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Posts Tagged ‘Joachim Loew

Dutch ideology watermarked on World Cup 1-2-3

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Passing triangles is football's new 'old' direction

TODAY’S World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands will see an eighth champion enter the pantheon of greats. And in that, either or both of the men, who have masterminded their team’s run to the final, will be hailed as great managers and toasted across their respective countries.

It is all fair and good, since Bert van Marwijk and Vicente del Bosque are both fantastic managers and deserve to be lauded. But both men and the imperious Joachim Loew, whose Germany side made it into the semi-finals, will secretly owe a huge debt of gratitude to a poker-faced man in a leafy suburb in Munich.

And somewhere out there, Louis van Gaal will surely be toasting his ideology with a glass of the finest available champagne.

Louis van Gaal is the real winner of the World Cup

The image of van Gaal and his burning ideology is stamped like a watermark upon these teams. His shadow hangs heavy over all three and all have managed to make it into the final four of the biggest show on earth.

So what is this ideology? What do the Dutch, the Spanish and the Germans have in common, in this World Cup of contrasts?

The answer is that all three teams have an undying devotion to a common philosophy: The need to develop a culture of passing.

Over the course of the last month, much has been made about the spirit, fight and mental bottle of the teams that made it thus far. What has been consistently missed is that all three have an infallible commitment to a passing game that was first developed by Johan Cryuff and more universally applied by Louis van Gaal.

Consider just the players in the final equation. Van Gaal currently coaches Bayern Munich, a club who provided the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm and Thomas Mueller to the tournament. And that is just from the Germany side. The Netherlands have Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel, who work with van Gaal at Bayern and both have been irrepressible in this team.

And there is more. The Spanish have Xavi and Iniesta and both men received their big breaks under Louis van Gaal in his tenure at Barcelona.

On face value, these are all different players in different positions. But what they all have in common, is the unique van Gaal trait; the ability to pass the ball. Under van Gaal, nothing is more important than this. You don’t have to be physically domineering, or prodigiously skilled. Lahm, Xavi and Iniesta are all under six foot. Mueller is hardly the most skilled player in the world.

Individual brilliance too is strictly optional; for all of Robben’s selfish forays, his ability to make swift, sharp passes is one his biggest strengths. Under van Gaal, the rule is simple. If you can pass the ball, at speed over distances, you make his team.

The van Gaal catechism is simple to learn, but hard to master. Do not pass into a team-mate’s feet, it stresses, but always ahead of him to keep the ball moving. When the first man passes to the second man, the third man must already be moving into space ready for the second man’s pass.

In short, football is about making swift passing triangles, over and over again.

Which is why kids at Ajax, Barcelona and now Bayern Munich are stuck in eternal games of four on four; two touches allowed.

It is a formula stereotypically identified as Dutch. And it is true that the Dutch pioneered it, but the Spanish perfected it and the Germans have just recently partaken it.

Van Gaal’s (and for that matter Johann Cryuff’s) influence over the biggest clubs in these countries is well documented. He oversaw the great explosion of Dutch talent from Ajax, perfected Johan Cryuff’s university of passing at Barcelona and at Bayern this season revolutionised their structure of play. On the way, he tweaked things here and there, but the basic remained the same.

And Ajax is where half of these Dutch players got their start, and Barcelona and Bayern contribute the largest quota of players to the top four teams.

The metamorphosis between the three is such that German, Dutch and Spanish football has crossbred to become almost indistinguishable. The Germans pass like Holland in disguise. The Dutch defend and counter-attack like Germans used to. Spain play like Holland circa 2000.

Once the tournament ends, most reviews will focus on the biggest stars. Instead they could do to  focus on passing cultures. The Messis, the Ronaldos and the Kakas are all on holiday. And the top three sides all adhere to the ideology of one stony-faced Amsterdammer.

Anyone else doubt that Van Gaal deserves that toast?


New dawn for Germany

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Admittedly, the first question many would ask is what would have happened, had Phillip Lahm not cleared off the line from a Ricardo Garcia shot so early on in the game. For the moment though, the answer will be moot, after the German’s heralded in a new dawn, with a breathtaking display of attacking football that tore the Socceroos asunder in their opening match at the World Cup.

To put Germany’s win into perspective, consider this. They made more passes in one half than South Africa, Uruguay, USA and Nigeria completed in their entire matches. They tactically out-thought the Australians and displayed a maturity in attack and defence that belied their status as the third youngest team in the tournament.

At times, Germany were irresistible. Classy, one and two touch football, moving the ball from side to side and most importantly, intelligent running between the lines. The performance was revolutionary in a German context.

And the face of this revolution was Mesut Oezil. The Werder Bremen playmaker was orchestrator in chief, with clever movement, intelligent running and cerebral play altogether. In midfield Sami Khedira battened down the hatches with Bastian Schweinsteiger, as the duo, picked, received, passed; dictating play in a way as to make Michael Ballack’s injury negligible.

But what shone through was that this is a new Germany. Multi-cultural, brash, brave, daring, pretty and sometimes even spectacular. None are adjectives usually associated with the national stereotype but adjectives that held stead after a performance that will have made the world sit up and take notice.

As for Joachim Loew, he will feel vindicated in his decision to field both Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose in the side. Both of the much maligned strikers scored and in the former’s case, he also put in a stellar display full of pace power and initiative. This was the Podolski of the 2006 World Cup, one who was at that time (hard as it is to believe now) better than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.  Klose scored, but he will be cursing himself for not having got atleast one goal more. Even a hattrick was not beyond him just as three or four more goals were not beyond Germany.

At the risk of getting carried away, it should be remembered that Australia were quite poor and their tactics played totally into Germany’s hands. Pressing high up the pitch meant that they left enough room behind the defence for the Germans to exploit, and for once, true to stereotype, the Germans ruthlessly did; time and again.

Germany will face tougher opponents and they will not win this World Cup. It is too soon for this bunch of talented players. But they will win fans, hopefully overturn stereotypes and herald in a new dawn.

Highlight: First goal Made in Turkey, scored in Poland, to put Germany 1-0 up. The multi-cultural make-up of the World Cup is showcased here. Mesut Oezil, of Turkish origin, strives for space on the right, manufactures an inch of room and slides in a superb pass for the Bavarian Thomas Mueller, who cuts the ball behind for the Polish-born Podolski to hammer home via the hands of the German-born Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Brilliant start.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

Germany are tactically mobile, but is Loew?

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On paper, this Germany side has six forwards and two central midfielders. Four center-backs but just one specialist left back. Madness is what immediately comes to mind.

But Joachim Loew might just have some method in his thinking. Modern football is all about multi-functional players, operating in a system that is dynamic and can easily shift from one to another. And in that regard, Loew’s Germany side are a highly efficient bunch.

The point is best illustrated with the case of Thomas Mueller.

The Bayern Munich man can challenge Miroslav Klose/Mario Gomez/Cacau to play up front, Stefan Kiessling/Piotr Trochowoski to play on the right and Lukas Podolski/Marko Marin for a spot on the left. Mueller has been used in all of those positions this season by club coach Louis van Gaal, and he was even used as an advanced player in a midfield three, a role that does not exist in Germany’s current tactical setup.

Mueller is the jack of all trades

Despite this ability to fit in almost anywhere, Mueller will probably be on the bench for Germany’s first game against Australia on Sunday. Which begs the question, as to why?

This is because most of the other players in the Germany squad are almost as multi-functional. Toni Kroos for example, is the ideal replacement for Mesut Oezil in the central playmaking role, but he is a more likely replacement for either of the two central midfielders if they get injured/suspended. He can also play on the left.

Staying in midfield, while Schweinsteiger is a lock for the midfield spot, he has played the vast majority of his games for Germany either on the left or on the right. Podolski can play as the central striker but looks set for the left.

And in defence, this multi-position capability is even more evident. Phillip Lahm can play right or left back, Friedrich right or center back. Boateng mirrors the latter, while Badstuber is the inverse – he plays center and left back.

But Denis Aogo is the most interesting. The Hamburg man, will probably be Loew’s fall-back solution for the central midfield spot, and the fact that he has Kroos to share that burden with is why Loew, probably did not call up a replacement for his several injuries.

The questions that remains is whether having such squad flexibility is really helpful? Most coaches would tell you that such an option is an ace-in-the-hole. Each person brings unique qualities to the position they play and this adds to the overall unpredictability of the team, making them harder to plan and play against.

Having such an option greatly increases the chance of making swift, but subtle tactical changes that can affect the result of a game.

But in order to do that, you need a tactically astute manager, who is quick on his feet and brave.

And while Loew is certainly the former, he is yet to convince most that he possess either of the latter two qualities.

is Loew fast enough on his feet?

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Loew’s tactics dissected

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With all the friendly matches done and dusted, Joachim Loew’s cards suggest that the following is how his side will line-up in their opening World Cup game against Australia.

Starting 11 (4231):
Attack: Cacau/Klose, Mueller, Oezil, Podolski
Support: Khedira
Defense/Retention: Schweinsteiger

Attacking: When in possession the four attacking players are interchangeable, and use their creativity and pace to make quick passes and break down the opponent’s defense. Cacau/Klose will play the role of the false nine, often dropping deep and letting Oezil, who is almost a shadow striker get ahead of him.Case in point the 3-4 one-on-one chances Oezil got in the Hungary game.

The focus is on keeping the ball on the ground as much as possible.  Khedira’s role is to initiate attacks and support the attacking players by playing one two’s and making intelligent forward runs. Schweinsteiger’s role is slightly more defensive. He will stay deep, retain the ball and try to control the pace of the game.

The great part of this setup is that, in theory, all 4 attacking players are creative as well as goal threats. This formation relies heavily on quickness and intelligent movement on and off the ball.

This is also perhaps the reason that neither of  Trochowski and Kroos will be able to find a starting spot in the team.

Defending: All four attacking players have a very high work rate and are expected to pressure the opponent in their own half; the object being to force turnovers and keep offensive pressure off of our defense.

Schweinsteiger and Khedira work together to win back possession and capitalize on mistakes that are forced by the relentless pressuring from the attackers. This system uses up lots of energy, so expect Marin to enter between the 65 and 70 minute in most matches to replace either Podolski or Mueller (depending on who is exhausted).

Mueller/Podolski is the key to the success of this formation because of their immense work rate defensively. Loew wants Mueller and Podolski to run at the other team and wear them down (not unlike Mueller and Olic do for Bayern) so that his substitutes can capitalize on tired legs.

The best part of this concept is the interchangeable parts and the fact that the midfield and attackers are very technical. Germany will be flexible enough to play a possession game or a counter attack game, depending on the need at the time.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 5, 2010 at 7:26 am

Jekyll and Hyde Germany

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Nifty combinations, smart organization and some late dazzling wing-play meant that Germany came away with a number of positives from their warm-up game against Hungary last night.

Joachim Loew’s side were excellent for parts in the game, most notably in the first half when Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and Piotr Trochowoski combined time and again to rip the Hungarian defence to shreds.

Only the brilliance of Gabor Kiraly in the Hungarian goal and the profligacy of Oezil in particular meant that a Lukas Podolski penalty was all Germany had to show for a dominating performance in the first half.

In truth though, it was almost a Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Germans as Loew’s decision to withdraw both Khedira and Oezil at half-time meant that the line up had an almost experimental feel to it in the second half, with Podolski and Denis Aogo making a central midfield pairing for long periods in the second half.

It showed as the Germans struggled to replicate the swift interplay of the first period, and yet they added two goals, thanks largely to the efforts of the dazzling Marko Marin. The Werder Bremen star created the second goal for Gomez and tormented the Hungarian left side time and again with some superb movement.

And the Brazilian-born Cacau will have done his chances of inclusion, and a start even, no harm as he streaked away towards the end and placed a fine finish past Kiraly.

All in all though, despite a listless performance from Hungary, the Germans will be happy that they managed to restrict the Magyars even a single decent opportunity in the entire game. Manuel Neuer, in his first game since being confirmed number one, had little to do, but mopped up any danger that came his way and showed safe handling.

On the evidence of this performance, and at this stage of preparations, Loew will be quite satisfied with yesterday’s showing. The biggest decision facing him is which of the two players to cut for his final 23. Based on yesterday, it really will not be a difficult decision.


1st half: As been common practice in the absence of the Bayern Munich players, Loew used a hybrid of the 4231/4141, with Toni Kroos providing the tactical fluidity in central midfield. Surprisingly enough, he was often the covering midfielder as Sami Khedira moved on ahead of him. Oezil was almost a shadow striker while Podolski played more like a hanging forward. Often during the game they have lined up like this:





2 nd half: More standard fare from Loew, with a switch to a more conventional 442 which developed into a 41311. The second half ended with Germany lining up like this:






Neuer: 7 (Safe handling, and came out well, almost a Barthez moment at the end)

Boateng: 5.5 (Out of position often, strong going up, right-back not his position)

Mertesacker: 7 (Solid, uncompromising and a calming presence)

Friedrich: 6 (Not overly tested, but one shocking tackle)

Westermann: 6.5 (Left-back not his best position, still did well for the most part)

Khedira: 8.5 (Best player on the pitch, calm and incisive all in one go)

Kroos: 5.5 (Added tactical fluidity, not much else, shooting below par)

Podolski: 6 (Super penalty, but not too involved in proceedings)

Trochowoski: 7 (Busy the entire time on the pitch, not the most productive)

Oezil: 8 (Most creative player, but has to work on finishing)

Klose: 5.5 (Shadow of his former self, did little of note, wasted a good chance)


Aogo: 6 (Should only be played DM as a last resort, did not impress overly)

Jansen: 7 (Added physical presence and burst down the left)

Marin: 8.5 (The best player in the second half, willing to take on players)

Cacau: 8 (Adds a new dimension to the German attack)

Gomez: 7 (Lucky to get the goal, otherwise little of note)

Badstuber: — (solid, unspectacular debut)

Written by quazi zulquarnain

May 30, 2010 at 8:29 am

Loew refutes reason…again

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So, no replacement for Christian Traesch. The Germany camp today, released a statement through coach Hansi Flick.

“No, there will not be another nomination. There are several options, though they have narrowed down a bit. Dennis Aogo has played that position as has Heiko Westermann.”

So, Germany will now go into the World Cup with just three players for the two central midfield positions; only one of whom have played this position with any regularity.

Sami Khedira is now the only ‘natural’ central midfielder in the side. Bastian Schweinsteiger has only this season been converted into a ball-playing midfielder, while Heiko Westermann intermittently fills the destructor position for Schalke.

The Germany camp seem to be relying on the versatility of their squad, hoping that the fact that various players can play multiple positions means that they will be covered in almost all positions. The worrying part is that, Loew might end up fielding a team which has most players filling up positions that is not their preferred roles. That cannot be a good sign.

What is even more shocking is the statements issuing from the camp. Flick was quoted today as saying:

“With Rene Adler, Michael Ballack and Christian Traesch there are three players who would have been in that 23-man squad. I think we have been punished enough and that all will be fine from now on,”

Almost Maradona-esque in its logic.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

May 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Posted in World Cup 2010

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Ballack, Loew and headaches for Germany

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Ballack’s hurt, Loew crippled

As someone once so eloquently put it, “with Michael Ballack, you only realize what you had once he is gone.”  The Germany captain may just be a shadow of his former imperious self, but his tactical awareness, experience and just overall intelligence was critical to Germany’s hopes of playing a good World Cup in South Africa.

However, the Germans will have to do without their captain and his bags of experience come the World Cup. For a while there were rumours swirling, that Torsten Frings might be drafted in as replacement. Manager Oliver Biefhoff made it clear that there was no way back for the Werder Bremen rebel, because he did not fit in with the team philosophy. In other words, Loew and him do not get along.

The loss of Ballack is a huge blow, considering that this German squad is one of the youngest in living memory. And while this might give the impression, that Loew has been a beacon of light and a driver for change, it is really not the case. While Loew has been welcoming of capping young stars (mostly ones of dual nationality), none of the youngsters in his team seem very well suited to the team’s style of doing things.

Marko Marin is a perfect example. The Bremen winger was a pick in the initial Euro 2008 squad but ever since then, he has had only a handful of caps, most of which involve him coming on and playing for the last 15 minutes of a game. Although Marin has been very bright for Bremen this season, the trouble is that he is not yet attuned to the Germany system of doing things. This means that although Marin has been a constant fixture in the squad for the last two years, he has very little experience and playing time to draw from, if asked to step up during the World Cup.

Marin ... still not integrated

Tactics is an even bigger issue in that Loew’s system and formations so far have all hinged around Ballack.

Loew has used a combination of 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 for the qualifiers and Euro 2008, and he looks all set to use the latter for the World Cup. The trouble is that in both formations, Ballack played the most pivotal role. In the 4-4-2, Ballack’s tactical awareness and defensive skill meant that Germany could play without a true midfield destroyer for the last few years. Ballack’s role was also in playing the main distributor, delivering the first attacking pass out of defence. His ability to retain possession and bring other players into the game came in very handy for this role.

Also in the 4-2-3-1, Ballack was playing as one of the two deeplying central midfield players, allowing Loew, for example to use Podolski on the left-side of the three, despite the forward being not so good at tracking back.  With Ballack out, the balance of the team will thus be affected, since there are very few players in the current setup who will be able to perform the dual role as effectively.

What this means is that either Loew will be forced to ditch the system of his choice, or be forced to go back on his word of taking all six forwards to the World Cup. The rationale behindthat was that Loew assumed all six to be alternates for his ‘three’ positions up front. Loosely, Klose/Gomez for the central striker, Cacau/Kiessling for the right and Mueller/Podolski for the left

But with Ballack missing, the balance of the side will be affected if Loew uses wingers who are essentially forwards.

One good thing has be the emergence of Bastian Schweinsteiger, but the Bayern midfielder will now have to take on a leading role in the team, something he has not been quite good at in the past.

All in all though, Ballack’s injury has not just added to a long list for the Germans but given manager Loew plenty to think about, tactically and personnal wise.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

May 23, 2010 at 5:56 am