The UEFA Nations League is back with another feisty round which features the Group 4 match of League A between Germany and Ukraine. The Germans won the previous fixture in Kyiv in October with a scoreline of 2-1. Both teams came into this fixture with 6 points each after four games.
The four-time European champions and four-time world champions welcomed Ukraine to the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig. The match ended in a 3-1 win for Germany
Joachim Löw lined-up his side in a 4-3-3 formation. He made eight changes to the side that played in the friendly against Czech Republic a few days ago. Bayern Munich‘s Manuel Neur came in for Kevin Trapp. Jonathan Tah was dropped for Niklas Süle, while Ride Baku was dropped for Mathias Ginter. Florian Neuhaus was replaced with Leon Goretzka, while Jonas Hofmann gave way to Leroy Sané. Luca Waldschmidt was dropped for Serge Gnabry, then finally Borussia Dortmund‘s Julian Brandt was swapped out for for Chelsea‘s Timo Werner.
Andriy Shevchenko lined-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. He made six changes to the side that played in the friendly against Poland. Pyatov came in for Lunin. Bohdan Mykhaylichenko was dropped for Eduard Sobol at left-back. Serhiy Krystov was dropped for Illya Zabarnyi at centre-back. In midfield, Yevhenii Makarenko and Viktor Kovalenkod were replaced by Taras Stepanenko and Ruslan Malinovsky respectively. In attack, Andriy Yarmolenko dropped for Marlos.
Ukraine’s high-press and mid-press
In the first half, Ukraine sought to sit their mid-block for the most part of the half. This subsequently led to them to trigger their mid-press in the aim of blocking Germany’s progression. Ukraine’s pressing intensity in the first half was 18.4 PPDA (pass per defensive action)
Ukraine defended in their 4-1-4-1 mid-block. Their main aim was to block central progression thus staying compact in order to cut out central passing lanes.
In their 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 mid-press against Germany’s 3-1-6 build-up shape, Ukraine’s interior central midfielders pressed the outside centre-backs in Germany’s back-three build-up. They used the lateral passes from the inner centre-back, body orientation or touch of the outside CBs as a pressing trigger. The lone striker blocked the passing lane to the central passing option in Koch. The aim was to block central areas and force the press out-wide or trap the press centrally.
In the image above, Malinovsky read the game body focusing on the body orientation of Rüdiger. Malinovsky read the body orientation which depicts a lateral pass towards Gündoğan. From his body orientation, Rüdiger took the passing option. Malinovsky set himself and initiated his press as the pass goes out to Gündoğan.
In the second half, Ukraine sought to press higher as they were trailing and wanted to inject more intensity. This saw them improve their PPDA from 18.4, in the first half, to 16.3 in the second half.
Ukraine pressed in a 4-3-3 against Germany’s 4-3-3 build-up shape. Ukraine pressed this shape with the outside forwards in the frontline of pressure pressing Germany’s back-two. The lone striker man-marked the lone pivot. The interior central-midfielders in the second-line of pressure marked the halfspaces. This allowed them to effectively position themselves as so to cut off the central passing lane to Germany’s central passing option and at the same time give them optimal distance when pressing Germany’s full-backs.
Germany’s wide overloads and penetrative runs.
Germany sought to progress and create chances through numerous avenues which gave them dynamism. Crosses via wide overloads, wide overloads, wide combinations and central combinations, inside passes from the flanks, penetrative runs, sustained pressure via pressing and transitions were the numerous avenues Germany sought to progress the ball and create chances.
As mentioned above, wide overloads were a common feature in Germany’s progress tactics. They overloading of the right halfspace and central areas created the spaces on the flank. This was due to the pining back of full-back which allowed Ginter to receive in space and time. From here, Ginter could lay a cross or make an inside pass.
In the scenario above, Gnabry, Goretzka and Sané occupied the halfspaces. Sané positioned himself on the full-back. This pins the full-back from going out of his line. It allowed to Ginter to receive the ball in space and make any further action.
Germany had vast avenues for penetrative runs. Gnabry, Werner, Goretzka, and Sané all provided penetrative from central possessions. Ginter and Max provided penetrative from wide positions. Germany was able to harness these runs as they had good range passers in Gündoğan, Koch and Rüdiger.
Here, Goretzka made a penetrative run through the half-space. Koch found him with a delicate ball over-the-top. Goretzka showed his athleticism as he controls the ball and hit a fiery pass towards the box. Werner moved in to pounce and heads the ball into an empty net.
Here, Ginter made a penetrative run from the wide position. Gündoğan found his run by making an over-the-top pass.
Germany’s use of wide combinations and countermovement against Ukraine’s deep block
Ukraine changed to a 5-3-2/6-3-1 mid-to-low block in order to defend Germany’s width as a result of their wide overload. This stopped Ginter from receiving in space as Zubkov was tasked to marking him. In the other flank, Marlos drops to defend the width against Max. This makes it a 6-3-1.
Germany solved this issue in two ways. First, through the use of wide combinations and counter-movements.
In the scenario above, it features wide combination and an element of counter-movement. Ginter received the pass and took it away from his marker with a good first touch. Sané made an in-to-out decoy run that drags out his marker out of position. This created a space around the half-space which Goretzka occupied which completed the countermovement. This provided an inside passing option for Ginter. As Ginter moved the ball away, he spotted Goretzka’s position and played a reverse inside pass towards Goretzka. This time, Sané changed his movement by making an out-to-in run. Goretzka spotted the run and played an incisive pass into Sané’s path.
Pinning was also used as another solution by the Germans in their wide combinations against Ukraine’s 6-3-1/5-3-2 block. Here, Sané positioned himself between the interior centre-back and the left centre-back. This pinned the left centre-back, Matviyenko, from coming out of his line. Ginter holds and width and pins Zubkov. Germany circulated the ball which stretched Ukraine’s block. This created the lapse of time and space. Goretzka exploited this by positioning himself in the vacated spaces around the halfspace which was created by the pinning back of Ukraine’s players.
As said earlier, counter-movements were another tactic used by the Germans against Ukraine’s block. Gnabry and Sané were present factors in executing Germany’s counter-movements.
Here, Sané and Werner made runs in-behind. This drags out their markers which create space around the half-space. Gnabry spots this space and makes a counter-move in order to attack that space. Subsequently, it provided a passing option for the ball-carrier who finds Gnabry with a pass.
Apart from this, Germany also used counter-movement to make runs in-behind Ukraine’s backline. In the scenario above, Sané dropped deep to provide a passing option for the ball-carrier. This drags out their marker which creates space further up the pitch. Gnabry spots this space and makes a counter-move as he makes a run in-behind Ukraine’s backline.
Germany and its man-oriented high and mid press.
As said earlier, Germany looked to create chances from their press. They did with their ball-oriented counter-press, man-oriented high-press and mid-press. Germany’s pressing intensity was 14.9 which was better than Ukraine’s 17.1, indicative of Germany affinity to press.
In their high-press, Germany looked to mirror Ukraine’s build-up shape of 2-3. Ukraine used two centre-backs in build-up with their 3 central midfielders dropping deep while the full-backs push up and the front three inverts.
As shown above, Germany mirrored the build-up shape. Werner and Sané marked the centre-back pair. Gnabry dropped to man-mark the single pivot. Goretzka and Gündoğan moved up to man-mark Zinchenko and Malinovksy respectively. The full-backs man-marked Ukraine’s full-backs while the remaining trio of Koch, Rüdiger and Süle. In order to stay compact, the defence line pushes up.
In their mid-press, they stuck to the same principle of man-marking. However, they only man-marked central midfielders in order to block central progression. They were mostly still in a 4-1-4-1 shape where either of Ukraine’s interior drops to form a double pivot. They sat in a 4-2-3-1 if Ukraine’s interiors push. 4-3-3, in the case all the when Ukraine form a 3-2-5/3-3-4 build-up structure. Basically, they tended to mirror Ukraine’s formation.
How Ukraine bypassed Germany’s press and sought to progress the ball
As with the man-oriented press, it’s easily exploitable as it depends on the reaction of the oppositions. Ukraine sought to bypass Germany’s man-oriented high-press and mid-press by using counter-movements, wide-triangles and overloads. Coupled with this, Ukraine have fine progressors in Matviyenko, Malinovsky and Zabarnyi who exploited the disoriented shape with their vertical and diagonal passing.
In the scenario above, Ukraine bypassed the high-press through a neatly executed counter-movement. The ball-carrier received the ball and holds on to the ball. Zinchenko dropped deep to act as a passing option. His marker mirrored his movement which eventually created space higher up the pitch. Zubkov identified this space and moved to occupy this space.
The ball-carrier saw this chain of movements and made a vertical pass into Zubkov’s path. As the pass travelled from the foot of the passer to the receiver, Stepanenko made a counter-move towards Zubkov’s direction. This movement created a dilemma for Zubkov’s marker who thought Zubkov would make a return pass to Stepanenko. Zubkov used this opportunity and makes a half-turn away from his marker and drives the ball.
In Germany’s mid-press, due to the emphasis of blocking the central progression, Germany’s front three stayed narrow. Ukraine exploited this narrowness through the spaces out-wide. They congested the midfield with Zubkov dropping to the left halfspace and Marlos dropping deep into midfield while Konoplia pushed up to hold width.
The positioning of Konoplia and Zubkov aimed to pin back Germany’s full-backs. This gave Marlos and Sobol time and space to receive. This lead to wide triangles and overloads.
In the scenario above, Konoplia, Marlos and Malinovsky made a wide-triangle and combined to build-up for Ukraine’s goal. As Werner went to press, the ball was sent out wide to Marlos. Malinovsky dropped to the halfspace to provide a diagonal passing option. Malinovsky moved into the space vacated left by Max who pressed Konoplia. Marlos passed to Konoplia. Konoplia saw Malinovsky’s movement and made a pass towards him. Marlos made an underlapping run which dragged his marker and created space. Konoplia followed this movement and attacked the space created by Marlos. Malinovsky gave him a return pass which lead to several combinations and goal.
The game was a game of both ends. Both teams had chances but the Germans were more clinical in front of goal. Both teams had issues with compactness, especially in transitions. The Germans should improve their compactness and stop their man-oriented press if they want to beat Spain in their next game.
As for Ukraine, they settled defensive play isn’t good. They don’t do well with switches and ball circulations. Finally, their defensive transition game is bad.