June 30, 2012 by Sean Charles
The German media has been very critical of Joachim Loew since the defeat to Italy and rightfully so. German newspaper Bild hit the nail on the head by saying, “Mentality is often more important than quality.” The intensity and focus of the Italian display was something that blew Loew’s Germany out of the tournament. Italy showed exactly the characteristics he failed to instil in his own side.
The German performance was one propelled by mistakes the manager made before kick-off. Firstly, he started Toni Kroos. Kroos is a gifted player but why did he start him? His midfield was already packed with good passers of the ball in Khedira, Schweinstieger and Ozil. The addition of Kroos took away a considerable amount of the dynamism this German side had illustrated throughout this tournament and the World Cup in South Africa and his presence also removed the incisive options a runner on the right would’ve provided for the other talented passers in the midfield.
Then, at half-time, only to compound the mistakes he already made, Loew took off Podolski and brought on Marco Reus. In doing this he took away all of the natural width Germany had in the first half and introduced a player who (not a winger by trade) will always look to become involved centrally. I found this move the most astounding for the wrong reasons. Loew failed to see the mistake he made by starting Kroos play out disastrously in the first half and had time to at least try to re-correct it with tactical and personnel adjustments at half-time. By no stretch of the imagination was Podolski having a good game but he at least offered a direct threat out on the left and his movement creeping in at the back post made Italy sweat twice. The first time he as prevented from a certain goal by a fantastic last-ditch clearance by Balzaretti and the second was when a wayward ball fell to Podolski unmarked in a dangerous crossing position at the left hand-side of the box, his first touch let him down and the ball ran harmlessly out of play but his positioning forced the Italian defence to scramble across when the ball fell to him.
The changes made by Loew didn’t seem to have any positive effect for Germany, instead they only seemed to make it easier for the Italians to slice through them on the counter attack and hold possession for spells further up the pitch. It felt that with every change Loew made, the more influential Pirlo became. One of the keys to reducing Pirlo’s influence is to reduce his passing lanes. If Loew had started with Muller on the right and Podolski on the left, both would’ve pinned back the two Italian full-backs and cut off the main routes for Pirlo’s passing. Loew’s aimless thumbling around in the dark was finalised by changing to a 3-5-2 late in the game, a formation Germany briefly experimented with 18 months ago, an expirement that he himself struggled to operate successfully in friendlies.
The main weakness with the 4-3-1-2 that Prandelli adopts is that it puts a lot of responsibility on the full-backs. There were major question marks over both Italian full-backs prior to this match as Chiellini had been an injury doubt in the build-up to the game (and not naturally a left-back) and a very one-footed player in the form of Balzaretti was asked to play on the opposite side of the defence that he is familiar with. Surely these were the two points of weakness Germany should’ve been pressing to get back in to the game instead of packing an already crowded centre of the pitch with even more players. Loew had the options on the bench to stretch the game if he wanted to by adding the likes of Mario Gotze or Andreas Schurrle. None of the attacking midfield three (Ozil-Kroos-Reus) provided any width, as none of them are wingers for their clubs anyway, and Phillip Lahm was a right-footed player playing at left-back and would always therefore try to cut inside on to his favoured foot when driving forward, sacrificing width as a result. So it was not a surprise to see Germany play very narrow, something the Italians would’ve been thankful of. The only sporadic occasions in which they reached the byline was through Jerome Boateng down the right when he lumbered forward.
This match was utter disarray for the Germans and given the amount of goalscoring opportunities squandered by Italy on the counter, it wouldn’t have flattered the Italians if it had finished 4-1 such was their ferocity in attack. The Italian execution of their game plan was nigh on perfect and they must be applauded for such a bold and arousing performance. However, they were aided by the hand of Joachim Loew on more than one occasion and it is no surprise for to see the German media lambast the decisions he chose on the night. The most worrying sign for Germany to take from this match, more importantly than the shortcomings of any one player, is Loew’s total failure to even spot the mistakes he started with and then correct them. The changes he made to fix the mess he created only served to make a bad situation even worse.