Julen Lopetegui’s Spain, travelled to Dusseldorf to face a German side currently ranked 1st in the world. In a showdown that was far from a ‘friendly’ match, both teams were fairly excellent in possession and both scored brilliant goals too. However there were several differences in their passing patterns, particularly with Spain, who played without recognised wingers. There were also differences in both teams’ pressing orientations but ultimately the score remained deadlocked because of crucial saves by David De Gea and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. The 1-1 scoreline however, reflected the equal strength of both teams although they both had the capacity to win the game.
Similar Approaches, Different Systems
It was quite obvious for everyone watching the game that both teams had highly skilled players who were all comfortable in possession. So the question coming in to this fixture, was which team would take the initiative(and risk) and take control, and which team would play a more passive role throughout the contest.
The initial stages of the game were very balanced, as both teams pressed high to prevent each other from playing out from the back, which saw possession switch hands quite regularly. In the 5th minute, Kimmich conceded a throw in under from pressure Jordi Alba; the left-back set-up Iniesta, who was unmarked, with a pass infield. Iniesta then played a brilliantly timed pass to Rodrigo who made a diagonal run that blindsided Mats Hummels, and scored with a first time shot. The early goal put the onus on Germany to attack more which changed the dynamic of the game before either side could settle down.
Joachim Low set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 system, which heavily relied on the technical ability and synergy between Muller, Ozil and Draxler. Hector and Kimmich would position themselves high and wide to provide width and depth in possession whilst the aforementioned 3 players would play in the interior channels, in behind Spain’s midfield line. Spain’s narrow 4-3-3 allowed them to overload central areas but it also meant that Hector and Kimmich would almost always have the time and space to receive passes from Kroos and Boateng respectively. As a result, the two fullbacks became instrumental to further advancing Germany’s attacks from their wide position’s.
Hector in particular played a key role on the left. The home side were fluid down the left hand side because of their inter-changeability which worked well against Spain’s space-oriented zonal marking. Spain’s low block was difficult to penetrate through, but when Germany settled in possession, they were often patient enough to circulate the ball in search for pockets of space in the final 3rd. They then aimed to cross the ball into the box from wide areas or combine in and around the box before playing through balls to runners in behind or taking shots from distance.
In the 34th minute Muller put the hosts back on level terms after a stunning long range strike. But he was only able to get that amount of space because of Germany’s fantastic movement.
In transition, Germany attempted to disrupt Spain’s build-up play using a combination of zonal and man-marking with mixed results. Their high press was man-oriented and so it was mostly successful when they timed their press according to certain pressing triggers(loose balls, bad receiving position). However, Spain being the masters they are at positional play managed to find a free man on most occasions which forced Germany to retreat and organise themselves in a mid-block structure.
Once they entered the middle 3rd, they looked to progress further using a series of short passing combinations, while they looked to switch play when a free man became available on the far side(just like in the image above).
A heatmap of both team’s positioning. Germany on the left, Spain on the right. Notice how busy Spain were on their left flank.
One of Spain’s major problems though, was their inability to use the full width of the pitch in advanced areas. This forced them to rely on Alba and Carvajal to provide width, which they weren’t always able to do. Had they had forward players running into deeper areas, they would’ve been able to pin back Germany’s fullbacks and create space in the half space or on the opposite side of the field. Instead, Silva and Isco often had to cut inside to look for a pass option. A solution to this problem would have been to start with a more direct player such as Marco Asensio or Lucas Vasquez. Both of these players are skilled in 1 on 1 situations and both have the pace to get past quick fullbacks. Because of their inability to manipulate the use of the wide areas, they found themselves playing a series of lateral and backwards passes throughout the match.
Second Half Adjustments
Germany’s mid-block structure was not only useful against a Spain side that lacked width in deeper areas but they also used it to transition into attack from good areas more effectively. Basically they weren’t effective enough in the first half when it came to creating chances(aside from a few instances when their patient build-up paid off). This was mostly down to Spain’s high pressing which thwarted their build-up play but it was also down to the fact that their slow decision-making didn’t allow them to take advantage of Spain’s disorganisation. Thus Germany would play directly into their forwards upon regaining possession.
Not only did they get the ball out of deep areas inside their own half where they were under pressure, but Timo Werner had more of an influence on the game too. He was often isolated in the first half and his pace had no effect when Spain were settled in a low-block. Germany looked to get the ball forward much faster and created several opportunities on the counter. A combination of David De Gea’s brilliance and Germany’s lack of incision were the two reasons that the hosts couldn’t get a goal to the lead again.
Spain’s structure and system remained the same despite their substitutions. Asensio, Vasquez and Diego Costa all came on without much impact. However, Spain continued to press high when they had access to the ball, allowing them to exploit Germany’s build-up.
At the end of the game it was both sides’ poor finishing in front of goal that prevented either of them from grabbing the winner. Germany did well to create more chances in the second half and Spain did well to maintain possession throughout the game however they should’ve had different solutions to Germany’s flexible defending. Joachim Low too could’ve started with a different player in the centre forward role as Timo Werner had little impact in the first half. It also would’ve given them a long passing option as they also struggled against Spain’s high pressing.