It’s the Semi-Final match-up everyone probably hoped for, but the contest I doubt anyone expects. In the lead up to the showdown between Germany and host nation, France, we take the time to assess their respective performances in the tournament so far and give our prediction of what’s to follow.
Upon the announcement of their 23-man squad, expectation was high around Les Bleus. A squad filled with talent and experience as well as youthful energy and dynamism. The team’s performances to date however have been fairly dull to be truthful. While defensively they have held relatively strong, their attacks have been stagnant to put it modestly. The lack of attacking cohesion has been evident in the few genuine chances created, where hopeful crossing time and time again, and a wonder-goal by Dimitri Payet have only been enough to spare blushes. This is more the trend for a mid to low-level team and not an international heavyweight comprising of players such as Pogba, Payet, Martial, Coman and Griezmann to name a very few. Which begs the question; when a squad is filled with this much talent, why is Deschamps electing to use a target-man?
Simply put, hoofing the ball long to a target-man as a method of moving the ball forward from defence to attack is as prehistoric as it is unreliable. A from of the game so outdated and so removed from the elite level that even England has moved past utilizing one, switching to a more cultured system – not that they have the ability to do so. Today at the highest level, the target-man still holds some purpose, though it is limited and only effective if the opposition has 8 players camped in and outside the 18-yard box. The reason being is that space so compact and penetrating the area is difficult, the opposition retreats into areas that invites the attacking side to deliver the ball from wide areas, which plays to the target-man’s strength in the air. So far this Euro, Giroud has been poor – there is no need to sugar coat it. His lack of guile has been ever present and his reluctance to move into space has been a huge hindrance on his more creative teammates. His only praise has come in the form of a header where he knocked it down into the path of Antoine Griezmann against Ireland, but would that have amounted to a goal against stronger opposition? How did the Irish defenders try to deal with that scenario differently to how Italy dealt with Lukaku each time the ball was lofted forward before he was dragged just after the hour mark?
If it isn’t already abundantly clear; it’s that Italy’s defenders had the awareness to stand off Lukaku and allow him to win the header uncontested with the knowledge that the ball can only travel so far before making an interception prior to it reaching its intended target. Ireland’s two centrebacks on the other hand were both so blindly determined to win the aerial battle they were completely oblivious to what was unfolding which was Griezmann being left with a simple finish. Would a German defence be so naïve? We do not believe so, and it is painfully obvious that Giroud is going to be largely ineffective in the coming match against Die Mannschaft.
German on the other hand have been their typical selves. But despite recording 7 goals scored and only 1 conceded, even the most fanatical German fan would agree that they seem to have lost that edge that saw them become World Champions just two years prior, highlighting an unconvincing nil-nil draw and narrow 1-0 win against Poland and Northern Ireland respectively.
What was more surprising was Germany readiness to shift tactical systems when pitted against Conte’s 3-5-2 of Italy – an event that is considered very ‘Un-German-like”. Conte’s system had controlled the game each time they came up against a more fancied side that utilized an attacking trident or adventurous wingers. Joachim Low, whose side are so far yet to concede so far in the tournament preferred not to run the risk and shifted his system to mirror Italy’s resulting in a congested midfield and very few chances for each side – based on Germany’s record from spot kicks probably not a bad idea in principal. Based on the eventual outcome it’s fairly clear that it was perhaps a correct decision by the manager, but at the same time suggests that this German side doesn’t have the self-belief and aura of confidence as their predecessors did.
With the bulk of the squad still intact and in their prime, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is missing from this side but it seems highly unlikely that this squad could reproduce a display anything remotely close to what the world witnessed when they put 7 well-constructed goals past Brazil in 2014.
We are well aware we suggested this about Semi-Final 1 and the headline Germany v France does sound great, but again do not expect a classic contest. From the matches leading up, we’re struggling to see how each side will score and therefore doubt there will be a flurry of chances created for either side. For us, we see it as an extremely cagey contest where a major defensive error or lapse in concentration will prove to be one sides undoing. If not, it looks as if it’s going to spot kicks and who would put their money against Germany in that scenario?