While the so-called excruciatingly named “group of death” looked tantalising on paper with 4 great teams together in one group, there is always the possibility that games between big teams can be a little dull – Germany versus Portugal was a perfect example of this. Germany were some way short of the benchmark set by pre-tournament hype, and Portugal were very deep and unadventurous for the first 70 minutes. The game could have had a different complexion had Mesut Özil been more involved in the link up play from the three-quarters line.
The Germany side that captured previously clichéd imaginations at World Cup 2010 was very dependant on playing on the counter attack, destroying defences with a series of short sweeping passes before the opponent back-lines were able to regroup – a cavalry charge on the flanks, for anyone that enjoys real time strategy games. Portugal were able to frustrate by sitting deep to avoid opening up for the Germans, and this meant that Germany had to play on the front foot for the majority of the game.
Portugal’s midfield three of Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles were very flat rather than holding a position that resembled a triangle, which is the standard set up for a three-man midfield. This meant they were able to cover the defensive line very well, in effect creating a back-seven. Of the three midfielders, Veloso was the one with the most obvious task: man-marking Mesut Özil.
Veloso was very successful in taking Özil out of the game and it gave the Portuguese centre-backs a lot less to worry about – Gomez is very static too and relatively simple to babysit.
The UEFA average positions show that Özil was very central, but the problem with this image is that it is an average – this works very well for observing player movement vertically or when they rarely cross the middle of the pitch (lengthways). Özil was marked out of that central area and forced to forage for space on the flanks. The ESPN Soccernet heat map gives us a more accurate idea of where he spent his playing time:
We can also see this from his passing patterns that despite being the player with the most passes played in the attacking third, the majority of his passes played and received were in wide positions.
Perhaps he could have been assisted by a striker who was willing to drop 5-10 yards occasionally to disrupt the lines between midfield and defence. In the build up to the goal, Özil was fortunate to have Gomez react quickest to his deflected cross but the infield run of Thomas Müller takes Bruno Alves away from the goal mouth and leaves Pepe and Joao Pereira in a two-v-two situation with Podolski and Gomez.
The next game against the Netherlands will be very interesting to see how they deal with the Real Madrid man given their need to get a win, as well as seeing whether Germany will alter the pattern of play around this central area or continue to cede this space.
Average position from UEFA.com. Chalkboards from the StatsZone Euro 2012 iPhone app.