A badly paired central midfield is among the reasons why Germany played very average football in a 0:1 friendly loss against Brazil. Let’s review the problems.
In a rotated lineup, Bundestrainer Joachim Löw stuck to his 4-2-3-1 lineup. This time, he asked Toni Kroos to pair up with Ilkay Gündogan from the beginning of the match. He put Leon Goretzka on the right wing, Julian Draxler in the 10 position and Leroy Sané on the left wing. Mario Gómez was the striker.
At first, Germany’s play off the ball was promising. Having failed to do much against Spain’s possession game in the previous outing, die Deutscher set to press from the start and they did it well.
As you can see below, Sané, Julian Draxler and Gómez take the task seriously. A classic three-man line cut off the back line from the midfield with aggressive movement and smart positioning.
Ten seconds later, this work pays off. A very inaccurate Brazilian pass is ripe for pick-up by a German defender. Put the opposition under pressure and win the ball back. It’s not rocket science.
Kroos and Gündogan pairing inadequate
There is no doubt that Toni Kroos has quality as the man who pulls the strings in the midfield. Gündogan, for his part, is versatile as an attacking-minded central midfielder.
With that said, the pair does not mesh well in a two-man central midfield when it comes to handling defending duties. This allowed Brazil to pass fluidly in the middle on the night.
On the play below, Gündogan is not picking someone up ahead or rushing back to protect the back line. Kroos is not aggressive in a challenge and a pass goes straight to Gabriel Jesus up front. The striker then makes fun of Antonio Rüdiger.
Kroos and Gündogan also have attacking instincts that expose the back line when they drive forward at the same time.
The two snapshots below show them out of sorts. First, Kroos is under the “mit” word in the ad banner, entirely out of play on a counterattack. Gündogan is chasing back, late, as the Brazilians bring the ball forward to create a scoring chance. He will fail to regain the ball.
A defensive midfielder is useful in those situations. He thinks of going back more frequently and more naturally than the attacking-minded midfielders, shielding the defense against such counters. This is why, for instance, Bayern fans glorify Javi Martínez.
Brazil defends better
I may give the Brazilians credit for winning against an uninterested German side, but I still think that they played their defensive cards right. Nothing too fancy or complicated. Put three men forward to block the middle, have a couple of extra guys pulling back towards the penalty area and get ready to stretch the defensive line if the Germans pass to the flanks.
Here, the front trident forces a pass to the left wing.
Much later in the second half, when the ball goes to the same flank, the Brazilians are ready to spread out in what isn’t far from a 4-4-2.
Lack of movement
Another tactical problem for the Germans was their lack of movement on the ball. When the opposition defends actively, you have to make runs to earn progress. How many guys really get their feet moving below?
Forget the plural form: one.
I know. Friendlies do not matter and Germany usually fares poorly in those matches. Nevertheless, you would have expected a bit of motivation against Spain and Brazil. You could also reasonably hope that the team will learn from its mistakes.
Judging by Löw’s reactions on the sidelines during the two friendlies, the coach is not happy. I share his opinion.