Euro 2020 - Kimmich v Shaw, Goretzka v Phillips and Kane v himself – England v Germany key battles
Ahead of the big Euro 2020 Last 16 clash between England and Germany, Pete Sharland takes a look at some of the key individual battles to see where the game will be won and lost. Across the pitch there are important match-ups whether that is out wide or through the middle and it is important that ever player wins their duels, although some are more important than others...
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The last time England faced Germany in an international tournament it was pretty tough to watch for their fans. At the 2010 World Cup encounter, they were woefully caught out from a tactical standpoint, as the likes of Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil ran riot.
This time around England present a completely different prospect for Germany. The Three Lions boast a real golden generation and in Gareth Southgate they have an intriguing, if frustratingly pragmatic, manager. By contrast Germany feel as if they are in a state of transition, with this Joachim Low’s last tournament in charge before his former assistant Hansi Flick takes over.
Ahead of the clash we’re going to take a look at the key individual match-ups that could end up deciding the tie.
This is probably not where you expected us to start. There are two reasons for this. 1) Kai Havertz might be one of Germany’s most important players in this game. 2) There is no real order of importance to these selections.
Havertz is a polarising player but it feels as if Germany are starting to get something resembling the best out of him. He’s been dovetailing nicely with Thomas Muller behind Serge Gnabry and the combined movement of the trio can make it tricky for defenders to pick them up.
Joachim Löw und Kai Havertz
Image credit: Getty Images
Assuming England use a back four again (and that is no real guarantee) you’d expect Harry Maguire to possibly be tasked with trying to pick up the movements of Havertz while Declan Rice watches Muller and maybe the slightly quicker John Stones to shadow Gnabry. The problem with this of course is that Havertz will go everywhere, deeper into midfield and wider to the wings.
The key here will be how Maguire communicates with his full-backs and holding midfielders. They have to be aware at all times of where the Germany front three is. They’re not necessarily going to beat you for pace (apart from Gnabry) and they’re not even super skilful (again Gnabry), it’s all about the movement.
Joshua Kimmich (and Robin Gosens) v Luke Shaw (and Kyle Walker/Reece James/Kieran Trippier)
Forgive the length of that title but we’re obviously still unsure whether Southgate is going to go with three or four at the back, which can impact the personnel choices here.
What we do know is that Low will go with Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens - probably two of Germany’s more important players so far. When Germany play well and are a threat, their wing-backs are at the heart of it and England have to stop them.
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Whether it’s a three or a four the wide defenders will have to get out and close the space. Kimmich and Gosens won’t always push into the final third to make their crosses, they’re happy to whip them in from deep, which again comes back the front three’s movement.
England cannot have their full-backs sitting deep and trying to defend the byline, they have to be proactive and get out to the Germany wing-backs. And then on the flip side they have to be ready to get forward and help the wide players overload the wing-backs and then try to drag the Germany centre-backs out of position.
Matthias Ginter (and Mats Hummels) v Raheem Sterling
Speaking of Germany centre-backs. So far England’s most dangerous player going forward has been Raheem Sterling and it is expected that he will continue to start out on the left.
Except it isn’t really out on the left, like he does with Manchester City Sterling has the freedom to move inside, knowing that he’ll be covered by his full-back or another attacker. Like with Maguire and Havertz communication is key here Matthias Ginter and Mats Hummels. They’ll have Harry Kane to deal with as well as two of Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden.
Raheem Sterling of England celebrates scoring his goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group D match between Czech Republic and England
Image credit: Getty Images
They’ll all be moving about, they need to work together with the wing-backs and the two central midfielders to avoid an overload situation or where a player is completely unmarked, as happened a lot against Hungary.
Antonio Rudiger dealt relatively well with Sterling and Riyad Mahrez during the Champions League final so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him target Ginter or Hummels instead. Hummels in particular, seems like a real weak spot given his lack of pace, something that our colleague Marc Hlusiak pointed out in our Inside Europe piece.
Leon Goretzka v Kalvin Phillips
This one is a bit of a wildcard given that we don’t know whether or not Goretzka will start but in the piece linked above Hlusiak said that our team in Germany expects the Bayern man to come in. Sadly calls for Jamal Musiala will probably not be met.
Goretzka's addition will bring more energy to the midfield. Ilkay Gundogan hasn’t been the driving force that he has been for City so perhaps Goretzka can add more impetus. That will put pressure on Leeds United man Kalvin Phillips, arguably England’s biggest positive surprise of the tournament.
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Phillips has been more mobile than his midfield partner Rice so you imagine it will be his job to take charge of Goretzka’s runs, with either Mount or Grealish tracking the deeper Toni Kroos, depending on who plays.
In an ideal world for Germany the movement by the front three creates space for a midfield runner. It hasn’t really happened with Gundogan but based on the Hungary game it really looks like Goretzka could do that. Phillips needs to attach himself to the Bayern man and not be afraid to make his own runs to make his opponent work.
Harry Kane v Himself
This is slightly tongue in cheek but there is a real point to be made here.
When he is on form Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world, if not the best. When he’s at his best there are only a handful defenders in the world who can live with him.
Sadly he is a long way from his best at the moment.
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England took seven out of nine points from the group stage without him playing anywhere close to a good level. That probably cannot continue if England are to go far in this tournament.
It’s almost painful to write this as so much has been said on this topic, but he really has to start playing further up the pitch and stop coming deep. It is about not trying to do everything like he feels he has to for Tottenham. That means trusting players like Foden and Grealish to play him in, and look to play off of someone like Sterling.
With Kane at the moment it all feels a bit Wayne Rooney. England star player cutting an increasingly pissed off figure as speculation about off the field matters continue. He’s saying the right things about shutting out the noise and getting back to his best, but now is the time to show it.
If Kane starts to hit top gear England become the outright favourites for the tournament, as most of the other parts of the team have already clicked. It’s all up to Kane now.