowing England clean offensive progression through the midfield. England typically builds out of the back and Germany wanted to make sure it was not an easy task for the home team.
Upon England defenders gaining possession of the ball, Germany would initiate a player to player marking scheme. The German team would allow the England centre-backs to possess the ball and prioritized covering central passing options. When the ball was played to an English outside back, the German press would begin.
The ball-near German winger would immediately close down the English outside back. As this pressuring movement occurred, nearby German players would mark any forward passing options. The German striker (Alexandra Popp) had the crucial task of holding a position to eliminate three English players as sideways and backwards passing options.
As we can see in the thirteenth minute, England have possession of the ball in their defensive third. England would like to progress up the field cleanly through their midfield players, who have dropped to give angles of support.
Germany have already pushed upfield as a unit and begin imposing their player to player marking scheme. The ball is played centrally to dropping English central midfielder Keira Walsh. Germany offer light pressure from behind Walsh to create just enough discomfort for her to pass the ball to left-back Alex Greenwood.
Before the ball has been passed to Greenwood, the Germans have already positioned themselves to effectively press the English unit. As we can see below, Popp is holding a position that maintains two cover shadows (blue triangles). Popp can also quickly close down English left centre-back Leah Williamson if necessary. Through her positioning, Popp has eliminated three players as passing options.
As the ball travels to Greenwood, the line of three German players behind Popp initiate immediate and intense pressure. This takes away any nearby forward passing options. As these players pressure all immediate forward passing options, Popp maintains her position and cuts off three angles of retreat.
This leaves Greenwood with the only safe option of passing the ball down the line. Germany, who have anticipated this pass, are already in a position to smother it. As the ball travels up the line, a German midfielder pressures the new English ball carrier from behind. This leads to a loss of English possession.
This was the typical scene of English possession in the opening stages of the match. The Germans were well prepared to suffocate any attempt of English progression through the lines. England struggled to enter the attacking third of the pitch.
Germany: Overload to Isolate
Throughout the match, Germany sought to create overloads in certain areas of the pitch to create space to attack in other areas. Germany sought to drag England out of their defensive shape and then quickly strike the newly vulnerable openings.
By concentrating players on the flank and playing a string of short passes, Germany set traps to draw in the English unit. In these moments, Germany would not strive to advance the ball but to maintain possession close enough to the England goal to create a threat. Germany would slowly bring players to the flank to create a threat of forward penetration.
Germany’s real objective was to open up space centrally, directly in front of the English defensive line. Germany’s overloading of the flank, slowly drew in pressure from the English midfielders. As soon as enough space had been opened in front of the English line, the Germans would quickly move the ball into dangerous space. This tactic led to the first goal of the match.
Below we can see that Germany have progressed to the right flank on the attacking third of the field. At this moment the English back four are centrally located and there are four more English players directly in front of the back four to block central access. The three German players exchange passes to maintain possession of the ball on the edge of the English box.
Germany has not progressed the ball any further upfield, but as the passes are exchanged, two more German players join in on the right flank. This prompts three of the four English midfielders to slide over to disrupt the German possession. Below, we now see that England has their defensive line occupying the box and only one midfielder directly in front.
Germany’s intention is to move the ball into the space in front of the English line, to create a chance on goal. A German midfielder recognizes that there is still one English midfielder in this space and slides across the front of the English defensive line. This movement draws the lone central English midfielder away from the space in front of the defensive line.
The moment the central space has been vacated by English midfielders, the Germans stop circulating the ball on the flank and immediately play the ball into the box. On the blind side of the English unit, is a lurking German attacker. She quietly occupies the newly opened space directly in the middle of the English box. This sequence of play leads to Germany’s first goal of the game.
By overloading one side of the field and circulating possession, Germany were able to draw English players away from critical areas in the attacking third. This calculated tactic helped to open dangerous space for the Germans to create chances on goal.
England play direct
The first twenty minutes showed us a match that Germany was in clear control of. Phil Neville had to make a change if he wanted to keep the Lionesses in the game. This came in the form of employing a more direct attacking tactic.
When the German’s pressed upfield, their backline could be exposed by clever attacking movements. We begun to see these movements when English defenders held control of the ball. Forward English players would attempt to create space for themselves to receive.
If space could be created, the entire German press could be bypassed with a well-placed long pass. We saw an excellent example of this in the twenty-third minute.
English central defenders have possession of the ball in the middle third of the pitch. As usual, the Germans are waiting for possession to cycle to an outside back to engage their press. Until that occurs, the Germans unit restricts central passing options to the English midfielders.
Recognizing that clean midfield progression is unlikely in this moment, English winger Nikita Parris, drops into the midfield area. Because German players have been tasked with a player to player marking system, Germany’s right back Sophia Kleinherne, closely follows Parris. We see Parris dropping in from the left in the image below.
As Parris drops into space, she has created a large amount of potential attacking space behind her. English centre-back Steph Houghton recognizes this upfield movement. As soon as Parris stops her dropping movement, Houghton launches the ball forward into space for Parris to run onto.
Parris who has the advantage of initiating the situation as opposed to reacting to it is already one step ahead of Kleinherne. Parris receives the ball and dangerous space and is able to dribble into the German box.
England continued to a predominantly direct approach for the remainder of the match. This led to mixed results and can not easily be called successful.
In the end, this match will be seen as a failure by the Lionesses. England never truly seemed comfortable or able to fully assert themselves. Germany dictated the match not necessarily through dominant tactics, but by constantly disrupting England.
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