It was the 92nd minute of the match in Germany’s first EURO 2016 encounter against Ukraine. Ukraine were piling pressure down the right flank of Germany’s defensive line, putting in hopeful crosses trying to equalize in the dying minutes of extra time. Possession changes hand and Mustafi finds himself with the ball and they’re ready to counter. He finds Ozil with a neat pass who is already sprinting down the left flank, clearly onside. Ozil executes a pin point cross to Bastian Schweinsteiger’s right foot, who doesn’t miss from close range. Scoreline is 2-0 and the opening match is in the bag for Germany.
A lot is talked about tactics and formation in football but hardly anyone does about in-game management. Maybe mostly because it’s a relative concept and not as exciting as tactics or bluntly not considered important enough by some. But the way Germany handled the game vs Ukraine, it very much showed they had a plan in place.
When an international team is participating in tournaments like Euros or the World Cup and it intends to go all the way into the finals, in-game management becomes very essential. You can’t expect all the players in your starting XI to play at 100% of their energy levels until the final. That’s where you put this essential tactic into play.
International teams field players who dictate the tempo of the game. They know when to conserve their energy just spraying passes, building up play, looking for the final ball which may result in a goal. They know when to start a counterattack and sprint forward when the opposite team is desperately trying to equalise. They know when to be patient enough while in possession and how to frustrate the opposition players by denying them the ball. Germany had players like Kroos and Ozil clearly dictating the tempo of the game, passing at will in the middle of the park as they tired the Ukraine’s midfield who were constantly denied ball possession throughout the match. A method widely practiced by technically superior teams who play possession football.
I heard a few rants from the commentators (Stewart Robson) accusing few of the German players (Kroos, Ozil and Gotze) of being lazy and not working hard enough during the match. I really do hope that someday, someone would make them realize that those players were doing exactly what Joachim Loew expected out of them. They’re not going to run the length of the pitch like Scott Parker or Jordan Henderson aimlessly chasing their first touch. They chose (on purpose, yes on purpose!) to conserve their energy and instead be clever & accurate with the ball. Maybe they should be worrying more about the England team which conceded a late equaliser, with their first shot on target since the 17th minute against a poor ageing Russian side.
Teams like Germany who are big favorites for Euros have players who need to conserve their energy during the game so that they last throughout the game as well as the entire duration of the tournament. Expecting them to give their 100% of their energy, running around the pitch in all their matches is futile. Pundits, commentators and some of the fans fail to realize that. Players and managers alike have a certain plan in place as to how they will approach every game and execute their plans accordingly. How often have we seen teams who start the tournament in fine form but fade out after the group stage or during the quarters looking exhausted and phased out? Answer is quite a few.
Whether Germany will go on to win the Euros is a different question altogether but to watch them execute an impeccable example of in-game management vs Ukraine should be a lesson for other teams in the Euros and a credit to them for putting their model of German efficiency into practice.
By Anand N, TFN Columnist on 13/06/2016 at 23:36
Follow Anand on Twitter @Xhakaal