Argentina powerless against German tactics
Germany dismantled Argentina and cruised to a comfortable 4-0 victory Saturday, securing a semi-final matchup with Spain in the process.
It was as comfortable a victory as Germany will ever have against the South Americans, and while the players will get all the plaudits, their coach deserves a fair bit of praise as well.
Joachim Loew got his tactics spot on against Diego Maradona's men, as Germany's 5-man midfield dominated the game. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira minimized the threat of Lionel Messi, as both took turns ensuring that Messi had very little time and space in which to operate.
Stopping Messi is virtually impossible, but Schweinsteiger and Khedira did an excellent job ensuring that the Argentinean maestro never really got into his stride. Whenever Messi picked up the ball, one of Germany's two defensive midfielders was in his face.
When Schweinsteiger was in possession of the ball, Khedira latched on to Messi, denying him the freedom he craves. When Khedira found the ball at his feet, Schweinsteiger returned the favour and did the defensive duties to nullify the threat of Messi.
Germany's two fullbacks, Philip Lahm on the right and Jerome Boateng on the left, were free to push forward in support of Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski, Germany's two wide attacking midfielders. This created a numerical advantage on the flanks for the Germans, which they exploited at every opportunity.
These tactics were clearly laid out by Loew, and executed to perfection by his players.
By comparison, Argentina's coach, Diego Maradona, did not appear to have any idea how to change his formation to counter Germany's tactical setup.
Maradona went with a 4-3-1-2 system, with Javier Mascherano in the middle of the park, Angel Di Maria to his left and Maxi Rodriguez to his right. Messi played as an attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker behind a strike partnership of Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain.
The problem for Argentina was that neither Di Maria nor Rodriguez is defensive-minded, forcing Mascherano to cover far too much ground to be effective defensively. Mascherano is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, but with minimal assistance from his other midfielders, his job was virtually impossible.
Germany's five-man midfield, with support from either fullback, controlled the game because they starved Argentina of the ball. When Argentina did manage to win the ball back, they were quickly outnumbered by the German midfield, who retreated to occupy the space in front of the German back four.
It would have been wiser for Maradona to employ another holding midfielder alongside Mascherano to lessen his defensive burden. Esteban Cambiasso, controversially left off Argentina's World Cup squad, would have been the perfect solution, as he would have doubled the amount of defensive coverage in midfield.
This would have allowed Argentina's fullbacks to get forward in support of their attackers, providing width as an option, rather than trying to force the ball through a wall of German defenders. It would have meant replacing one of Di Maria or Rodriguez, both of whom were largely ineffective.
To do this, though, Maradona would have had to alter his tactics -- something he appeared unwilling, or unable, to do. Relying on just five players -- Higuain, Tevez, Messi, Di Maria and Rodriguez -- to break down the Germans proved to be too much to ask.
It was as if Maradona went into the game expecting his offensive players to dominate the Germans, without understanding how Germany would set up as a team. When that didn't happen, Maradona had no back-up plan, and Argentina were continually repelled by the well-organized German defence.
Football can at times be like a game of chess. You lay out your strategy in your mind, but if something happens on the field that nullifies that strategy, you must be able to work out a solution.
You must be able to recognize that Plan A isn't working, and quickly and effectively shift to Plan B.
Maradona didn't do that, and he and his team were made to pay a heavy price. Maradona was a brilliant player -- one of the best ever. But as a coach he has yet to demonstrate the same level of ability.