Richard Jolly looks at the tactical nuances that influenced a selection of Monday and Tuesday's 2014 World Cup matches.
Joachim Loew exploited Portugal's high defensive line and sprung their offside trap in part because Germany's wingers ran beyond the back four, and the midfielders looked to play the ball over the top. That sort of strategy would have suggested that quick, direct wingers Lukas Podolski and Andre Schurrle started. Instead, Loew chose Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, two No. 10s, for either side of striker Thomas Muller.
Their movement was excellent. Both could naturally veer infield, but the interesting element was Ozil's vertical running; one burst led to the Muller shot that produced the corner for Mats Hummels' goal. When he plays as a No. 10, Ozil is noted for his lateral runs but rarely gets in the penalty area. As his touch map shows, he had three touches in the Portugal box (for comparison, that is one more than Wayne Rooney -- a striker by trade -- had when operating as a winger for England against Italy).
This was a different, more direct Ozil, who looked to exploit the space Portugal left-back Fabio Coentrao left behind him and was quite unlike the player Arsenal saw this past season. It was telling that Ozil was often far upfield when he received the ball from his teammates.
The expectation was that Michael Bradley would be deployed as an attacking midfielder at the tip of a diamond and charged with supporting the strikers. In fact, the Toronto man played very much as an orthodox central midfielder against Ghana. Perhaps it was a consequence of circumstances -- the United States had a lead to protect for all but four minutes of the game and had no need to commit extra men forward -- but it was also tactical.
Rather than playing 4-3-1-2, manager Jurgen Klinsmann deployed an orthodox, old-fashioned 4-4-2. Jermaine Jones, who has spent much of his career in the centre, played as a left-sided midfielder. In effect, the diamond was squashed, with the men on the sides pushed wider. Bradley's touch map shows he was not on the ball within 30 yards of the Ghanaian goal.
Neither was Kyle Beckerman, the designated defensive midfielder. The basic difference between his touch map and Bradley's is that the Real Salt Lake man was required more in and around his own penalty box. That, in turn, was a result of a switch by Ghana. Klinsmann's defensive structure of two blocks of four worked very efficiently until his Ghanaian counterpart, James Kwesi, brought on Kevin-Prince Boateng. Boateng's ability to play between the lines, together with the greater pressure the Africans exerted, meant Beckerman had to drop deeper. In effect, the U.S. were playing 4-1-3-2 thereafter, and Beckerman only touched the ball three times in the opposition half after the break -- a sign of how close to his back four he was and how disciplined he remained in his role.
Neymar has spent his time in this World Cup split between the No. 10 position and the left wing, and as Brazil failed to break down Mexico, he operated in both roles at different times, as his touch map indicates.
The concern for manager Luiz Felipe Scolari ought to lie in where Neymar did his work. As the dots illustrate, too many of his touches were in the area either side of the halfway line and too far from goal to cause real damage against a team such as Mexico, who were defending deep.
What it shows is how far Neymar was dropping off to collect possession in a bid to make something happen. That, in turn, was reflected in the lack of creativity in the Brazilian midfield.
The other problem for Brazil came in attack: Fred's 68 minutes on the pitch produced just 22 touches, a mere eight successful passes and one effort (a rather tame header) on target. He wasn't able to bring Neymar into play in the final third, which means he was inclined to go looking for the ball and ended up with both the Mexican defence and midfield blocking his path to goal. Neymar's best chance -- and Guillermo Ochoa's best save -- came from a right-wing cross from Dani Alves. It was one moment when he didn't need service from either the midfield or Fred.
A few months ago, Marc Wilmots criticised Manchester United for using Marouane Fellaini as a defensive midfielder and said the much-maligned Belgian is a box-to-box player. However, with his team trailing 1-0 to Algeria, Wilmots used his substitute much as David Moyes did at Everton -- as a No. 10 in a direct approach.
Fellaini scored Belgium's first World Cup goal in 12 years, and his touch map shows the merits of his physical approach. He only entered proceedings after 65 minutes and only had one fewer touch than Romelu Lukaku, who played the first 58. That indicates how Lukaku was isolated in attack, whereas Fellaini played much closer to substitute striker Divock Origi. Crucially, too, Fellaini had the ability to win the ball in the Algeria box and, besides scoring, allowed others to play off him in goalscoring positions by pushing a defence back.