Messi or Mascherano: Who is more important to Argentina?

Argentina takes on Germany in Rio’s Estadio do Maracana in the final of the World Cup later tonight. A lot of the talks surround Argentina’s captain and star player Lionel Messi and the role played by him in Argentina’s progress to the title clash. But equally important in Argentina’s superlative World Cup has been midfield lynchpin Javier Mascherano. Here is a terse, short tactical analysis on which of the two is more important to Argentina against a Germany side that is not lacking in confidence, and goals too.

Messi has been Argentina’s chief goalscorer as well as creative threat in the World Cup so far. A feature of all Argentina matches has been the heavy man-marking of captain Messi. Group stage games involving Argentina had an almost recurring theme: teams sat deep, overloaded Messi’s zone in the hole and denied space to Messi. While the knockout rounds have seen Messi being a bit more closely attended (the reason being his outrageous ability to provide a spark even at his worst). The games against Switzerland and Netherlands saw two players employed to crowd Messi in option-pressing setups.

Argentina has so far failed to take advantage of having a numbers’ advantage in other parts of the pitch primarily due to a lack of a proper ball-playing, deep-lying playmaker. Javier Mascherano has carried the burden to some extent, while Fernando Gago’s lack of form sees him not even being included in the starting XI’s of the last two games.Mascherano has been an inspired presence, and like Messi, will be equally key to Argentina’s chances against a free-scoring Germany.

What to do against Germany?

Germany switched to a conventional, textbook 4-2-3-1 after the R16 match against Algeria exposed their need to be defensively more sound. Germany’s 4-2-3-1 has a nice balance about it, and perfectly fits in coach Joachim Loew’s proactive style. Toni Kroos leads the aggressive pressing from the front as the highest of the three midfielders, while Sami Khedira’s high energy has provided Thomas Mueller with little to do in the way of pressing and more with making those runs behind the defence. Mueller’s work-rate means that he also makes lateral runs to cover the space freed up by Miroslav Klose’s frequent movement into deep areas.

MASCHERANO V NETHERLANDS: COVERING THE CENTRAL ZONE BETWEEN THE TWO CENTER BACKS.

MASCHERANO V NETHERLANDS: COVERING THE CENTRAL ZONE BETWEEN THE TWO CENTER BACKS.

Argentina’s concern should be more about holding their lines against Germany’s right flank. Marcos Rojo is not the most attack-minded left-back, but plays in an area where Germany could create maximum overloads. Khedira has often been seen playing box-to-box unlike Schweinsteiger on the left side who is a more measured influence. Khedira’s positioning could mean Argentina could be in a 1 vs 3 on their left (if Angel di Maria starts), if the left center back Garay is occupied by Klose. That’s where Mascherano could be a key for Argentina, although he could also be run ragged.

MASCHERANO V BELGIUM: ACTION AREAS TOWARDS THE LEFT FLANK.

MASCHERANO V BELGIUM: ACTION AREAS TOWARDS THE LEFT FLANK.

Mascherano’s influence on the pitch has mostly been around the Argentine right and center. The only time he had more action around the left was against Belgium, where he had to cover against the threat of Eden Hazard after Argentina went ahead early. Hazard was kept quiet all game (although he switched flanks often).

Messi

MESSI AGAINST NETHERLANDS: HEAVY MARKING MEANT THAT HE HAD ZERO (0) TOUCHES IN THE NETHERLANDS BOX.

MESSI AGAINST NETHERLANDS: HEAVY MARKING MEANT THAT HE HAD ZERO (0) TOUCHES IN THE NETHERLANDS BOX.

Messi is unlikely to find a direct rival tonight. Germany normally do not play man marking, although we could see Schweinsteiger in a more cynical, defensive role than what we have seen till now. Messi has been the key man for Argentina, and the significance of his influence has increased even more after Angel di Maria’s early injury-induced departure against Belgium. He had Nigel de Jong acting as a man-marker against Netherlands, and Georginio Wijnaldum as the ball-recycler. His influence was negated, and Argentina failed to create clear goalscoring chances.

MASCHERANO'S PASSING AGAINST SWITZERLAND: 94% ACCURACY.

MASCHERANO’S PASSING AGAINST SWITZERLAND: 94% ACCURACY.

If Germany decide on putting a man against Messi, Argentina will sense an advantage. Javier Mascherano has profited from teams sitting back and not committing players forward as seen by his brilliant passing stats. He was always known for his anticipation and tackling efficiency, and has so far delivered on his reputation. A man on Messi will mean Germany will need one more player to recycle the ball and stay within distance of Messi’s marker. The obvious options for the two roles are Schweinsteiger and Khedira, which makes it easier for Mascherano. This limits Khedira to a dirtier role, and subsequently decreases his overall presence in the attacking third.

Conclusion

Germany are in an obvious dilemma whether to go for stopping Messi or use their area of strength against Argentina. Going for the first means that Javier Mascherano could use histtime and space on the ball to release the quick wide men, while going for the other means that Germany are left short of men whenever Messi receives the ball in quick transitions.

Mascherano and Messi are the most important cogs in the Argentina machine. None is more important than the other, but Messi’s elusivity means that he remains the greater threat to Germany. Both will have to perform at their absolute best if Argentina are to have any chance of lifting their third World Cup.

*Stats and maps courtesy of Squawka.

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Brazil 1-7 Germany: Game over in 30 minutes

(Muller 11′, Klose 23′, Kroos 24′, 26′, Khedira 29′, Schuerrle 69′, 79’/Oscar 90′)

Hosts Brazil were handed out a stark reminder of their current state of affairs as a far-from-perfect Germany team played out the perfect 90 minutes of World Cup football to win 7-1 on an unforgettable night in Belo Horizonte. The game was effectively over in a goal-laden 20-minute spell in the first half which saw Germany quickly scoring five goals and all but sealing the win.

Brazil and coach Luis Felipe Scolari had much to ponder over replacing the injured Neymar, and he went with local boy Bernard. The team setup remained the customary 4-2-3-1, and the approach was largely expected to be similar. Dante replaced the suspended captain Thiago Silva, as Maicon once again started ahead of Dani Alves.

STARTING XI

STARTING XI

Germany named an unchanged XI from their quarter-final win over France, as Miroslav Klose looked to usurp Ronaldo’s record of 15 World Cup goals. He remained the only survivor from the last time both teams met at the World Cup, in the 2002 Final. Germany were a loose 4-2-3-1, with Thomas Mueller expected to make lateral as well as vertical movements behind the Brazil defence.

Energetic Brazil start

BRAZIL PASSING FIRST TWENTY MINUTES: DIRECT PLAY, WITH LOTS OF LONG BALLS.

BRAZIL PASSING FIRST TWENTY MINUTES: DIRECT PLAY, WITH LOTS OF LONG BALLS.

Brazil actually had the better of the initial play, and had Germany firmly on the backfoot for the opening 10 minutes. They had the early possession and tempo, and had much of the run of play. Brazil’s plan was to force Germany into making mistakes early on with aggressive pressing and higher positioning, a plan that had taken Brazil so far, but Germany weren’t panicky, and played the ball out of the back with ease. Full-backs Marcelo and Maicon were playing as auxiliary wingers, creating overloads on the wings. Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho took turns at becoming the third center-back with David Luiz’s occasional rush of bloods and the high positioning of the full-backs.

DAVID LUIZ BEFORE 0-2: TOO MANY LONG BALLS, WITHOUT MUCH SUCCESS.

DAVID LUIZ BEFORE 0-2: TOO MANY LONG BALLS, WITHOUT MUCH SUCCESS.

Brazil were so intent on attacking early on that they had little to no control of the game. They passed the ball out to the wings as quickly as they could, and the early tactic of overlapping full-backs playing quick one-twos barely produced an end-product. David Luiz was even more direct; his long diagonal balls from the back exposed a flaw in the German defence, but Luiz was erratic enough and Germany were intelligent enough to convert this into Brazil’s advantage. Luiz’s raking balls behind the German back-line were dealt with easily after the initial hiccup.

Germany counter-attack and the early goal

OSCAR PASSES RECEIVED: 11TH TO 23RD MINUTE.

OSCAR PASSES RECEIVED: 11TH TO 23RD MINUTE.

Germany were remarkably calm despite the initial Brazil pressure, and showed their technical prowess in passing the ball out of tight areas. Brazil’s early impetus played into Germany’s hands, and they counter-attacked with much poise. Germany under Joachim Loew has thrived as a  brilliant counter-attacking side with newer designs focusing more on possession-play and control of the game. Last night proved that Germany remain an eternally enjoyable counter-attacking side, as they relished the gaping holes in the central areas.

MUELLER PASSES RECEIVED: IN THE ACRES OF SPACE ON BRAZIL'S LEFT

MUELLER PASSES RECEIVED: IN THE ACRES OF SPACE ON BRAZIL’S LEFT

Germany’s early goal meant that they could draw Brazil forward more, and exploit the spaces left behind. It was the perfect scenario for the Germans, and they fully merited the final scoreline. Mueller and Oezil had plenty of space to run into, even Klose stuck tight to Luiz in the early exchanges. Brazil were focused more on the wide areas, and were reluctant to play the game through Oscar, their chief creative man. Oscar received very few passes in the opening period, as Brazil passed up the chance to have more control with Oscar not pulling strings.

Brazil’s gaping hole on the left

GERMANY ALL ATTACKING THIRD PASSES TILL THE 30TH MINUTE: VERY RIGHT-SIDED.

GERMANY ALL ATTACKING THIRD PASSES TILL THE 30TH MINUTE: VERY RIGHT-SIDED.

Thomas Mueller was offered too much freedom on the right. It was Brazil’s most susceptible zone throughout the match, and wasn’t at all helped by Marcelo’s ill-advised forays into the Germany defensive third. Hulk offered surprisingly little defensively, as Germany basically ran rings around Brazil. A look at Germany’s attacking third passes till the 30th minute tells the story; they found the obvious weak zone in Brazil’s defence and exploited it to the fullest.

EVENT: GERMANY ASSISTS

EVENT: GERMANY ASSISTS

Two of the goals came from simple Philipp Lahm square balls from the right, and showed how defunct Brazil’s defence was. Germany simply had more ideas on the ball once they took the lead.

 

 

Game over

The match was effectively over once Germany scored four goals in 400 seconds, and it was left to just witness the sorry faces in the crowd. Brazil showed some fight in the second half by changing their shape and having more bodies in midfield. Fernandinho was taken off for Paulinho while Ramires came on for Hulk. Brazil shifted Oscar to the right, and consequently, had more physical presence about their midfield. Manuel Neuer was near unbreachable, and Germany closed out the game with two late Schuerrle goals. Brazil, too, had a scant solace with Oscar’s 90th minute goal.

Conclusion

An extraordinary game, there wasn’t much in the game tactically once Germany were in cruise control. Brazil were left to rue their overly attacking approach without any end-product, while Germany profited from Brazil playing into their hands. Germany had lots of space down the middle as Brazil focused more on width, and all their goals came from simple and intelligent attacking as well as basic mistakes from Brazil. Miroslav Klose’s 16th World Cup goal to better Ronaldo’s eight-year-old record was one of the many significant statistics from the game.

* Stats and maps from Squawka and FourFourTwo Stats Zone.

 

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Netherlands 2-1 Mexico: Game-changer Robben

Netherlands produced a comeback for the ages as they overcame Mexico in steamy hot Fortaleza. Mexico deservedly took the lead only to be denied by two late Dutch goals, a penalty included, to come away with a heartbreaking defeat. The game was slow and ponderous, with both teams intent on preserving energy in the heat. Mexico were the better side before they scored, and it was all Netherlands after the first goal.

STARTING LINEUPS

STARTING LINEUPS

Louis Van Gaal persisted with his now-preferred 3-5-2 with intentions of providing more room for attackers Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben and handed veteran Dirk Kuyt his 100th international cap. Paul Verhaegh was a new face, and Georginio Wijnaldum was preferred over Jonathan de Guzman in the midfield. Mexico’s Miguel Hererra made a first change in the tournament as the suspended holding midfielder Juan Vazquez was replaced by the experienced Carlos Salcido. Mexico lined up in their preferred 3-5-2 with emphasis on attacking through the wider areas.

Fresh impressions and game plans on tackling the heat

Both teams have been revelations in the tournament so far, and had clear tactical impressions about them. The Dutch preferred defensive cover over control as evident by their fixations with a three-man defence. While Mexico had been more proactive with intelligent pressing and defending from the front being a key aspect of their play. But both Van Gaal and Hererra had to abandon their favored approaches in light of the baking conditions as well as being a bit more pragmatic given the enormity of the occasion.

The Dutch were surprisingly on the lookout for a more controlled, possession-based game. The early removal of Nigel de Jong wasn’t helpful, as the Dutch had to readjust tactically with one of their key players out. Daley Blind started as a left-sided center-back beside left wing-back Kuyt; he was moved back primarily to help sweep and start attacks from the back, given his range of passing. But the De Jong-induced tactical rethink moved Blind to a more central area, just behind Wijnaldum and Sneijder.

BLIND PASSING: VERY ONE-DIMENSIONAL

BLIND PASSING: VERY ONE-DIMENSIONAL

Blind is a kind of player who relishes space and has an eye for the defence-splitting pass. His central holding role handicapped him, and given Mexico’s movement in between the lines, he struggled off the ball and had little time on it. Whatever he did was only passing sideways to Wijnaldum or Sneijder. The early tactical rethink virtually took Netherlands’ attacking outlet from the back off the game.

Mexico had more time on the ball and space behind the Dutch midfield. They curbed their aggressive pressing instincts, probably in a bid to save energy and perhaps more so because the Dutch weren’t particularly effective with the ball. Mexico had no problems dealing with the isolated threats of Van Persie and Robben, and had more incision going forward. Left wing-back Miguel Layun was particularly lively; this shows how Mexico played around the Dutch with relative ease.

Dirk Kuyt and his unconventional role

Dirk Kuyt was deployed as a wing-back, a move that made sense given his work-rate and attacking instincts. But Kuyt offered little as an attacking outlet. He summed up Netherlands’ difficulties in creating meaningful opportunities. Kuyt played on the left to start with, and was shifted to the right after Van Gaal looked to push forward at 0-1 down. Kuyt put in a solid shift, but he offered little to nothing as a full-back with his clumsy touches and one-dimensional play. Although he pegged back Mexico’s wing-backs, his advanced positioning meant that Giovani dos Santos and the impressive Hector Hererra always found space behind him. It was all before the Mexico goal, a point up to which Kuyt was pretty ordinary.

KUYT FULL MATCH: ALL OVER THE PITCH

KUYT FULL MATCH: ALL OVER THE PITCH

He was full of running as his action areas show, but offered surprisingly little end product. On the left, Kuyt was almost always looking to cut back and shift inside, a move that played well into Mexico’s hands. His 1 out of 5 successful crosses meant that he was virtually ineffective. His passing into key areas was poor too; Kuyt only completed 1 of his attempted 8 passes into the final third.

Mexico sitting back after scoring

DUTCH MIDFIELD (LEFT) V MEXICO MIDFIELD (RIGHT) BEFORE THE MEXICO GOAL: MEXICO IN POCKETS OF SPACE BETWEEN THE LINES. 6 SHOTS AND 4 CHANCES CREATED.

DUTCH MIDFIELD (LEFT) V MEXICO MIDFIELD (RIGHT) BEFORE THE MEXICO GOAL: MEXICO IN POCKETS OF SPACE BETWEEN THE LINES. 6 SHOTS AND 4 CHANCES CREATED.

Mexico dominated before scoring. Their three midfielders, Hererra, Guardado and Dos Santos played intelligently off the technically weak Dutch defence and in the pockets of space behind Netherlands’ midfield. Netherlands didn’t have a destroyer in De Jong’s mold, and the trio of Sneijder, Wijnaldum and Blind left spaces behind whenever they forayed forward. Rafael Marquez also had too much control as he picked up the advanced midfielders with ease behind the Dutch trio.

MEXICO ACTION AREAS: BEFORE 1-0 (LEFT) AND AFTER 1-0 (RIGHT)

MEXICO ACTION AREAS: BEFORE 1-0 (LEFT) AND AFTER 1-0 (RIGHT)

Mexico scored with the run of play early in the second half and immediately resorted to sitting back. The propensity to defend in numbers was understandable given how the Dutch have managed to rip up open defences in the past, but it was a case of being too much cautious and abandoning control. They made 4 defensive clearances before their goal, and 22 after. Mexico were fairly open before their goal, and the difference in the approaches before and after the Mexican goal is vivid in the following heat maps.

Special Arjen Robben

Netherlands quickly changed shape after conceding, a change which moved Robben to a more right-sided role, with substitute Memphis Depay on the right. This rejig from Van Gaal was almost game-changing; Robben had the tasty prospect of debutant Diego Reyes on Mexico’s left, and he had the better of him throughout the rest of the match. Kuyt, who was shifted to the right, occupied Paul Aguilar and was always on the lookout for Robben on his side whenever he received the ball.

It was widely expected that moments of individual brilliance could decide the result in the searing heat, and Robben aptly provided them. Robben was all-action in the last half hour; he won 5 out of 6 take-ons, had 11 crosses into the box out of which 2 were key passes, created 4 scoring chances and had a shot saved by Gullermo Ochoa. He even won the penalty that decided the match. Robben’s genius is undeniable, and he once again proved to be the big difference.

Conclusion

Netherlands were pretty average for most parts of the game; they only came to their elements after falling behind. As for Mexico, little bit more positivity after taking the lead could’ve been the difference in a game decided by the fine margins of a penalty kick winner in stoppage time. The Dutch were flexible enough to tactically reorganize twice, and were good value for their win.

 

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Brazil 1-1 Chile (3-2 PSO): Chile’s masterclass ends in tears

Brazil sneaked past Chile on penalties in a highly entertaining and intense game in the heat of Belo Horizonte. It was a tactical feast with both teams canceling each other out and penalties were needed to determine the winner.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari persisted with his preferred 4-2-3-1, only Fernandinho replacing Paulinho in the starting XI. Top-scorer Neymar was expected to play in his free role ahead of the midfield in between the lines, while the more workmanlike Hulk and the less-flashy Oscar flanked him. Their was an air of strangeness to the Brazilian setup, a theme of the tournament so far with the attack and defence looking like strangers on occasions.

STARTING LINEUPS

STARTING LINEUPS

Chile’s excellent World Cup campaign so far had much to thank coach Jorge Sampaoli for; the Argentine’s tactical tweaks meant that he had another bagful ready for the hosts. Chile lined up in their usual 3-4-3, with the half-fit Gary Medel forming the defensive rock along with Gato Silva and Gonzalo Jara. Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas were expected to play their wide forward roles, with the returning Arturo Vidal expected to link the back with the front.

The intensity

BRAZIL'S LEFT FLANK UP UNTIL THE GOAL: HIGH DENSITY RESULTING FROM THE INITIAL PRESSURE AND INTENSITY IN THEIR TARGET AREA

BRAZIL’S LEFT FLANK UP UNTIL THE GOAL: HIGH DENSITY RESULTING FROM THE INITIAL PRESSURE AND INTENSITY IN THEIR TARGET AREA

Brazil knew what they were up against; Chile’s tactical blueprint in the World Cup revolved around their aggressive pressing and reacting immediately to opposition errors. Brazil started flat out, and were all over Chile right from the start. Chile’s success in the tournament so far owed much to their right flank, and Brazil did excellently to target that zone right from kick-off.

Hulk, Neymar, Luiz Gustavo and Marcelo were all over the Chilean right-sided trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla and right-sided center-back Gato Silva. Hulk and Neymar were particularly menacing; they closed down space, pressed aggressively off the ball and attacked relentlessly with it. Luiz Gustavo often found himself quite wide owing to Hulk doing the dirty work on Sanchez; the winger often doubling up on Sanchez with Marcelo.

Brazil’s fluid shape and Chile’s readjustments

VIDAL ACTION AREAS TILL THE 18th MINUTE: DROPPING DEEP BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL AND HELPING OUT THE OVERRUN BACKLINE

VIDAL ACTION AREAS TILL THE 18th MINUTE: DROPPING DEEP BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL AND HELPING OUT THE OVERRUN BACKLINE

Chile’s ploy of using three center-backs to deal with Brazil’s lone striker Fred came as a surprise, but it was actually to have a spare man against the deep runs of Neymar. Scolari had the tactical nous to brilliantly take advantage of this Chilean predictability. Fred dropped deep, taking with him his shadow center-back Gary Medel, which freed up space for Neymar to make runs behind the Chile defence. Neymar was often the most advanced Brazilian attacker, and Chile had to make quite a few readjustments after surviving the initial onslaught.

FRED ACTION AREAS BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL: VERY DEEP FOR A TARGET MAN

FRED ACTION AREAS BEFORE THE BRAZIL GOAL: VERY DEEP FOR A TARGET MAN

Arturo Vidal was assigned to play link up with the two forwards, Sanchez and Vargas, but had to quickly shift to a deeper role to cover for a lack of bodies at the back. Vidal got involved in breaking play, and intelligently tried slowing the game up with a more cynical approach (drawing simple fouls and tactically felling opponents). This was all before the Brazilian goal, after which Brazil reverted to type and sat off inviting the Chileans on.

Chile follow suit

As Brazil sat back after scoring their first goal, Chile had the time to force their game on the Brazilians. Chile’s hallmark has been their defending from the front and pressing, and their goal arrived just the same way. Brazil sat back after their goal, and the unexpected Sanchez goal meant that they failed to recover much in its wake. Chile continued their intensity, and had quite a few chances to take the lead.

Chile’s high pressing meant that they were on tight ropes at the back; they afforded Brazil spaces at the back only to be saved by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Though they were tactically astute, Chile made basic mistakes at the back and were lucky to get out of jail quite a few times.

The goals

Although Brazil’s highly purposeful and intense start merited a goal, their goal came via a set-piece. Chile’s lack of height was exposed, so too was a pitfall of man marking at set-pieces. Man marking is considered to be safer in many quarters due to the markers affording little room for their attackers. Chile with shorter players got stuck in between, and the age-old problem of defenders switching off to the second balls came back to haunt the them. Thiago Silva was more proactive in getting a nod to the first ball, and Gonzalo Jara, marking David Luiz, failed to react quickly to avert the danger. Another mistake by Jara was letting Luiz stay goalside while marking.

Chile’s goal came via their much-preferred right flank, and through their favored high pressing. Chile were growing into the game as Brazil slowed down, and a mistake from a Marcelo throw-in opened up Eduardo Vargas who squared for Sanchez to poke home. A classic Chile goal, even though Brazil had much say about it.

Substitutions

Brazil’s substitutions were like-for-like, and had more to do with personnel rather than altering the overall shape. Their game revolved around the individual abilities of the forwards, and the changes were basically made to bring on fresher legs. Fred’s ineptitude as the lone striker prompted his removal, but Jo was no good either. While Ramires for Fernandinho was expected given Fernandinho’s little contribution, the Willian for Oscar move provided a more energetic approach in the dying embers of  the game. Brazil’s lack of tactical flexibility was evident, as they searched for the winner without any alternative plan.

DAVID LUIZ'S HIGHLY INACCURATE LONG PASSING: BRAZIL RESORTED TO ROUTE ONE AS THE TANKS EMPTIED

DAVID LUIZ’S HIGHLY INACCURATE LONG PASSING: BRAZIL RESORTED TO ROUTE ONE AS THE TANKS EMPTIED

Chile’s substitutions were bold, and Jorge Sampaoli showed his tactical flexibility by not being afraid to take off his trump cards as the game headed for extra-time. The first big change was bringing on Felipe Gutierrez for Vargas, a change that allowed Chile to have more presence in the middle. This stretched Brazil and they resorted to sweeping long balls with the big void between attack and defence.

Chile’s other change was bringing on Mauricio Pinilla for Vidal, a change that almost won the game for them. Sanchez dropped deep and Pinilla played on the shoulders of the Brazilian defence as target man, a change in approach which was understandable given the tiredness of the players and the propensity to play long balls.

Conclusion

Penalty shootouts are harsh for the losing team, but Chile showed immense tactical adaptability even after falling behind early on. Brazil’s plan remained the same: start quickly off the blocks and pressurize the opponent into making mistakes, and score early. But a lack of plan B for the home side could cost them dear in the latter stages. A very entertaining, open match but one that petered out as invention gave way to tired legs.

 

*Stats and maps via Squawka and FourFourTwo StatsZone

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: USA 0-1 Germany: Defensive Americans

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.

STARTING LINEUPS

STARTING LINEUPS

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.

Full-backs

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 V FABIAN: HOW THE GERMAN PLAYED ALL ACROSS GERMANY'S LEFT FLANK

FABIAN (LEFT) V HOWEDES (RIGHT): HOW THE GERMAN PLAYED ALL ACROSS GERMANY’S LEFT FLANK, WITH MORE TOUCHES IN THE USA HALF

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.

USA conservative

USA DEFENSIVE DASHBOARD: HOW EASILY THEY REPELLED GERMAN ATTACKS (GREEN COLORED SYMBOLS INDICATE SUCCESS)

USA DEFENSIVE DASHBOARD: HOW EASILY THEY REPELLED GERMAN ATTACKS (GREEN COLORED SYMBOLS INDICATE SUCCESS)

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.

USA 2ND HALF FINAL THIRD PASSES: VERY LITTLE SUCCESS; SHOWED HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS TO CHANGE APPROACH

USA 2ND HALF FINAL THIRD PASSES: VERY LITTLE SUCCESS; SHOWED HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS TO CHANGE APPROACH

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.

USA TEAM SHAPE THROUGHOUT: VERY DEEP AND CROWDED

USA TEAM SHAPE THROUGHOUT: VERY DEEP AND CROWDED

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.

Neuer sweeping

NEUER ACTION AREAS: TOO HIGH FOR A GOALKEEPER?

NEUER ACTION AREAS: TOO HIGH FOR A GOALKEEPER?

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 PASSING: LOTS OF SHORT PASSES, VERY UNPRODUCTIVE WHEN LONG

NEUER PASSING: LOTS OF SHORT PASSES, VERY UNPRODUCTIVE WHEN LONG

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.

Germany experimenting

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.

Conclusion

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.

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica: The perfect plan executed

Costa Rica defeated South American champions Uruguay 3-1 in Fortaleza in one of the big upsets at the 2014 World Cup. The North Americans’ counter-attacks at pace and Uruguay’s ineffective supply line made for an engrossing match, as the game was marked by quite a few mistakes.

URUGUAY XI

URUGUAY XI

Oscar Tabarez had to make do without the injured Luis Suarez as Uruguay lined up in their familiar 4-3-3. Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan formed a fearsome attack on paper, one that expected to be supplied well by the two Christians, Stuani and Rodriguez, from the flanks. The experienced center-back pairing of captain Diego Lugano and Diego Godin formed the backbone of a four-man defense with the full-backs, Maxi Pereira and Martin Caceres, expected to overlap and contribute more on the offensive.

COSTA RICA XI

COSTA RICA XI

Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto had a clear idea with his Costa Rican XI; he went for a heavily manned 5-4-1 with Joel Campbell providing a mobile outlet on the counter. The experienced duo of Christian Bolanos and Bryan Ruiz was expected to provide the spark in an otherwise very basic Costa Rica side.

Costa Rica’s initial waiting game and reactive strategy

URUGUAY INITIAL ATTACKING INTENT, WITH LITTLE SUCCESS. IT WAS A THEME OF THE MATCH.

URUGUAY INITIAL ATTACKING INTENT, WITH LITTLE SUCCESS. IT WAS A THEME OF THE MATCH.

Costa Rica setup in a reactive 5-4-1 formation, and were true to the books initially. They played a waiting game, and stuck close to the Uruguayan forwards without ever letting them an opening. Most of Uruguay’s forays came from the left, where Cavani drifted and looked to combine with full-back Caceres and left-sided midfielder Christian Rodriguez. Rodriguez was moving infield all the time, but Costa Rica’s discipline made sure that Uruguay did not play past them.

DEFENSIVE CLEARANCES: COSTA RICA WERE HAPPY TO SIT BACK AND DEFEND THE TOOTHLESS URUGUAYANS

DEFENSIVE CLEARANCES: COSTA RICA WERE HAPPY TO SIT BACK AND DEFEND THE TOOTHLESS URUGUAYANS

This accounted for a lot of unsuccessful passes in the final third from Uruguay, a feature of the play throughout the match. Uruguay were on paper the better team, and received due respect from Costa Rica who were content to sit back and look for openings on the break. A comparison of defensive clearances shows which of the two teams had more attacking intent, and which team was happy to repel away attacks. In an alternative view, Uruguay had a whopping 113 attacking third passes compared to Costa Rica’s 63, which somewhat underlined the minnows’ intent.

The lackluster Uruguay midfield

Uruguay’s lack of a proper ball-playing midfielder was evident as none of their four midfielders (two wide midfielders included) failed to penetrate the massed Costa Rican ranks. Egidio Arevalo Rios and Walter Gargano had to mostly cover space behind as the full-backs overlapped, while the right-sided Christian Stuani offered little going forward. Stuani’s heat map for a wide midfielder shows his ineffectiveness, and his passing efficiency of only 65% was one of the main reasons for Uruguay’s lack of creativity going forward.

URUGUAY MIDFIELD PASSING: LITTLE PENETRATION AND VERTICAL PASSES

URUGUAY MIDFIELD PASSING: LITTLE PENETRATION AND VERTICAL PASSES

STUANI OFFERED LITTLE GOING FORWARD

STUANI OFFERED LITTLE GOING FORWARD

The forwards Cavani and Forlan had to conjure things up on their own, without much success either. On the other flank, Christian Rodriguez tried too hard to link up with Caceres and Cavani; his passing combinations with Caceres were the game’s highest in the final third. Rodriguez’s passing was abysmal, and his attempts at dribbling past his direct opponents were highly unsuccessful.

Joel Campbell

CAMPBELL'S SHOOTING FROM UNPREDICTABLE RANGES

CAMPBELL’S SHOOTING FROM UNPREDICTABLE RANGES

The outstanding player of the match was Joel Campbell. The quick-footed Campbell played all around Costa Rica’s attacking third in a free role-dropping deep when Costa Rica were absorbing the initial Uruguay pressure and moving directly with the ball towards the goal whenever he received the ball in transitions. 3 of his 4 attempts at goal had the air of unpredictability and caught the Uruguay center-backs off-guard. His other attempt resulted in a well-taken goal, and he also assisted the late clincher as Uruguay were caught when attacking in numbers.

ACTION AREA COMPARISON: CAMPBELL WAS MUCH MORE INVOLVED THAN FORLAN

ACTION AREA COMPARISON: CAMPBELL WAS MUCH MORE INVOLVED THAN FORLAN

An interesting comparison could be done with Uruguay’s Forlan who played a similar role but had support around him. Forlan covered less ground (expected because of Cavani’s presence and Costa Rica’s defensive tactics) and made little decisive contribution to Uruguay’s attack. While Campbell was at the heart of Costa Rica’s every foray forward, and was very mobile in the opposition half. A comparison of both players’ passing shows how Campbell was more penetrative and decisive with his passing, as Forlan had the added responsibility of engineering chances with the poor Uruguay midfield.

PASSING COMPARISON BETWEEN CAMPBELL AND FORLAN: CAMPBELL MORE EFFECTIVE AND PENETRATIVE, AND HAD AN ASSIST

PASSING COMPARISON BETWEEN CAMPBELL AND FORLAN: CAMPBELL MORE EFFECTIVE AND PENETRATIVE, AND HAD AN ASSIST

The goals and Martin Caceres’ positioning

Two of Costa Rica’s goals beautifully illustrated how a weaker team could overcome a stronger team with effective counter-attacking. Joel Campbell’s coming off age wasn’t only responsible for Costa Rica’s stunning comeback. Martin Caceres was usually Uruguay’s most advanced defender; he played almost as a winger as he tried to combine with Cavani and Rodriguez in Uruguay’s more effective left flank. He was caught up field in the first goal, as right-back Christian Gamboa made good use of the space on the right wing to cross for Campbell. Caceres is a center-back by trade, and is right-footed, and Costa Rica took good advantage of the weak link.

MARTIN CACERES: HAD TOO MANY ILL-ADVISED FORWARD FORAYS, WHICH HELPED IN COSTA RICA'S COMEBACK

MARTIN CACERES: HAD TOO MANY ILL-ADVISED FORWARD FORAYS, WHICH HELPED IN COSTA RICA’S COMEBACK

The second Costa Rica goal came from a set-piece routine; a deep far post delivery from Christian Bolanos, with center-back Oscar Duarte converting from close range. It was an intelligent tactic by the North Americans as they took full advantage of the lack of height in the Uruguay ranks. Three tallest players in Cavani, Lugano and Godin marked the near post and the central zones, leaving an obvious threat in Duarte with the physically-slight Stuani at the far post.

Caceres reverted to his deep starting position after Uruguay fell behind, as Uruguay looked to throw everything forward in search of an equalizer. Caceres was again culpable as he allowed Campbell time to find the fresh Marco Urena behind the defense for the third goal.

Conclusion

Costa Rica eventually executed their plan to perfection, which was to soak the Uruguayan pressure and hit them on the break. Initial naivety saw them concede a silly penalty which was expertly converted by Cavani, but the North Americans surprisingly had more to offer as they produced a stunning second half performance led by the impressive Joel Campbell. Uruguay had no creativity across the pitch, and the absence of Luis Suarez was keenly felt.

 

* Starting XIs made using Tactical Pad

*Tactical maps and stats courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone and Squawka

TACTICAL ANALYSIS: Mexico 1-0 Cameroon: Unimaginative Cameroon

Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in the Arena da Dunas in Natal to go second in group A. Under torrential rains, the match was more than a damp squib with the result never out of doubt until the final whistle. Mexico were direct and quick, while Cameroon sat off and lacked edge.

MEXICO XI

MEXICO XI

Miguel Herrera’s attack-minded instincts meant that Mexico went for a unconventional 5-4-1 which, in reality, was more top-heavy than bottom. Captain Rafael Marquez was the Libero, the sweeper who controlled the game from the back with added assurance from the holding midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez. Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar were the wing-backs, an area from where most of Mexico’s attacks started. Oribe Peralta’s physicality and lesser mobility gave him the nod ahead of Javier Hernandez. Hector Herrera, Giovani dos Santos and Andres Guardado formed an fluid looking attacking midfield behind Peralta. Francisco Javier and Hector Moreno formed a symmetrical right foot-left foot center back pairing ahead of Guillermo Ochoa in goal.

CAMEROON XI

CAMEROON XI

Cameroon coach Volker Finke had no choice but to go for a flat midfield in an more traditional 4-3-2-1. Benjamin Moukandjo and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are strikers by trade, but were employed on either side of captain Samuel Eto’o on the wings. In one of the flattest midfield combinations ever, Cameroon went for the unfashionable trio of Stephen Mbia, Eyong Enoh and Alex Song as they basically looked to contain the Mexicans and hit on the counter. 21-year-old Cedric Djeugoue started on Cameroon’s right, beside the N’Koulou-Chedjou duo and former Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto was the left-back.

MEXICO PRESSING

Mexico pressed aggressively from the midfield and beyond and unsettled the Cameroonians right from kick-off. The full-backs, Layun and Aguilar, afforded little space to the likes of Choupo-Moting while Samuel Eto’o got doubled up from behind whenever he had the ball. The hard-working Hector Herrera led Mexico’s offensive pressing along with striker Peralta, forcing the Africans into mistakes in their own half. Mexico’s high-pressing meant more mistakes from Cameroon in their own half, which resulted in half-chances for the Americans. Mexico’s intensity and early impetus saw them hit the target 3 times inside the first half itself, with a further 2 shots off-target. Mexico’s quick recycling of the ball was evident too; they were a bit wasteful as Peralta and co strayed offside 5 times in the first half. This clearly showed Mexico’s intent and Cameroon’s slumber, but wastefulness and lack of intelligent movement meant that it remained scoreless for long.

CAMEROON’S DEEP DEFENSE

SONG'S PASSING

SONG’S PASSING

Cameroon counted on their strong-looking midfield to cover the last line of defense as they sat pretty deep almost throughout the whole game. Even after conceding the goal, Cameroon’s shape changed little giving them little to no chance of a comeback. Even though the Africans played with two banks (a four-man defense and a three-man midfield) and sat back inviting the Mexicans, the trio of Song, Mbia and Enoh were caught in two minds as neither had pure  attacking intent and hence left acres of space behind the lines for the Mexican playmakers to exploit. Enoh, Mbia and Song took turns to foray forward, often leaving them undecided when not in possession. A direct result of the Cameroon midfield leaving behind space was Mexico’s goal. Hector Herrera was afforded space, and he caused maximum damage.

CAMEROON FOULS IN MIDFIELD

CAMEROON FOULS IN MIDFIELD

Cameroon looked to sit back and play the physical game, and hit Mexico on the counter. A spate of initial cynical fouls from the deeper-lying Enoh underlined their physical gameplan, while Song was particularly ineffective in finding players ahead of him, something which can also be attributed to the aforementioned Mexican pressing. Song played only 2 of his 29 passes forward, showing how difficult it became to play around the harrying Mexicans. Such a poor showing from star player Song meant that Cameroon were bound for defeat, and it was only a matter of time before they conceded.

MIGUEL LAYUN AND MEXICO’S ALTERNATE PLAN

LAYUN'S CROSSING: SHOWS HOW DEEP HIS RUNS WERE

LAYUN’S CROSSING: SHOWS HOW FAR HE MADE RUNS INTO

One major threat from Mexico as stated pre-match was the motoring left-back Layun. He was supposed to be Mexico’s more obvious attacking outlet, and he did not disappoint. Layun’s runs up and down Mexico’s left meant that the likes of Marquez and Herrera always had a spare man out wide to pass. Layun made some excellent runs in behind the Cameroon midfield and caused troubles for the young Djeugoue, so much so that the hapless Djeugoue was substituted off at half-time. Not only in an attacking sense, Layun was immense at the back too. Whenever Mexico lost the ball, he would sprint back to his starting position, and allowed no breathing space for Moukandjo with help from the left-sided center-back Moreno.

MEXICO DIAGONAL EARLY CROSSES: LED BY HECTOR HERRERA

MEXICO DIAGONAL EARLY CROSSES: LED BY HECTOR HERRERA

Mexico were also seen trying diagonal balls into the Cameroon box, something which wasn’t dealt with pretty well by the Africans. Herrera in particular tried too much of those early crosses into the box, without much effect though. One similar chance was converted by Dos Santos, but was ruled offside.

CONCLUSION

Mexico had no real trouble holding onto the lead, and with center-back Francisco Javier in fine form, Cameroon’s chances were at best, limited. Francisco made 11 clearances, the most in the match, and was impressive in keeping the lid on Eto’o. It was a classic case of the ‘goals changing games’ adage; Mexico who were so proactive before the goal, started slowing the game down with substitutions and simulations. While Cameroon simply didn’t have enough firepower to trouble the Mexican defense.

 

*The starting XIs were made using Tactical Pad

*All the maps were borrowed from Squawka