USA suffered their first loss of the World Cup as Germany handed them a 1-0 reverse in rain-soaked Recife. There was nothing intriguing about the match tactically, with Thomas Mueller’s only goal resulting from the USA momentarily switching off at a set-piece.
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann ditched his adventurous and much-favored diamond midfield and went for a defensive 4-1-4-1 with emphasis on congesting the central areas and attacking with width. Germany meanwhile had room to maneuver but coach Joachim Loew persisted with the same 4-3-3 with almost similar personnel. Loew went with Lukas Podolski as an alternate, more direct approach to his false nine approach to stifle the USA’s wide threat.
One big tactical aspect of the game was the utilization of the full-backs by both teams. While USA packed their midfield, even Clint Dempsey had more touches in the midfield than in the final third, their only outlet to break was the flanks. DaMarcus Beasley on the left had a tough job containing the interchanging Mesut Oezil and Thomas Mueller, and thus had little say going forward. While right-back Fabian Johnson had more adventure on his flank owing to Germany’s makeshift left-back Benedict Howedes’s frailties as a full-back and Podolski’s rigid positioning.
Howedes is a case in point as to why makeshift full-backs provide little security while going forward. He had more touches in the USA half, and carelessly moved infield with Podolski holding his wider position. Fabian Johnson had quite a few chances to break but his distribution and passing in transitions did not help.
On the other flank, Jerome Boateng turned in a solid shift, with the calming assurance of captain Philipp Lahm covering him. USA were a lesser threat down the left, a testament to Boateng’s performance.
Whenever teams line up in a 4-1-4-1 packed with midfield runners, the intent is always to shut shop. Germany had lots of possession, but they seemed to always play ahead of the USA midfield. A few occasions when they had clear scoring opportunities were when either the full-backs were caught making mistakes or when Germany played off the last line of the American defence.
Kyle Beckerman played almost as the third center-back, often shadowing Mueller and covering the red zone just ahead of the penalty box. Jermain Jones and Michael Bradley put in decent shifts, although both were quite lucky to not get booked for reckless defensive fouls. This conservative approach and an auxiliary defender in Beckerman meant that USA were fairly comfortable in repelling German attacks. But it was to prove detrimental as they had almost the entire second half to chase the game, and failed without much effort.
The following team shape shows how the USA played deep in midfield to congest space. Only the concession of the goal made them show some intent, as the advanced positioning of the substitutes Yedlin and Bedoya shows. A lack of intent was evident throughout, and it became all the more vivid when they chased the game in the second half with little incision in the final third.
Manuel Neuer provided perhaps the best example of sweeper-keepers being an extra man in the defence. Neuer had a fairly quiet game, having had to make no saves. His action areas show how far he sweeped to help out in US breaks from long balls. Both center-backs, Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker, played an unusually high defensive line, a show of trust in their goalkeeper.
Neuer’s decision-making was immense, and his composure showed signs of maturity. A year under Pep Guardiola has improved his passing, although he needs to work more on his hoofs.
The Recife rain meant that the game turned out to be slower than usual, but it provided Loew with quite a few pointers. The Podolski gamble was a small one, albeit unsuccessful. Miroslav Klose was brought on in the second half, a move which somewhat changed the dynamics. Germany had a aerial threat with Klose, and it was normal that all of Germany’s crossed key passes were in the second half, after Klose came in. Bastian Schweinsteiger, too, started his first game. His midfield interchanges with Toni Kroos looks a fine prospect, but it’s a shame that it has been affected so late into the competition.
A boring game by the standards of the competition so far, the conditions didn’t help either. Germany played in front of the USA all day long, with the little Mueller-Oezil combinations yielding no fruit. USA needed a draw to progress, and stacked up pretty defensively although they lost the game. It was a game where set-pieces were surprisingly poor given they were the possible routes to goal in the heavy rain, although the winner eventually arrived via a set-piece.