Preview: Nats vs Germany

Submitted by Brian on June 25th, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Mural_Germany[1]THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT USA vs Germany
WHERE Arena Pernambuco
Recife, Brazil
WHEN Noon Eastern

It's simple for the US: tie or possibly go home. Things get complicated if they're losing. So let's not do that.


From 1,000 feet, the German national team is the US national team: great goalkeepers, hard-working, tall, disciplined, organized, relentless, not given over to the kind of petulance that affects quite a lot of people after they've been running around for 70 minutes and think they might collapse at any moment.

The problem comes when you zoom in, and all the American stuff about German holds true and then they happen to be smarter, faster in spots, and just generally better. The hypothetical endpoint of USA soccer is Germany. Teams like Italy and Holland occasionally crash out in the group stage. Germany never does. Michael Ballack summed it up best when the final bit of the Group Of Death fell into place during the World Cup draw: as America panicked and set its pets on fire, Ballack monosyllabically droned "we. don't. care."

They don't care because they'll win anyway. Imagine Michigan, 1989. That's Germany.

GOALIE: Manuel Neuer is generally regarded as the best in the world right now. He's done nothing to give anyone a different impression so far.


more like Per Mertesoccer amirite

DEFENSE: The usual collection of giant robots direct from that Pixar-y Nike commercial. Central defenders Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels are 6'6" and 6'4", respectively, and while Mertesacker can be exposed by speed somewhat, Hummels is usually able to compensate. They're in the running for the best pairing in the tournament.

The problem, such as it is, comes on the outside. Phillip Lahm has been drafted as a defensive midfielder, leaving Germany a collection of outside backs who are generally deployed on the interior at their clubs. This was a major issue in Germany's 2-2 draw with Ghana, as Christian Atsu was able to fire in shots and crosses considerably more dangerous than the ones he got off against DaMarcus Beasley; Andre Ayew was able to score on a back-post header and Ghana fired in a ton of crosses.


Ghana chances largely came from the German left

The left back, Benedikt Howedes, is a right-footed central defender by trade. The right back, whether it's Jerome Boateng or Shkodran Mustafi, is a slightly less awkward fit since they're on their natural foot. But only slightly; both are central defenders at club level. As a result the German outside backs rarely venture beyond the edge of the final third.


Howedes, Boateng, and Mustafi against Portugal (left) and Ghana (right)

That Portugal chart is pretty remarkable what with Portugal's wingers so uninterested defensively and the team playing narrowly after the Pepe red card.

As a unit, these guys are large, organized, and reasonably fast enough. Outside back, though, is a place where the US does seem to have an advantage.

MIDFIELD: Lahm, Sami Khedira, and Toni Kroos are the backbone of the entire side, and will give the USA problems. The US has a couple of guys who are a physical match for the burly Khedira, and Beckerman may be the tactical equivalent of the heady Lahm, but really it comes down to Bradley being Bradley and not the off-brand version we've seen so far.

That's because Kroos is Bradley minus doubts. Jonathan Wilson:

Kroos is dynamic and hardworking. He can play at the back of midfield or at the front, in the centre or on the flank. He could almost certainly play as a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-4-2 if he ever were asked to do something so archaic. He is creative without being flash, breaks up play without being violent. He is physically robust without being a monster and astute in possession without over-reaching. He has an understated efficiency that means he probably isn't appreciated as much as he ought to be.

Wilson does seem to think more of Kroos than many people. Not a ton more—dude is a starter on Germany, after all.

Meanwhile, if Kroos is German Bradley, Khedira is German Beckerman:

Khedira is in many ways Löw's key player. In a team characterised by outstanding attacking prowess he holds the defensive midfield together and is very much a player out of the "coach's favourite" mould: a good reader of the game, disciplined and perfect at implementing his respective manager's instructions. No wonder, then, that his coaches at Real Madrid, José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, also value Khedira's style of play. In the midst of a host of artists he plays the unpretentious conductor and with the German national side not having a Pirlo or a Xavi, it needs at least a Khedira.

Because he's German Beckerman he's like Beckerman except a super elite athlete.

Lahm is a fixture with Germany and Bayern Munich, generally at outside back. Last year he was moved to defensive mid by his club, though, and he has taken up the same position for Germany. He had issues against Ghana's high press—he was involved in the sloppy German build-up to the Ghana pirate schooner of a goal. That was an aberration for Lahm's career and recent form.

FORWARD: You can look at a tactical thing that says Mehmet Ozil is here and Muller is here and on average they'll be right-ish, but everyone goes everywhere. Ozil in particular roams across the width of the field just in front of the opposition defense, offering outlets to any German who happens to have the ball and playing in guys from anywhere.


Ozil vs Ghana

He has virtually no defensive responsibility.

Mario Gotze is a very similar player, a natural #10 who roams around looking for the ball. With Ozil on the field he functions a bit like a winger and a bit like a withdrawn striker. Thomas Muller is the most striker-y of Germany's dedicated attackers, at least in this tournament. Normally one of the three attacking mids in a 4-2-3-1, an injury has forced him into the striker spot. He relies on intelligent movement more than raw power to get his goals; all three attacking players interchange constantly.

The overall effect is odd. None of Germany's attackers are physically overwhelming or even particularly deft on the ball—no Messis or Ronaldos here—but because of collective understanding and anticipation they rain in goals.

If Germany's chasing the game, ancient Miroslav Klose will likely enter. Klose is a combo target forward/poacher who just tied the all-time World Cup scoring record; he's done so without scoring a goal from outside the box.

ALTERNATIVES: Germany has many of them.



Without Altidore, the US switched to the 4-2-3-1 they'd gone with through most of qualifying. Dempsey was the lone forward with Bradley the attacking mid; Beckerman and Jones were D-mids behind. I felt some foreboding about it and not entirely without reason, as neither Zusi or Bedoya had much impact on the game until Zusi's cross off a scramble gave the US their second.

But situations being what they are, it makes sense to reprise that formation. Jozy is still out and the US get through with a draw. Given the roster, the question is who replaces Jozy: Zusi/Bedoya or Johannsson/Wondolowski? The answer against a 4-3-3 was a midfielder; the answer against what's pretty much a 4-3-3 is likely to be a midfielder.

GOALIE: Howard.

DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson.

Any thought that the US should switch things up because Cameron had a bad couple plays needs to compete with the fact that apparently it would be Omar Gonzalez  replacing him. Even if Gonzalez was supposed to be playing some sort of defensive mid spot late against Portugal, he has been shaky for the US in his last half-dozen appearances.

On a down to down basis, Cameron offers more. He has not provided many moments of worry except the terribly bad one to Nani—I buy Jesse Marsch's explanation of the Portugal equalizer that spreads blame throughout a bunch of players*. Focus on the consistency instead of the accidental severity of mistakes and Cameron is obvious.

As discussed in the Germany D section, this is a spot where the US should have a tactical advantage. Johnson can bomb forward without worrying that his opposite number will catch him on the break. As long as the US has cover, and with Cameron and Beckerman they do, the outside backs should be the freest guys on the field.

*[Marsch points out that Varela is Fabian Johnson's mark and that Cameron has two guys slowing up at the edge of the box in front of him that he is looking at. By the time Cameron sees the cross he's got little chance of getting to it, because it is perfect.]


MIDFIELD: Beckerman, Jones, Bedoya, Bradley, Diskerud

The three defensive-ish mids are locks. Bedoya is highly probable.

Then the fourth guy is in question. Zusi had a bad game outside the assist, constantly losing possession thanks to a wooden first touch. Davis is probably not in the cards since crossing won't be at a premium against Germany and Davis was absolutely miserable defensively against Turkey. The US will want guys who at least try.

Diskerud is a strong possibility. He is the most possession-y option in game in which the US would like to grab the ball and thunk it around quite a bit. The Germany wings are threatening, but not quite in the same way that Ronaldo and Nani are; the German fullbacks do not provide a whole lot of threat. A centrally-oriented possession midfielder makes sense given the situation and opponent. Diskerud is that, and he's fresh. Also his hair is amazing.

FORWARD: Dempsey

Dempsey did a credible imitation of a target forward against a couple of burly but not particularly agile center backs and he's got a version of that again in this game. Hummels in particular is a step above anything Portugal has to offer, but given the situation it makes sense to play things conservatively and add attacking verve if the situation demands it.

SUBS: If the US needs a goal, lifting Zusi or Bedoya for Wondolowski or Johannsson, makes sense, possibly both if you want to drop Dempsey into an attacking midfield role. If the US is shepherding a win or draw to the finish line, Yedlin should reprise his speed merchant role from the Portugal game.


Ravshan Irmatov is from Uzbekistan, but he's not one of the randoms from tiny countries included to disallow Maurice Edu goals. He's a veteran of many high-profile matches with few complaints lodged against him. He did the 2010 World Cup opener and a semifinal.

The most controversial thing on his profile was an incident where he whistled for a penalty kick the moment before a goal was scored and decided to allow the goal.



is a tired Jones even possible?

Fitness will be tested. I'm not entirely sure I buy the game-after-Manaus-is-doom meme being tossed around. Yeah, England lost to Uruguay and Italy lost to Costa Rica, but after the crapfest they put up in their final matches it's possible those teams just suck. And a look deeper than the score indicates that most teams coming off a game in the jungle weren't exactly overrun:

  • England vs Uruguay: England outshoots 12-8, has 63% possession, almost scores about five goals, gives up derf derf goal to Suarez to lose.
  • Italy vs Costa Rica: Shots tied, Italy with 61% possession and about 200 extra passes.
  • Croatia vs Mexico: 11-10 shot edge for Mexico, Croatia with 55% of possession.

Cameroon—possibly the worst team in the competition—was always going to get ripped by Brazil. So there's only one game in which the Manaus effect really looks like much of anything. That's Mexico-Croatia. Is that a Manaus effect or just the obvious effect of putting a bunch of Mexican dudes up against people who think 75 is time to flip on the AC?

That said, the US has had their defensive midfielders run their ass off for full 90s and has one fewer day of rest. If they're pressing for a goal, things are going to get seriously stretched.

Touchline crosses and "underlapping" runs. The aerial doom provided by the German defensive Luftwaffe makes trying to head in goals a difficult proposition. Setting up against a set defense and trying to put it on Dempsey's head is a wasted possession.

Despite this, the US has a couple of speedy outside backs that can and should have an impact. This can come either by beating the slower German outside backs to the endline, where crosses can be fired in low and hard, or diving inside when the USA's wingers provide them room by stretching Germany horizontally. See: Yedlin versus Portugal, Johnson versus Turkey, etc.

Low tempo, high possession. With fitness a concern and a draw good enough, the US should be content to dawdle on the ball if not presented with a clear chance to break. This may not be a wink-wink draw but neither is it going to be a wide-open attacking goal fest.

It'll be interesting to see how much pressing either team does. Germany certainly has the ability to do so, but they're also vulnerable, what with a number of defensively-oriented guys in awkward positions. Sulley Muntari's tackle in Germany's defensive third led to a trademark goal from Gyan.

An eye on the other game. Depending on how the other game goes, the US may not need to react if they go down a goal. If Portugal is leading the other game they can take a 1-0 defeat and get through. If Portugal-Ghana is 0-0 in the 80th they're feeling pretty good.

But Ghana already in the lead against the Portuguese or even 1-1 would mean the US would have to go all out for a goal even if that left them exposed to counterattacks from Germany. The best way to avoid all this is to not go down, of course. But… yeah.

A lot of people are predicting that Portugal falls over and dies. That is a possibility. But Ronaldo is highly concerned with his legacy and has zero goals in this World Cup as Neymar and Messi pound 'em in. He's going up against a shaky, disorganized backline. Pepe should return with an eye on redemption, as well. They'll at least give their all for 45; hope for an early Portugal goal and then they'll be energized to hang on.

TIE THE GAME. #tiethegame





June 25th, 2014 at 1:37 PM ^

Another thing that is scary is the opposite strategy by Portugal.

Portugal will know they are way down in goal differential, and need to make up ground. They also understand after they're beating by Germany, that Germany has the potential to get a multiple goal win. Thus, Portugal still has a glimmer, albeit small, of hope.

What scares me is, knowing this, Portugal comes out with an aggresive, attacking game plan trying to put a few in the back of the net. The scary part about this is that Ghana is most dangerous in space, especially in a counter attack scenario, and thats exactly what the aformentioned Portugal strategy would allow. 




June 25th, 2014 at 1:58 PM ^

the proposition of the game being a possession game is troubling because us sucks at holding the ball (ie the 94 minute of last game, lack of ticky-tocky skill) whereas they are better defending and then throwing numbers forward (run run run thank you jones and bradley). sidenote i read that it was bradley who logged the most miles in the game not jones, something like 7.3 miles...crazy. 

i bet us gives up a goal early and as long as they dont give up two they can muster at least one cuz theyre merica and germany will be laying back--i think were creative enough. 
really wanna see us play one MORE game where theyre going all out to win nothing more---not this play to draw flaptrap---ugh bradley
also the guy who didnt cover that last cross was also the guy who duffed up the first goal to portugal--geoff cameron that being said he has no chance of not starting---the conundrum of us soccer.


June 25th, 2014 at 2:03 PM ^

I think you mean tiki-taka.

It makes sense that Bradley logged the most miles because he would come so deep to receive the ball.

Clearly Bradley is more comfortable being a deep lying play maker, but I think he will have a bounce back game against Germany. 


June 25th, 2014 at 2:05 PM ^

I disagree about Cameron.  Some people are built for pressure, and some are not.  He can't handle this stage.  I highly doubt he gains focus and motivation.  I think his confidence is shot.


June 26th, 2014 at 2:28 PM ^

Well well well.  Look who Klinsmann decided to bench for the game?  Do you think he'd bench a guy who was a regular starter and had confidence to play at a high level in his position going further?  Cameron was a liability out there at a position that cannot have liability.  You could throw an unconfident Jozy Altidore out there and not have a detrimental effect on the game, but you can't do that with a center defender.

You have NO IDEA if my comments were ignorant or not.  Trust me I know soccer.  I've been playing it my whole life.



June 25th, 2014 at 2:31 PM ^

Khedira strained an MCL against Ghana. He's practicing but probably not fully fit; it's likely he'll be replaced by Schweinsteiger with Khedira available as a late-game replacement if necessary.

That doesn't weaken the side at all--he would probably have been first choice at the position if he hadn't been hurt most of the year. If it were me I'd start them both (when they're healthy) and move Lahm back to fullback but Loew seems committed to this setup.


June 25th, 2014 at 8:32 PM ^

I haven't read any suggestion of it. Khedira and Boateng were the only fitness concerns and Boateng is supposedly fine (he had cramps).

I wouldn't be shocked if they made a couple of changes just to distribute the workload a bit before the business end of the tournament gets started. Oezil seemed the most fatigued of the front three at the end of the Ghana match, but Schuerrle or Klose in place of any of them is possible.

Ed.: Kicker's now posted a preliminary lineup--it includes Schweinsteiger but it's otherwise unchanged. That's not final of course but they're pretty well sourced. Either that's the lineup (possibly pending a late fitness check for Khedira, like for Hummels last week) or it's what the DFB wants us to think the lineup will be.

Ron Utah

June 25th, 2014 at 3:25 PM ^

There is no way Cameron should be pulled from the line-up.  In fact, I wouldn't pull Zusi either.  I thought the team played extremely well against Portugal--and that's no easy task.

As for Marsch's breakdown, I think he hit the important points that led to the goal:

  • Cameron has other attackers he is concerned about
  • Johnson is too far behind and too tired to catch his mark
  • The midfielders screwed the pooch

The problem with playing centerback is that most goals can be blamed on you.  Cameron, positionally, should have been there to meet the cross, and physically, he could have been there.  That he had not identified Varela falls not just on the shoulders of Fabian Johnson (as Marsch points out) but also on him.  And given the choice between marking Varela and the guys at the top of the box, Varela was the clear choice.

But damn, if the US midfield didn't make it hard for him.  Jones was basically positioned as a centerback when the break started, and he should have stayed there.  Bradley AND Gonzalez got sucked to Ronaldo--which is understandable, but also stupid.  Besler was providing cover, and to have three guys pulled out of position is inexcusable.  You have to understand that even though it's Ronaldo, if you properly positioned, you can still help.

At least one of Bradley or Gonzalez or Jones needs to be at the top of the 18 so that Cameron doesn't have to choose which of the three to mark.

All that said, the blaming of Cameron is ridiculous, but the idea that he should be substituted is even more absurd.  He is the best defender on our team and is one of the top defenders in the best league in the world (La Liga fans may argue, but they're wrong--the EPL is tougher top to bottom, even if La Liga is stronger at the top).  There is no replacement for him.

The second goal was a breakdown by nearly the entire team, and Cameron deserves only a small share of the blame.

But when you play centerback, you're usually the guy that looks like problem.

Sac Fly

June 25th, 2014 at 7:07 PM ^

We beat a bad England team, but the roster was poorly put together.

Our roster was filled with older players for experience, leaving younger more talented players at home. Again.

Balotelli did Balotelli things, the team was terrible and in the end, Prandelli quit.


June 25th, 2014 at 7:34 PM ^

the part that sucks most is that head-to-head doesn't matter.  Maybe that's designed to keep Ghana from being totally disengaged, but at the same time, uh, scoreboard.

The Swiss and their crazy rules.


June 26th, 2014 at 5:58 AM ^

The hypothetical endpoint of USA soccer is Germany.

I watch Germany now the way I watched Oregon when we were going to switch to the spread . . . as the goal-state of our makeover.

I think this transition will be more natural.  It fits us better, we can actually do it pretty well, and we are not fighting 125 years of tradition that goes in the opposite direction.

We're eager putty to be molded.


Der Alte

June 26th, 2014 at 9:25 AM ^

Brian says:


As a somewhat German speaker, I don't understand why Brian thinks the German fuessball team's name "sounds like a joke."

I'd translate it as ""company of men," or, more figuratively, "band of brothers," the emphasis being on the team or team unity. But hey, the French team's nickname is "Les Blues." So my "Allez les Blues!" (Go Blue!) t-shirt can do double duty when the French team next plays.

And yes, I hope that today, the U.S. red, white, and blue prevails over "Die Mannschaft."