GermanyÃ¢ÂÂs 2-1 win over Holland was one of the best team displays of the competition so far. In a meeting between two of the pre-tournament favourites, Germany were clearly the better side, and should have won the game by more than one goal.
The difference between the two sides was stark. Holland coach Bert van Marwijk ignored calls to scrap his system featuring two holding midfielders, persisting with the duo of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong. This boxy, functional midfield looked utterly anarchic compared to the flexible partnership in the centre of the German midfield.
As at the World Cup, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira took it in turns to go forward and join the German attack. Holland struggled to deal with this unpredictability, and while de Jong followed Mesut Ozil across the pitch, van Bommel didnÃ¢ÂÂt know whether to pick up Schweinsteiger or Khedira. For GermanyÃ¢ÂÂs two goals, he was tracking Khedira Ã¢ÂÂ so Schweinsteiger moved forward unchecked, and provided the assists for Mario Gomez.
The understanding between GermanyÃ¢ÂÂs central midfielders is terrific Ã¢ÂÂ neither are given a permanent defensive job. Looking at the patterns of their positioning and passes from last nightÃ¢ÂÂs game, it appears as if theyÃ¢ÂÂre playing in exactly the same zone. For example, they both receive the ball in positions across the width of the field, with neither showing an obvious bias towards the left or the right:
And thereÃ¢ÂÂs a similar pattern when it comes to their passes played Ã¢ÂÂ minimal difference, with Schweinsteiger tending to play slightly longer balls, and more incisive ones.
Therefore, when Germany are dominating possession and these two players are rotating, their Ã¢ÂÂaverage positionÃ¢ÂÂ is the same. In the first half, when Germany were on top, their names overlap on StatsZoneÃ¢ÂÂs player influence screen. After half-time, when Holland made attacking changes and offered more of a goal threat, forcing Germany to sit deeper and stay in solid positions, thereÃ¢ÂÂs more of a structure to the German midfield, with Schweinsteiger to the left, and Khedira to the right.
But, interestingly, neither player actually did much defensive work. Schweinsteiger succeeded with only one of his four attempted tackles, made just one interception and committed one foul. Khedira, on the other hand, won two tackles and made one interception. They contributed only 7% of GermanyÃ¢ÂÂs successful tackles, and 12% of their interceptions Ã¢ÂÂ which isnÃ¢ÂÂt a particularly impressive statistic for a central midfield pairing.
This backs up the feeling that neither of these players are true defensive midfielders Ã¢ÂÂ theyÃ¢ÂÂre more all-rounders, with Schweinsteiger offering more technical quality, and Khedira more mobility. In the defensive phase of play, they maintain good positions, pressure opponents at the right moments, but rely upon the back four to actually win the ball.
Of course, it also indicates that Holland didnÃ¢ÂÂt offer much creativity from the centre of midfield, and therefore didnÃ¢ÂÂt need to be dispossessed in that zone. Rafael van der Vaart replaced van Bommel and improved Holland slightly, but they still attacked predominantly down the flanks.
The two players combined through passing 17 times Ã¢ÂÂ usually with simple square balls across the centre circle, although Schweinsteiger slipped in Khedira a couple of times with more forward-thinking passes.
But the major threat was more subtle than that Ã¢ÂÂ one of them distracting van Bommel, the other enjoying the freedom of the space their partner had created. It was a lesson in cohesion and understanding, and if they continue playing like, future opponents will find it difficult to cope in midfield.