England defeated Germany today in a round of 16 match at the European Championship. It’s the first time since the 1966 World Cup final that England prevailed over West Germany/Germany in the knockout stage of a big tournament.
At the 1970 World Cup, West Germany gained revenge for the 1966 result. The Germans also knocked out England in the semi finals of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996 (both times on penalty kicks), and defeated England handily at the 2010 World Cup.
As discussed in the update to my preview post about this match, England’s manager Gareth Southgate decided to switch formations against Germany. He went with wingbacks and three center backs to mirror, largely, Germany’s formation. By doing so, as Southgate told the media, he hoped to negate Germany’s two biggest threats in the tournament so far — wingbacks Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens.
It took England a while to acclimate to the new system (or maybe just to overcome the jitters). But England did negate Kimmich and Gosens. Neither had much impact on the match.
The German threat came instead from the middle, driven by Leon Goretzka. He helped create several good chances that the forwards couldn’t convert.
The German defense mostly negated the English attack for much of the match. In particular, Antonio Rudiger got the better of Bakayo Saka, who had posed so many problems against the Czech Republic.
Thus, to some extent, this match was an example of two teams cancelling each other out by adopting similar formations.
Two factors tipped the match to England. The first was the insertion of Jack Grealish. He figured in both England goals and got the assist on the second. It was no coincidence that both came from the English left side, where Grealich played.
But the main factor was simply that England finished its chances and Germany did not. With better finishing by Thomas Muller, Kai Havertz, and Timo Werner, Germany could have had a couple of goals, notwithstanding the good goalkeeping of Everton’s Jordan Pickford.
England, by contrast, finished its two best chances — one by Raheem Sterling (scoring his third goal of the tournament), the other by Harry Kane (who finally nabbed his first).
On another day, it could have been Germany 2 England 0. Yet, this result was anything but a fluke. As any objective EPL fan can tell you, Kane and Sterling are better at this point than the Chelsea duo of Havertz and Werner.
Southgate’s tactics aren’t the ones I would have chosen, and I wasn’t alone in that view. But in the end, they helped reduce the match, even more than usual, to a question of which team would finish its chances.
That team was England, as Southgate hoped and might well have expected.