Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Germany made themselves look weak by mirroring Spain

Spain is more technically gifted than Germany in every position. To compensate, Germany tried to be very physical and mirror Spain by pressing high and passing quickly. I did not like their approach because it made them look weaker than they are.

Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann spoke before the game about how they would deal with 16-year-old right-winger Lamine Yamal:

[…] on the other hand, he doesn’t have much experience on this level when things don’t go his way or when the opponent tackles him a little bit stronger. This is not a plan where we want to hurt him or tackle him all the time. […] Lamine Yamal is excellent, very funny, and inexperienced.

The plan was to rough up the inexperienced players: Pedri, Lamine Yamal, and Nico Williams. Seven minutes into the game, Pedri was taken out of the game and tournament by Toni Kroos, reportedly suffering an “internal lateral sprain” of his left knee. Germany watched too many Copa America games.

I think one of the reasons Robert Andrich and Maximilian Mittelstädt did not start was partly due to this plan to press high, go hard into tackles with the inexperienced players, and collect yellow cards. Good or bad, that is the calculated move a club manager would make, not an international team manager.

An international manager acts more like Luis de la Fuente; he puts out his best eleven players regardless of what the opposition is doing. A club manager is more calculated, like Julian Nagelsmann; he carefully plans out each substitute for the tactic and game state. He saved Robert Andrich, Maximilian Mittelstädt, and Florian Wirtz for the second half.

Figure 1.1 - Germany presses high when Spain tries to pass out from the back, with right-back Joshua Kimmich and right center-back Antonio Rüdiger.

This is not the normal Spanish team we have grown accustomed to watching. They aren’t afraid to shoot on sight and look in a rush to score; rather, in the past, Spanish teams took their time. That lends well to how Germany played because you couldn’t spend very long on the ball without getting hacked down.

Nagelsmann stated as such:

Spain always tries to press high to force turnovers and win the ball high up the pitch. That’s a quality they have gained, it’s no longer just tiki-taka. There are many good approaches to defending a lot of possessions. But we also want to have the ball ourselves. That’s always more pleasant, and that’s the idea for tomorrow. We will not succeed in doing that in 90 minutes. There will be phases in which we want to attack and make life difficult for them.

On Rodri, Nagelsmann said:

He won’t be able to play every ball without pressure.

You started to see Lamine Yamal give in to that pressure by dribbling less than he would normally, but that faster play is contagious. When Germany won back the ball, they in turn tried to mimic Spain by playing fast.

Figure 2.1 - Spain pressures Germany high and wins back the ball as Germany tries to quickly work the ball through the middle.

Germany normally plays slowly in the buildup, not super quick, and then they attack the channels. They counter-press, but they don’t press super high, they always have sufficient numbers behind the ball. For most of the game, especially in the first half, they tried to play more like Spain.

It is not fighting fire with fire; it is trying to remix a platinum record. It is like bringing a boxer to fight a skilled martial artist at martial arts. The advantage will be with Spain if you try to beat them at their own game.

It did not unsettle Spain because they have too much quality. It opened more space for Spain in transition to attack and in the penalty area for Moratta. When they lost the ball, it placed Germany on the back foot. They gave up possession unnecessarily when they tried to pass quicker.

It made them look weaker because when they play their game, the battle is more even, like in the second half when they brought on Robert Andrich, Maximilian Mittelstädt, Niclas Füllkrug, and Florian Wirtz. Germany is stronger and taller, but Spain is more technically gifted and faster. Play to your strengths, not the opponent’s.

Germany only seemed likely to score once they were bailed out by Spain’s lack of planning with their substitutions. Spain bet on the fact that they could score and then hold the lead when they subbed off Lamine Yamal, Alvaro Morata, and Nico Williams. They were never going to go the full 90 minutes, but to switch to a front three made up of Dani Olmo on the left-wing, Mikel Oyarzabel up-top, and Ferran Torres at right-wing made little sense in regards to scoring or maintaining possession. Oyarzabel is not a center forward. Balance was restored in extra-time when Joselu was brought on up-top, moving Oyarzabel out of the center-forward position.

I like when teams play their own game; I like when there is a clear plan, but in a knockout game, at the club or international level, I don’t like when the quality of the starting lineup is sacrificed to accommodate a plan to mirror the opponent. That is the move of an antagonist.

Match: Spain 2-1 Germany, 5 June 2024

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