Germany v Spain was likely one of the most interesting games in the last few weeks. Both teams tried to play with the ball and had similar principles but different approaches in creating overloads and finding ways to break through the opponent´s defence. Joachim Löw developed his team over the last years from a World Cup winning team which was capable of finding solutions with the ball but also playing on the counter into a team which dominates the other team regularly and is able to open space against a deep defensive block constantly.
Löw implemented a style of play influenced by Pep Guardiola and the Spanish national team. Last Friday those teams with the same principles met each other and played a phenomenal game. While watching the game some situations caught my eye which I want to analyse in this piece.
Toni Kroos or the art of breaking the lines with pure game intelligence
Toni Kroos is clearly one of the best midfielders in the world. As a Bayern Munich supporter, it is a shame that my club wasn’t truly convinced of the potential Toni Kroos possesses. In the German national team, he is currently responsible for the build-up together with Boateng and Hummels. Quite often he moves deeper in the left halfspace, along with Hummels, Boateng and the other central midfielder this creates a diamond shape during the build-up phase.
One of the most important principles of the positional play is the breaking of the opponent´s lines. There are several ways to break through a line of the opponent. Toni Kroos possesses one rare gift. His first touch along with his intelligence gives him the possibility to unbalance defenders and therefore attack spaces behind them.
This situation illustrates Kroos game intelligence perfectly. Germany attacked through the left side with Hector. However, Hector had to stop the attack and played a pass back to Kroos. Silva tried to press Kroos by quickly moving out of position. Kroos identified that the movement of Silva was too fast. By using a quick body feint Kroos unbalanced Silva and got access to the grey marked space.
A few details are important which separates Kroos from other midfielders. First of all, Kroos not only identify that hole in the defence and the movement of Silva, he truly provoked that mistake by Silva. Kroos touched the ball first with his right foot and his body position indicated a switch to the other side. As a result, Silva pressured towards Kroos right side in order to stop a switch and force him to the wing. But Kroos recognized the space which Silva offered him. Therefore, he pushed the ball with his second touch towards his left side and could dribble around Silva in the open space.
This scene shows that it is important for a midfielder to be aware of the possibilities to continue the passing game, but also to realize the dynamic of some situations and having the skill to unbalance players to force them out of position in order to attack open space.
The Spain principles
Spain´s way to play football was and still is the blueprint for many other countries and clubs. Against Germany, those principles were observable on a regular basis. The most important concept is to find the free man. Preferable between the opponent´s lines because there, the free man can cause the most damage.
To find the free player you need a well-structured, possession game. Therefore, it is important to occupy the spaces between the lines. Here Koke carried the ball while Silva and Iniesta were positioned between the lines. However, the structure in this situation was not perfect, but Koke still played the pass to Silva who dribbled towards his own goal in order to pull Kroos out of position.
Spain´s players usually adjust their position according to the structure of the opponent and the location of the ball.
Silva´s dribbling created a better passing angle for the Manchester City player. The difference between Spain and other teams is that Silva searches the player who is far away to play a flat pass. Silva´s pass to Iniesta created pressure. Khedira and Müller tried to press Iniesta. Those movements of the German players opened the space for Thiago who received a direct lay-off pass from Iniesta and got pressed by Müller immediately.
However, the creating of pressure and the use of the third man gave Thiago enough time to flick the ball to Jordi Alba who had time and space.
Germany was able to close the space around Alba, consequently, Spain had to switch to the other side again. By relocating the attack, Spain moved the opponent to find space. Another crucial principle was observable when the central defenders passed the ball to the midfield. Spain usually uses short passes which do not create an immediate gain of space but draw the opponent out of position. Because of the short passes, they invite the opponent to press which opens space between the lines or on the far side. Spain´s objective is to reach this space which they opened through their short passes which seem senseless for many fans. Spain is so good in using those tools because all players have understood the underlying principles of their actions.
- Finding the free man
- Using the third man concept
- Invite the opponent to press
- Move the opponent in order to find space and the free man
This short piece is just a collection of thoughts about those to scenes. The game offered so many scenes, which could serve as an example for certain principles and behaviours on the pitch. The main difference between those two teams was their respective approach in the passing game about whom you can read in the Match Analysis of Moses Kalinda on ESDF Analysis.