After a frenzy of interchanging between the Group F nations, Germany finally landed the runners up spot after a tough draw against Hungary.
The prize for finishing second awaits in the last 16, a tantalizing match up against the old foes, England.
This German side is far from its best incarnation, but similar can be said of the England team at this stage. With both teams enjoying both grumbles and cheers before progressing from their respective groups, the stage is now set for a titanic battle. Gareth Southgate’s tactical plan must be drawn up for England, in order for a quarter final place to be achieved.
With Joachim Löw adopting a 3-4-3 formation, this is where England can hopefully execute a viable plan to overcome their opponents. Mats Hummels sitting at the center of a 3 man defense must be an area that is targeted throughout, with the veteran defender starting ahead of Niklas Süle. The Borussia Dortmund central defender no longer possess the pace or reactions from his prime, and his being brought back into the side seems irregular. Joachim Löw must feel his experience can outweigh the physical attributes of others, and this is where England can benefit.
If Harry Kane, or those final third players working around him can isolate and expose Hummels’ weaknesses, this may represent the best chance for victory. With an uninspired tournament thus far, Kane may feel this challenge is where he can rise above the critics. It is make or break time for Harry Kane, and hopefully his on going transfer saga is not distracting his on field duties.
The midfield starting pieces for Germany are now less clear, with Leon Grotezka possibly coming into real contention after the Hungary game. The tournament has seen Ilkay Gundogan paired with Toni Kroos thus far, with no real defensive midfielder. If this pairing were to remain, it could open up many avenues (the event that England persevere with Grealish or Foden as a 10).
Whether or not Gareth Southgate will stick with a 4-2-3-1 or revert back to a more trusted 4-3-3 remains to be seen, however the supposed midfield of Germany can be overrun if pressed effectively. This could well see a recall for Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who impressed in England’s group decider against the Czech’s. Despite a worrying lack of match practice, he could offer more off the ball work rate with his inclusion.
Jordan Henderson has a very specific role for Liverpool, when played as a right sided 8. His job is to press, occupy space for an overlapping Trent Alexander Arnold and add balance to the side. In no way is Henderson a gifted playmaker, and his limitations on the ball can often be exposed against lesser sides. This fact is surely why Klopp was so keen to recruit the midfield controller, Thiago Alcantara, last summer. This game against the Germans represents an opponent where Henderson starting may suit himself and the team, against a midfield expecting more of the ball, and thus allowing Henderson to impact his own pressing game.
Joshua Kimmich is currently occupying a right wink back role, therefore the central areas of midfield and defense is where England need to look to expose the Germans. Neither Toni Kroos nor Ilkay Gundogan are the most mobile, and with targeted pressing, the the forward line may find space in behind that is so often lacking. The Wembley environment can only add to England’s chances of progression, with the Germans perhaps under more pressure to continue their recent tournament dominance over England
The team that started the final group game for England showed more flexibility in the forward line, and with possibly more space in behind, Kane may opt into a more forward position, instead of dropping deep. The fluidity of those around him will be vital to disrupt the German system, one which most of the German players do not play at club level. The press will also nee needed to stop Toni Kroos, and his pin point passing from deep. With Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry likely start with one other, the passing lanes must be cut out at the source. England too have been impressive defensively so far, but this nee opposition offers far more threat than those prior.
An impressive Bukayo Saka will no doubt start after an impressive game, adding both trickery & unpredictability. Raheem Sterling will continue, given his goal threat, and Jack Grealish should be given the chance to further impact for the three lions. The only alteration may be Henderson for Kalvin Phillips, where his big game experience and off ball quality could be more fitting to this game.
The tournament starts proper in this knockout stage, and with the game very much in the balance, this could represent England’s greatest chance to overcome the Germans. The defense will have to stay alert, and contain many German threats to stay competitive. The attack needs to start quickly, and the midfield to stay aggressive.
England and Southgate have a fighting chance to write their own history this Tuesday at Wembley, but who will be that vital player, to help bring football home.