In what has obviously been the shock result of a rather difficult World Cup for the heavy favorites (Spain, Brazil, Argentina all failed to win, France scraped by) Mexico caused the biggest upset of the tournament with a 1-0 win over the holders Germany. Here are six reasons why El Tri were superior to die Nationalelf:
1.Great tactics by Juan Carlos Osorio:
the often criticized and almost fired Colombian-born coach of Mexico reportedly spent six months perfecting his game plan. Mexico came out in a defensively compact, narrow 4-2-3-1 that would battle Germany for midfield control, harass the buildup with man-oriented assignments and then after winning possession progress the ball quickly through the middle with Herrera’s and Vela’s dribbling and\or releasing the speedy Miguel Layún on the right or the lethal Hirving Lozano on the left. The structure and compactness are visualized beautifully by 11tegen11’s new dynamic passmap:
Mexico's dynamic #passmap shows how they were drilled for this game.
A very compact 4-2-3-1, with pacy forwards as important outlets, most notably Lozano on the left flank.
In the end you can see clearly how deep they retreated to defend the lead with depleted energy levels. pic.twitter.com/GuWolaZxNI
— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) June 17, 2018
2. Man-marking Toni Kroos out of the match:
Osorio had planned to disrupt the vaunted German buildup by instructing former Arsenal player Carlos Vela and former Leverkusen striker Javier Chicharito Hernandez (two players who have spoken extremely highly of the coach) to follow Toni Kroos around and press him mercilessly.
One #MEXGER key tactical points was #MEX decision to man mark @ToniKroos out of the game during the buildup. You can see Carlos Vela and Chicharito doing it inside of the first 5 minutes, Kroos was either in the covershadow or pressed quickly and had to get rid of the ball pic.twitter.com/RXmOeyKpOA
— BundesPL (@BundesPL) June 17, 2018
Basically, until Vela was able to run, he pressured and harassed Kroos, as part of the masterplan by Osorio, who praised his player’s sacrifice:
“The idea was for Carlos to give us his all for 60 minutes,” Osorio said at a press conference following the match at Luzhniki stadium. “Sixty minutes was all we had planned for. It was painful to bench him, but that was our original plan.”
It definitely worked as you can see from Toni Kroos’ pass map: there is a massive disparity between the first 55 minutes that Vela was on the pitch, where Kroos was forced to play safe passes sideways and pressured into backward passes. I mean there’s maybe three incisive, line-breaking passes in there from just 39 attempts?
When Vela was replaced, Mexico retreated into an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 and Kroos grew into the game, as did Germany, since a large proportion of their XG (around 0.7 of their 1.2 to be exact, per 11tegen11) came in the last half hour:
his passes originate from a much higher position and many of them break lines and create dangerous moments. He also upped his frequency to a whopping 42 pass attempts in just 35 minutes, more than he tried in close to an hour! #freeToniKroos
Even Bundestrainer Löw admitted that “Kroos was basically marked out (zugestellt) of the match” and Germany “struggled to find solutions in the first half”. When Jogi tried to chase the game, he withdrew the disappointing Khedira for Reus to provide more attack, and then even went for Gomez for Plattenhardt, using Julian Brandt as a wingback in a 3 man backline. That went about as well as Peter Bosz’s last 8 games, a comparison I used on Twitter:
— BundesPL (@BundesPL) June 17, 2018
I mean at one point there was a Mesut Özil – Toni Kroos double pivot and I’m pretty sure any tackle that duo had made would have been their first ever:
— BundesPL (@BundesPL) June 17, 2018
Of course a lot of the credit should go to Mexico’s tremendous counters. Despite what many have said about not finishing them off perfectly, El Tri were able to launch 20 counters (2nd most at the World Cup behind Egypt’s 24 vs Uruguay) and end SEVEN of them with shots (that number for Egypt was 3). This was not a solitary instance,
and let us not forget that Hummels, Boateng or Neuer all broke up counters as well. Hummels did not hold back on the criticism in front of the ZDF microphones: “It was pretty simple (what happened) today. We played like we did against Saudi Arabia, only against a much tougher opponent…..When seven or eight players play really offensively, then it becomes pretty clear that the offensive momentum is a lot greater than the defensive stability. It is something I have talked about internally….our defense is not well set-up, we gotta admit that – we cannot have just Boateng and I in the back alone. That is how they countered us to death without mercy.”
4. Germany’s structural problems, Restverteidigung and Khedira’s woes
As Hungarian analyst István Beregi eloquently pointed out, a lot of the counters – to take nothing away from Mexico – were due to structural issues with Germany’s positioning. In what was a shocking display, given Löw’s previous exploits in positional play, die Mannschaft fail to set up good counterpressing structures by lacking access to the ball zone, closing down passing lanes and the German CBs being dragged upfield by Chicharito, whom particularly Mats Hummels struggled to get close to.
It is a giant failure in what tactics writers call Restverteidigung – which translates to “last man defending” but not in the English way of making desperate tackles, but in having sufficient structures to prevent counter situations by taking up good countepressing positions up the pitch and quick access to the ball by usually 1-2 midfield players. The analyst Jens Schuster does a wonderful job of illustrating how Germany should have done it vs. how it was executed against Mexico.
Eine Spielszene zur viel zitierten Restverteidigung / Kontersicherung, was auch immer. Ein gutes Beispiel dafür, dass Über- / Unterzahl nicht immer numerisch bedingt sein muss. #GERMEX ##WorldCup pic.twitter.com/i9mmybNNCU
— Jens Schuster (@jensschuster_de) June 18, 2018
For Germany the player that is usually tasked with being a position to make those crucial tackles to stop counters is Sami Khedira, who had a torrid time. It’s only been 50 seconds, but both he and Mats Hummels are way off in their marking and Carlos Vela (making the run ahead of the ref) is able to play in Hirving Lozano.
In the eighth minute, Khedira loses possession near Mexico’s box and there are 5 of his teammates in a horizontal line (plus Timo Werner up top) for a total of 7 guys who will have ZERO chance of stopping any kind of counter.
I mean, just ask Toni Kroos how he feels about covering all of midfield and beyond on his own….
Of course, Löw could have opted for Ilkay Gündogan, Leon Goretzka, or heaven forbid Mario Götze, all of whom would have offered an upgrade in ball progression-pressing and counterpressing over the dressing room favorite Khedira. Still, it is not completely fair to put the failures of the Germany midfield on Sami alone, as Toni Kroos, who also received a score of 5 from Bild was uncharacteristically poor at times and is not in there to break up counters. Let’s not get into Mesut Özil having to track back with Hirving Lozano (gee I wonder who was gonna win that footrace?) either.
5. The superiority in midfield and on the left side
We would be remiss if we did not give a ton of the credit for Osorio’s Mexican midfield for winning the battle: the Porto CDM Hector Herreria put in a monster performance. Per Instat numbers he racked up five successful dribbles from eight attempts, as well as winning seven of eight tackles. Meanwhile he was also involved in a game-high 25 challenges, winning 16 of them, with no other player attempting over 16 duels. Herrera also led Mexico with 38 pass attempts. Are we sure he is not actually Naby Keita? The former Porto winger Miguel Layún was always a willing runner on the counters, while the veteran Andres Guardado once again showed why he has been one of the most intelligent players in world football.
Meanwhile LB, Jesús Gallardo was a monster on his side with eight interceptions and seven clearances. I am guessing he had a little something to do with Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich (who often looked like he was a right-sided wide forward) combining to go 2 of 16 on crosses. Which leads me to my final point:
6. Germany not playing to its strengths
You probably should not be attempting 28 crosses in a game (19 in the second half) if you are Germany, I mean even Carlo Ancelotti thinks that’s desperate and unoriginal. It is probably not a great sign for the defending World Cup champions if they abandon their plan after going down 1-0 in their opening game and just start dumping it in to the box. It’s even more shocking considering that in the first 15 minutes or so Timo Werner was able to run in behind the Mexican defense and his teammates found him a couple times only for the RBL man to be hung out to dry. And who is surprised by bringing on Mario Gomez to bang in late winner? Certainly not Mexico as Rory Smith’s New York Times piece pointed out:
“We knew the substitutions they make when they are losing,” he said.
Mexico had been reminded of how to handle the aerial threat of Mario Gomez, the striker who came on late. “We prepared the use of him up front,” Osorio said.
Then again, Osorio has a bit of a habit of being well-prepared, earning the nickname “the professor”, though I think this might the first time anyone has used that in a positive way about the Colombian. Finally, if you are asking the question: Who could have predicted all of this? I have a boring answer for you: Juan Carlos Osorio himself.
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