I WOULDN’T be presumptuous and seek to guess Gordon’s system against Germany. However, I will say that, in how he has favoured setting out in forward areas, Scotland could give their hosts something to think about tonight.
Gordon tends to select one mainline striker, with a player tucked in behind. The man in the “hole” offers extra manpower in midfield, while at the same time ensuring you do not leave your player upfront isolated. It may be that we will see James Morrison or Shaun Maloney in that support role, and whoever is asked to play there could have a vital job.
I was in Zurich this week and picked up an advanced copy of the FIFA technical report of the recent World Cup finals. While it contains assessments of every game, player and team configuration, it doesn’t tell you much that you won’t already have figured out. It does, though, serve to reinforce that the typical formation of Joachim Löw’s world champions isn’t a straightforward 4-3-3. In his midfield, Christoph Kramer and Toni Kroos are pushed on and the middle “one” is really a sitter in front of the back four. That makes the line-up more accurately a 4-1-2-3.
Of course, as Gordon has stated in the lead-up to the Euro 2016 opener in Dortmund, Germany were in no small part powered to World Cup success because their midfield one was the excellent Bastian Schweinsteiger; the recently appointed captain of his country who will miss out tonight with injury. Unfortunately for our nation, the Germans have a raft of options to replace him. His duties could be performed by Marco Reus, a superb player only kept out of the Brazil finals by an ankle injury. The reality is that whoever Germany put in there, he will be more than capable.
Morrison, Maloney or whoever, must seek to push on to the Germany backline and in so doing draw Reus deeper. If that happens, it can almost have the effect of forcing Germany into a back five, and forcing Kroos and Kramer to cover a lot of ground across the middle of the park. That is when spaces can open up for Scotland’s other creative players – if possession can be retained.
In this context, Gordon’s strategic considerations make tremendous sense. He often talks of the fundamental importance of having players who are brave on the ball, which relates back to the possession issue. He also has referred in the past to his desire to have “eliminators” in his team; by that, meaning players who will eliminate an opponent – bypassing them in effect – through taking them on and beating them. Now, in the instances when Reus is being moved around, a Scot who beats a man could find himself with the sort of gap ahead from which an attack can be mounted.
At one time the German house style used to be 3-5-2, which, of course, I was partial to myself as Scotland manager. But, despite big [Louis] van Gaal adopting that tactical approach at Manchester United, I don’t think it really works nowadays because so few teams play with two up front. With the modern preference for one attacking focal point, if you have a back three then effectively you are wasting two players.
Löw has moulded Germany into a shape wherein they have a front three spread across the pitch. In tonight’s game, it looks as if Mario Gomez will play through the middle and he is likely to be flanked by Thomas Müller and either Mario Götze or Andre Schurrle. Although these players all carry a potent threat, positionally, the way they will be set out doesn’t need to spell too many difficulties, as long as our back four hold their positions and keep their concentration.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. For, as any coach or manager will tell you, it isn’t tactics that make the difference, but talent. And, even allowing for the need for a certain transition because this evening’s selection will be shorn of five players from the World Cup final starting line-up, Germany have a host of brilliant team players.