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A tactical review of Germany vs. Argentina
Tactics: Germany wins a tight World Cup final
How the two teams lined up

Team Lineups

Prior to kickoff, news broke that Sami Khedira sustained a calf injury in warmups. Joachim Low chose to replace him with Cristoph Kramer, a 23-year-old midfielder. Kramer only had four caps prior to the final, and Sunday was his first start for Germany. He was chosen because he was the most like-for-like replacement for Khedira in the squad. Low could have moved Phillip Lahm into the middle and Jerome Boateng to right back but that would have meant three last minute position changes. This move was less of a risk.

Germany kept their 4-3-3 system. Miroslav Klose once again started up top with Thomas Muller to the right and Mesut Ozil to the left. Bastian Schweinsteiger anchored the midfield with Toni Kroos and Kramer in front of him. The back four remained Lahm, Boateng, Mats Hummels and Benedikt Howedes.

Alejandro Sabella chose the same XI that started the semifinal against the Netherlands. However, the midfield organization was slightly changed. Enzo Perez started on the left with Ezequiel Lavezzi to the right and Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano in the center. Argentina were a true 4-4-2. Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain stayed high up the pitch against the high German line. The back four remained Marcos Rojo, Ezequiel Garay, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta. 

Argentina sat tight in the first half with two banks of four.

Argentina Dangerous on the Break

Argentina were happy to sit in two banks of four and allow Germany to pass the ball around in non-dangerous areas. They controlled the tempo and made the game slow; something Brazil could not do. Space between the lines was squeezed down. Pictured above, while the midfield four was happy to retreat space while the back four kept a higher line outside of the penalty area. Germany did not quite have enough space to break in behind but also were denied pockets in front of the defense. Also, Argentina conceded space out wide; only Phillip Lahm could hurt them in that area.

Germany had trouble slowing down Argentina on the break in the first half. Critical in this phase was Lavezzi. While he dropped off on the right in defense, he was tasked with sprinting alongside the front two to make it an attacking three. Argentina continued to be a right side dominant attack, as seen in the semifinal win over the Netherlands. Yet on Sunday, they created better chances. In the first ten minutes, Messi had a run past Hummels in the right channel and Zabaleta had an overlap down the right that resulted in cutback balls that were just cleared before reaching a target. In the 21st minute, Kroos played a careless back header that was straight to Higuain, who was slow to get back into play. The Napoli striker was through on goal and elected to let the ball bounce a few times before dragging it wide of Manuel Neuer’s right post. Half an hour in, Higuain had the ball in the net but he was offside. Messi was central and tracked tightly by Hummels. His pass found Lavezzi who had space after Howedes tucked into the space Hummels left. Lavezzi perfectly played in Higuain for a simple side foot finish but was carelessly offside. Lavezzi then stormed through the center to find Messi who nearly found Higuain but Schweinsteiger was back to intercept. Forty minutes in, Messi beat the offside trap and was in behind Hummels. He poked the ball under Neuer’s right hand but Boateng cleared before Lavezzi could score.

Injury Forces German Change

Khedira’s loss in the warmup seemed to be costly. His surging runs into the box provide a different option to the other German midfielders. Kramer drifted around the pitch hardly finding the ball. His movement was similar to Kroos who was on the left.

Then, he was struck in the head with a shoulder 17 minutes in. Clearly, he was concussed yet amazingly the trainers allowed him to play 14 more minutes before being subbed off. Low sent on Andre Schurrle to the left side moving Ozil to a number ten role. Germany were more of a 4-2-3-1. Finally, Germany looked dangerous. Lahm found Ozil at the top of the box and he set up Kroos to shoot a tame strike on Sergio Romero. Then Howedes hit the post from Kroos corner kick.

Halftime Sub Hurts Argentina

After looking so dangerous in the first half, it was shocking to see Sabella make a switch at the break. Sergio Aguero replaced Lavezzi. Sabella said afterward it was not an injury switch but one to provide more in attack. Argentina were now a 4-3-3. Biglia had a larger defensive task in shuttling out to the left to help Rojo deal with Lahm on the overlap.

Defensively, Argentina coped, but the change actually severely hurt their attack. Lavezzi provided the engine to their counter attacks, charging from deep and supplying Messi and Higuain with service. Now they were more predictable and had less of a link between midfield and attack. The front three hardly had a defensive role and the midfield three rarely got forward. Aguero and Higuain ran the channels while Messi stayed in the center in a slightly deeper position. Yet, Messi had a golden chance two minutes into the half that he dragged narrowly past the far post. Chances were few and far between in the second half compared to a back and forth first half. Germany started to come into the game. Schurrle and Lahm provided width on each flank which stretched Argentina to cover the wide areas. Also, the loss of Lavezzi turned Argentina into a midfield three. Biglia covered the left while Perez stayed central and they just conceded space to Howedes, not worrying about him on the overlap. 

Lahm was the Key man

Germany now had much more of the ball. Pictured above, Kroos and Schweinsteiger were looking for Lahm. He played like a central midfielder that happened to be shifted out wide. Lahm had the top three pass to combinations in the match: to Ozil, Boateng and Schweinsteiger. With all his possession he only played five crosses. His central midfield mentality was to play it short to Muller and Ozil and allow them to create instead of playing a low percentage cross. The only problem was the lack of chances. Germany was more calm on the ball and less vulnerable at the back but they hardly threatened Romero in goal.

Late Changes Make Big Impacts

Sabella was the first manager to make changes. He made two in the 78th and 86th minute. Rodrigo Palacio came on for Higuain and then Fernando Gago for Perez. Each change was like for like. Palacio brought fresh legs and better movement and Gago is better on the ball than Perez.

Low seemed content with the flow of the match and only elected to make one change: Mario Gotze for Klose in the 87th minute. Germany kept the same formation but Muller and Gotze constantly shifted between the center forward and right sided roles. Gotze immediately found space in the box on the end line, cut it back to an inside run of Schurrle that was saved by Romero. Argentina stormed down the other end but Aguero did not see Palacio in space to his left and lost the ball. It was disappointing to see Aguero lacking sharpness and possibly being less than 100%. He was not very refined on the ball and lacked his normal electric pace.

The match drifted into extra time and the pattern of the second half followed. Germany controlled the possession yet did not quite look like scoring. Finally, a chance was carved from a Rojo cross that was misjudged by Hummels. Palacio played it off his chest but it carried to close to Neuer and his lob over the keeper’s head went wide. It was yet another chance they would rue when Germany took the lead with seven minutes remaining. Schurrle broke past Mascherano down the left and drew Zabaleta. Clearly seen on the replay, Zabaleta points to Demichelis to pickup Gotze but the center back gets caught ball watching. The cross from Schurrle floated perfectly over the head of Demichelis to Gotze who controlled it on his chest and volleyed it with his left foot into the side netting. The final seven minutes saw a tired Argentina team trying to get numbers forward but not quite able to create a final chance.

Congrats to Germany

They were the best team in the tournament and deserve to be lauded. Their style of play has been positive. Manuel Neuer was a sensation playing a rarely seen sweeper keeper role. Bastian Schweinsteiger was the heart of the team; shirt dirty and eye bloodied at the final whistle. And most importantly they had the quality in the attacking third to always find ways to score goals. Thomas Muller stole the show early on scoring the goals but as the knockout stages progressed different players kept scoring making them a truly balanced team.

Argentina will be disappointed but proud. They had chances to score yet didn’t take them. They fought and defended well and were an experienced side, conceding in the knockout stages for the first time in the 113th minute in the final. Yet, they didn’t quite have enough going forward, failing to score in the final two matches they played.  

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