There’s been a little sub-theme of fans being unhappy – or almost furious – at their national sides playing three at the back at Euro 2020.
The most notable of these cases has been Netherlands supporters with Frank De Boer and, after their matchday one 1-0 defeat to France, German fans called for Joachim Low to change shape as well.
Die Mannschaft’s loss to Les Bleus seemed to signal a real gap in creative quality. France threatened in the early stages, managed to take an early lead and subsequently threw the ball into Germany’s court to find an equaliser. But, as we know, it never came.
Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens, who have been the wing-backs for both Germany games thus far, simply didn’t provide enough of a threat against Didier Deschamps’ side. Playing too deep, potentially sceptical at their chances of nullifying France counter attacks, stretching the back four was an impossible task.
As a result, the front three of Kai Havertz, Thomas Muller and Serge Gnabry were easily nullified by an unmoved French back four and N’Golo Kante in front.
This completely changed against Portugal. Seemingly breaking free of their shackles and putting trust in those behind them to deal with counters, Kimmich and Gosens were practically deployed as wingers. They stretched the full-backs wide and therefore created vast spaces for the same front three to move around in and make darts into the box from. The fluidity was beautiful, the creativity was flowing, and Portugal were really struggling.
In fact, the Portuguese full-backs were run ragged – and that’s an understatement. Nelson Semedo was no where to be seen whenever Gosens steamrolled into the area or one of the front three had drifted into the left channel, while Raphael Guerreiro failed to keep tabs on Kimmich or the runners in the right channel – all courtesy of the overloads created by such advanced wing-backs.
Not only did they both cause chaos on their respective sides of the pitch, but their intelligent movement and runs into the box allowed them to combine and ask questions that, quite frankly, no team would have answers to.
The pair came together to force the opener; Kimmich’s switch to the onrushing Gosens was lashed across the six yard box, only for a helpless Ruben Dias to convert into his own net. The same process was made for the fourth, with Kimmich’s cross from the by-line met emphatically at the back post by Gosens, whose header put Low’s side 4-1 up on the hour mark.
The Atalanta wing-back also registered an assist for Havertz (Germany’s third), while Kimmich was responsible for forcing an own goal out of Guerreiro (making it 2-1).
The performance against France was very far from inspiring German hopes but, in their thrashing of Portugal, it seemed as though all pressure was off – exemplified by the freedom and willingness to attack from Kimmich and Gosens. The two of them had hands in all four of Germany’s strikes – if that’s not justification of Low’s decision to continue with his formation, then nothing is.
Many may have thought Germany were write-offs after matchday one. But with a thrilling showing on matchday two to throw Group F wide open – made possible by those stunning wing-backs – let’s take a step back and remember to never write the Germans off.