Spain v Germany: Loew’s tactics against Spain’s skill

Joachim Loew has transformed Germany into potent attacking force

This is one for both the purists and the neutrals. Spain are the best team in the world at passing, possession, and controlling the ball. Germany are the best team in the world at counter-attacking with pace and efficiency, seeming to control the game without dominating possession. German coach Joachim Loew has displayed a master-class of tactical soccer while Spain’s Vicente del Bosque has struggled to get the most out of his unholy wealth of talent. Its the third straight match-up for Germany against a squad that seems to be less than the sum of its parts, but the one key difference is that Spain’s midfield strength and creativity will deny the Germans easy turnovers and transition opportunities. As much as it pains me to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel giggling in the stands, I hope Loew’s transformation of Germany into a flowing attacking force is rewarded with a spot in the finals.

Spain’s five attacking players are the envy of the world – Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, and Fernando Torres. Its hard to imagine a country for which any of those individual players would not start. Their technical ability and precision passing is second to none – as a team, their pass completion rate is 80%, the best in the tournament (USA was at 67%) – and Spain holds the ball for nearly 60% of the game. But they have struggled to turn those passes into goals, scoring only six in five matches.

Two key problems have held Spain back:  star striker Torres is not fit and well below par and they have too many players occupying the same part of the field doing the same things. Xavi and Iniesta combine beautifully in Barcelona’s midfield playing in front of fellow Spain starter Sergi Busquets. But throw in Alonso, another excellent passer but a player who sits rather deep and rarely scores goals, and that midfield starts to get crowded. Its also very narrow. That has forced the strikers to often pull out wide to create enough space for them to run at defenders. Villa has succeeded at attacking from the left, but Torres has not had any joy coming from either side as he is just coming back from knee surgery. The solution to Spain’s problems are right there on the bench – drop Alonso and Torres and insert wide players David Silva and Jesus Navas. The width would add a different attacking dimension for the German defense to worry about, open space for Xavi and Iniesta in the middle, and allow Villa to vary his game and receive the ball from wide or up the middle. It would take a brave manager to drop those two stars, but that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

Joachim Loew, along with former head man Jurgen Klinsman, have transformed Germany into a dominant force again based on a strategic approach designed to create space in attack and provide cover in defense. Add in Loew’s sophisticated tactics aimed at exploiting the weaknesses of each opponent, and he has recreated a German juggernaut from a squad many deemed inadequate to the task. The less-fancied Germans players have flourished because they emphasize creating space, as Loew “wants to see players getting into space and asking for the ball. This makes the game more fluid and dynamic.” His methods may seem simple – divide the field into 18 rectangles and position the players in those rectangles to ensure there is space to run into in attack and critical positions are always covered in defense – but they have worked to perfection. When he matches them with his tactical approach to each opponent – against England, it was draw John Terry out (see first goal) and narrow the pitch; against Argentina, exploit their lack of creative midfielder and attack the fullbacks – it has proven unstoppable.

Its not hard to imagine Loew’s tactics against Spain – narrow the pitch and attack the full backs. As discussed above, Spain is already very narrow through the middle and much of the width comes from their full backs, particularly Sergio Ramos on the right and left back Juan Capdivilla is Spain’s weakest defender. There will be plenty of space in behind Ramos and Capdivilla will have to have his best game of the tournament. Germany will miss the suspended Thomas Mueller on the right, but you might see Mesut Ozil pull out wide to take advantage of Spain’s full backs.

The old saying goes that soccer is a game played by 22 men and in the end, the Germans win. I don’t want the Germans to win the World Cup again as I would very much like to see a new team, be it Spain or the Netherlands, lift the trophy for the first time. I also don’t like seeing Angela Merkel happy, as she seems to be doing her best to keep the rest of the world in economic peril as the Germans march on. But I would very much like to see Joachim Loew rewarded for turning the stodgy Germans into a team everyone loves to watch. If the Germans can be a dynamic, attacking force, anyone can; even Italy.

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