Can France Expose Cracks in the German Lines?

Arguably the most mouthwatering match of the quarter-finals is the clash between European neighbours France and Germany, which could produce the eventual winner of Brazil 2014.

Free from the internal back-biting and disciplinary problems which have haunted previous campaigns at major tournaments, France have flourished at this World Cup, winning Group E with an attractive brand of free-flowing football, then dispatching Nigeria 2-0 in the Round of 16.

The Germans, three-time winners of the tournament, looked unconvincing in their 2-1 extra-time win over Algeria; vulnerable to the counter attack and lucky that their opponents wasted several opportunities.

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So which indicators does the newly released data from those Round of 16 games give us ahead of the big match at the Maracanã?

The Germans, who averaged the highest number of passing-style build-up moves (60) per game in the group stage, will rely on controlling the game tightly. Against Nigeria they had the ball in standard possession (27 mins) and advanced possession (11 mins) far more than their opponents and indeed France, with 9.5 mins and 5.5 mins respectively.

Germany could leave themselves open to the counter-attack by religiously employing a high defensive line. Looking at the infographics below, we can see how the German defence’s average positions on the pitch (in the 1st map) over the duration of their game, are noticeably more advanced than France’s (in the 2nd map).

                                GER pitch map 1 (2)

FRA pitch map 1 (2)

If Germany do decide to camp in the opposition’s half again, as they did against Algeria, then France could be the team to exploit the tactic. Despite scoring 10 goals to Germany’s 9 in the tournament, from their game against Nigeria it is clear that France don’t need many opportunities to score goals.

While they both scored 2 goals, France’s front three of Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena and Olivier Giroud had the ball in scoring positions for 13 seconds, whereas Germany’s Andre Schurrle, Mesut Ösil and Thomas Muller spent 40 seconds in clear openings – even taking into account the added minutes of extra time this is a significant difference. It might seem like a small amount of time – but it should be noted that the period recorded in scoring positions is restricted to the time for which a player has the ball under control in a scoring position.

Who could be the men to do the damage? As well as being the top pass deliverer (52) and top pass receiver (57) in the Nigeria game, Marseille maestro Mathieu Valbuena also had the highest number of attacking actions in his team. And the good news for France is that Valbuena – who impressed in Brasilia with his ball control, speed and link-up play – spent the most time with the ball in dangerous areas in the final third, ahead of Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi.

Valbuena

If the Germans are to take a stranglehold of the game, their midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger (delivered 90 passes-received 86 passes) and Toni Kroos (delivered 90 passes-received 90 passes) have a big responsibility to keep things ticking over in the engine room.

Germany might want to be careful of losing possession of the ball on the left-hand side. France’s right-back Mathieu Debuchy made more interceptions and steals than any player on either team in the Round of 16, while when going forward, left-back Benedikt Howedes suffered more lost possessions classed as ‘severe’ than anyone else in the German defence.

Judging by the data from the Round of 16, it seems France might just have the edge in this clash of two styles. However, the Germans’ famous tournament mentality, which has seen them reach the semi-finals in 12 of their 17 World Cups, means they have the ability to improve as the competition progresses.

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