Netherlands 2-3 Germany: 3 talking points and Tactical Analysis
#2 Germans paralyze the Dutch in the midfield
It took a real masterstroke from Low to succeed in halting the Oranje midfield which has been nothing less than dominant ever since the trio of De Jong, Wijnaldum & De Roon joined forces.
Without a doubt, it is a herculean task to keep at bay, a team like the Netherlands which boasts numerous players who are exquisite on the ball. But it made complete sense for Low’s men that the main objective off-the-ball was to keep the midfield trio’s influence as minimal as possible.
The reason is simple; the entirety of attacking gameplay depends largely on the players who form the spine of the Netherlands. By spine, one would refer to players namely van Dijk, De Ligt, De Jong, Wijnaldum & Depay. If the verticality that connects these players together is cut-off then there are barely any alternate options for creativity.
So how did the Germans manage to pull this off? The first step was to ensure that the de Jong does not get into comfortable positions in the middle third from where he can progress the play into the final third.
So the front-three of Sane, Gnabry & Goretzka along with midfielders Kroos & Kimmich formed a compact pentagon-shaped pressing trap in the middle. If any Dutch player entered in between the five, there would be aggressive pressing to force him into an error or play the ball backwards.
The shape made it very difficult for the Oranje to penetrate through the middle and connect with Depay or Wijnaldum, forcing them out-wide to the full backs. Once either of full backs received the ball, they were immediately pressed by the corresponding German full back with support from one of the midfielders Kroos or Kimmich who would cut off nearby passing options.
There is a simple reason why it is easier to win the ball back closer to the touchline than from any other area on the pitch. When the opponent is on the ball close to the touchline, by default he has lesser space to move and the only direction he can move into is away from the touchline.
Similarly, even the passing options become limited for the same reason. Contrary to a situation where the player is on the ball in the middle of the pitch, he has 360 degrees to move into or to find a passing option.
In the words of Pep Guardiola,
“Touchline is the best defender in the world.”
Low’s men brilliantly misguided the Netherlands into playing the ball to their full back, applied high pressure and won the ball on numerous occasions. The Oranje were dispossessed about 17 times in the first half out of which 14 times were from the wide areas.