Tactical analysis: Germany keep it simple to beat Northern Ireland

Joachim Löw employed a tried-and-tested tactical scheme against Northern Ireland. The Germans dominated the game with numbers upfield and a solid middle.
When Germany played Northern Ireland last summer, I wrote a tactical preview. In it, I highlighted Northern Ireland’s use of the wing-backs. I pointed out that Michael O’Neill uses the wing-backs figure in a vintage way. They both have a specific role in attack and defence, in a sort of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too way. Indeed, the layout gave Germany quite a bit of trouble in the Euro group stage game.
Much of O’Neill’s tactical approach remains the same. However, I saw many different things today.

Germany’s shape

As I said, Löw kept it simple. He probably knew that Northern Ireland would essentially place five men in defence. Because of this, he employed a 4-2-3-1. Toni Kroos and Sebastian Rudy held the defensive midfield.

Kroos and Rudy cover the horizontal space in front of the defenders.

Now, back in the Euro, Bastian Schweinsteiger sat in between the two central defenders to let the full-backs run upfield. This time, Kroos and Rudy stood directly in front of Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng, rather than between them. This had a two-pronged effect. First, it indeed allowed Joshua Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt to run upfield. Second, it meant that they could provide support to the central defenders and help with the build-up at the same time. The team was made shorter as a result.
Because of this, Germany pressed very high up Northern Ireland’s half.
Germany press high.

This rendered Northern Ireland’s tactical shape all but useless. The wing-backs became unable to crawl out of the defensive third. Germany could easily reclaim the ball well into attacking positions whenever it lost it. The result was 70% possession at the end of the first half.

Odd Irish

The opposition did not employ its usual aggressive style. Whether it was by virtue of Löw’s system or by tactical choice from O’Neill, Northern Ireland neglected the width its wing-back system would customarily afford it.

Up to four Northern Ireland men crowd the box, instead of making the defensive line wide.

This wreaked havoc for Northern Ireland. Germany recovered the ball with ease. They effortlessly asphyxiated O’Neill’s men in their own half.
Because of this, Northern Ireland resorted to a tactical change at halftime. They reverted to a four-man defence and placed the additional man in midfield.
Five-leaf midfield.

Interestingly enough, this worked. Adding to the fact that Germany visibly slowed down, the more populated midfield made it more difficult to pass forward and carry the ball into the attacking third. Still, with the result favouring them, Löw’s men had no problem in simply running the clock down.

A walk in the park

This game should have been more difficult. Germany’s simple gameplan, and Northen Ireland’s misfire mentality made it simple for Die Mannschaft. Indeed, things fell into place so that Germany could seal its ticket to Russia with relative ease.