A Germany revival?

World Cup 2022: Fixtures to follow in second round of matches

Alex Keble shines his tactical spotlight on four intriguing match-ups for the second round of World Cup fixtures.

Spanish style favours a Germany revival

  • Spain v Germany
  • BBC: Sunday, 19:00 GMT
  • Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Hansi Flick will have been deeply troubled by Japan’s ability to recover in the second half and tear right through them, but unlike Germany’s humiliation in 2018 we are more likely to look back on their 2-1 defeat this week as a Japanese story, not a German one.

Hajime Moriyasu has created a very good team that could go far and Spain, counter-intuitively, should be more comfortable opponents for Flick’s side. Japan’s sharp transitions caught them out, yet Spain will dominate possession next week and look to suffocate Germany.

This may play into Flick’s hands since he is more interested in verticality and quick one-touch football than all the possession his team were forced to hold against Japan, with Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry, and Jamal Musiala – who was superb against Japan – likely to enjoy the spaces that open up once Spain lose possession in the Germany half.

Luis Enrique will not be getting carried away by their 7-0 win over Costa Rica. Pedri and Gavi will have a much harder time running the show against Ilkay Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich, plus with Antonio Rudiger leading a defence in a deeper and tighter shell Enrique’s weaker forward line may be stunted entirely.

Germany don’t need to panic just yet.

Spain's Gavi
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Bale & Johnson needed for ‘receptions’

  • Wales v Iran
  • BBC: Friday, 10:00 GMT
  • Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan

There are some curious statistics popping up on our TV screens from Qatar and probably the most unusual, and frankly pointless, is the ‘total receptions between defensive and midfield lines’.

But while there doesn’t seem much value in calculating and presenting these on the Qatari feed, they do happen to be exactly what Wales are after when they face Iran in a must-win game on Friday.

Iran were hapless in 6-2 defeat against England, perhaps understandably struggling to focus on the task at hand given the political and social unrest back home.

Off the ball they simply left enormous holes between the lines horizontally and vertically, all too easily allowing England to feed passes into dangerous zones as Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount received possession in the half-spaces and drove towards goal.

gareth bale wales
Gareth Bale's penalty earned Wales a point against USA

Wales, then, need to revert to their first-half tactics from the 1-1 draw with USA despite the upturn that followed Rob Page’s change.

They went more direct once Kiefer Moore came off the bench, and as the ball stuck to the target man Wales were finally able to move up the pitch, push USA back, and win the set-pieces they needed to turn things around.

However, against Iran they need Page’s initial narrow 3-4-3, with Gareth Bale and Brennan Johnson (far more dangerous and technical than Daniel James) looking to drop either side of Moore.

With Moore drawing bodies towards him, there should be space for Bale and Johnson to take the ball into feet and dribble into the final third.

Rice-Bellingham partnership to push US back

  • England v USA
  • ITV: Friday, 19:00 GMT
  • Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

USA will not be happy with how Wales managed to completely change the momentum of their opener via a simple tactical move and reversion to old-fashioned football.

That’s the problem with Gregg Berhalter’s ultra-modern high-pressing approach: it is too sophisticated for the international game and, therefore, too easily countered in the reality of a World Cup contest.

England shouldn’t mimic Wales, mind. Instead Gareth Southgate can be confident of working around the US press in a way the Welsh could not, namely by encouraging Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice to do what they do best and carry the ball through the lines.

Opta’s measure of ‘progressive carries’ has Bellingham top in the Bundesliga with 9.6 per 90 while Rice is fourth in the Premier League with 16.4 per 90.

Once England’s back four have calmly found the first pass out of the US pressure, Rice and Bellingham should be able to take the risk of striding forward to break the lines and release Bukayo Saka, Sterling, and Harry Kane into space in the opposition half.

The only danger is that Harry Maguire could be caught out, but his assured start against Iran suggests England have nothing to worry about.

Martino’s aggression could further stunt Argentina

  • Argentina v Mexico
  • ITV: Saturday, 19:00 GMT
  • Lusail Stadium, Al Daayen

The defining feature of Saudi Arabia’s stunning 2-1 win over Argentina was that remarkably high line, which forced Lionel Scaloni’s side to play the majority of the game in the middle third of the pitch and attempt ambitious through balls before they had their attacking players in dangerous positions.

This Argentina team perhaps do not have the speed to beat an offside trap, and certainly they did not have the will; their forwards did not make the runs needed to adapt to how the game was unfolding.

There is a decent chance Mexico will copy the Saudi model. Gerardo Martino, a former Argentina manager, comes from the Barcelona school and is known for his aggressive high line and possession-centric tactics.

If Mexico are fearless in this contest they can again create a sticky contest and push the favourites back, utilising an offside trap we already know can stump Argentina.

Perhaps the best they can hope for is a 0-0 draw. Mexico were toothless in attack against Poland as they repeatedly filtered the ball through Hirving Lozano, and it is hard to know where or how Martino’s side will be able to hurt an Argentine defence that conceded just one goal in their last eight games prior to the defeat to Saudi Arabia.

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