Ger­man Defen­sive Frail­ties Exposed in Last-Minute Victory

Ger­man Defen­sive Frail­ties Exposed in Last-Minute Victory

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Ger­many kept their heads above water in Group F with a 2 – 1 win over Swe­den, but it has become clear that this side is cur­rent­ly a shad­ow of the 2014 ver­sion of Die Mannschaft that tast­ed vic­to­ry in Brazil. Our expert ana­lyst from the EFL inves­ti­gates how, in par­tic­u­lar, the Ger­man defence has become a major weak­ness of the defend­ing champions.

What good is pos­ses­sion if you don’t use the ball?

Our Sports­code out­put win­dow shows that Ger­many lacked a cut­ting edge to their game as despite hav­ing 72.4% pos­ses­sion and com­plet­ing a whop­ping 454 more pass­es, they only man­aged 7% more suc­cess­ful penal­ty area entries than the Swedish across the match. 

Ger­many also held the ball on aver­age 6.9 sec­onds longer per pos­ses­sion and com­plet­ed more side­ways pass­es than for­ward pass­es, as they con­tin­u­al­ly looked to attack from wide areas — more on this soon.

Swe­den oper­at­ed with 27.6% of the ball, but put their oppo­nents under pres­sure with quick tran­si­tions and counter attacks from deep. 

Toivonen’s goal for Swe­den arrived on the 31min mark as an unchar­ac­ter­is­tic Toni Kroos mis­take in mid­field was con­vert­ed into a goal after fan­tas­tic pass by Vik­tor Claesson.

Germany's dominant possession statistics can be seen here in our Sportscode output window.

Do the Ger­mans have a weak­ness in defence? 

As dom­i­nant as Ger­many were with the ball in tow, they lacked sta­bil­i­ty at the back. 

To be spe­cif­ic, Germany’s tran­si­tions from attack to defense were often too slow and the wide expan­sive shape they adopt­ed in pos­ses­sion meant their full­backs had to trav­el huge dis­tances to get back into their defen­sive shape. 

Per­haps, more wor­ry­ing­ly was the way both cen­tre-backs were sus­cep­ti­ble to mis­takes and giv­ing away fouls.

Jerome Boateng and Anto­nio Rudi­ger were the two worst on show in terms of defen­sive duels won in the match. With Rudi­ger los­ing 3 of 4 defen­sive duels in the match and Boateng los­ing 4 of 6.

Germany’s cen­tre back pair­ing also both com­mit­ted two fouls each, which was joint sec­ond across all play­ers, with Boateng receiv­ing his march­ing orders for a sec­ond yel­low in the 81st minute.

A con­cern­ing defen­sive per­for­mance from a team that prides itself on effi­cien­cy and structure.

The width of Germany's attacking shape and potential space in the wide areas to be exploited on the counter can be seen here.

Which areas did Ger­many attempt to use all of this ball in?

It was clear from the way Ger­many built their play through the defen­sive and mid­field thirds that they would offer a seri­ous threat in wide areas. 

With no Swedish press to con­tend with, the Ger­man back four of their 4 – 2-3 – 1 for­ma­tion would soon resem­ble a back 3, as full­backs Hec­tor and Kim­mich looked to push on and one of the cen­tral mid­field­ers, Rudy ini­tial­ly and lat­er Kroos, would drop in to support. 

Germany's back four was often a back two plus one holding midfielder as both fullbacks pressed forward in possession. Sweden opted for a low block, which held firm until Kroos' late winner.

This tac­tic is sim­i­lar to Spain’s tac­tic against Por­tu­gal, where a hold­ing mid­field­er such as Bus­quets would drop into the vacant full­back posi­tion and attempt draw a mid­field­er out of shape to open up the pass­ing lane for cen­tre back to play direct to the front man. 

Boateng has a direct pass to the front man courtesy of a Swedish midfielder being pulled out of position.

The desire of Ger­many to attack from wide areas can again be attrib­uted to the 45 total cross­es they attempt­ed in the match. 

In com­par­i­son, Swe­den man­aged only 9. Kim­mich had 13 of his own.

Per­haps it wasn’t too sur­pris­ing that Germany’s equal­iz­er, which occurred with­in min­utes of the sec­ond half start­ing, came via a left sided cross from cen­ter for­ward Wern­er oper­at­ing on the wing.

Crossing statistics displaying Germany's reliance on width in attack.
Moments before Werner crossed for Germany's opener.

Do Jogi Low’s sub­sti­tu­tions show a lack of tac­ti­cal flexibility?

Despite Boateng’s poor night at the office becom­ing com­plete with a send­ing off in the 81st minute, Ger­many con­tin­ued to push forward.

Min­utes after the send­ing off, Low sub­sti­tut­ed left back Hec­tor for attack­ing winger Julian Brandt, leav­ing his side with just 2 out-right defend­ers on the pitch in Rudi­ger and Kimmich. 

While Ger­many have fall­en behind at almost the exact same moment in their first two match­es, Jogi Löw’s solu­tion has been to throw more attack­ers onto the field to force a goal. This could eas­i­ly come back to haunt him when com­ing up against faster or more tal­ent­ed sides.

Let’s take a look at Low’s sub­sti­tu­tions made over the first two games:

Against Mex­i­co:

60’ — Mar­co Reus for Sami Khedi­ra
79’ — Mario Gomez for Mar­vin Plat­ten­hardt
86’ — Julian Brandt for Timo Werner

Against Swe­den:

31’ — Ilkay Gün­do­gan for Sebas­t­ian Rudy
46’ — Mario Gomez for Julian Draxler
87’ — Julian Brandt for Jonas Hector

South Korea will sure­ly be look­ing at this pat­tern and Germany’s over­ly offen­sive tac­tics won­der­ing how they can pun­ish them on the break with speedy attack­ers such as Son Heung-Min.

Seven men up top left Germany susceptible to the counter with only two men in defence in the later stages of the match.

Post-match review

Dom­i­nance in sta­tis­tics show that Ger­many deserved this vic­to­ry, but emo­tion of vic­to­ry in the last-minute is like­ly mask­ing defen­sive short­com­ings that will be exposed by bet­ter teams than Sweden.

With Germany’s tac­tic now obvi­ous to dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion in every game they play at this World Cup, they’re going to have to adjust to teams play­ing on the counter. If they can’t solve this prob­lem, it doesn’t mat­ter if they man­age to qual­i­fy for the knock­out rounds. They won’t lift the tro­phy at the end of the tour­na­ment with per­for­mances such as this.

Swe­den bat­tled hard and were very close to secur­ing a point, but they lack the pace of teams that Ger­many will face up to lat­er in the tour­na­ment should they progress.

It will be inter­est­ing to see how Low sets up shop against the added pace of a South Korea side that are guar­an­teed to attack giv­en they must win by a con­sid­er­able mar­gin to stay in the tournament.