Germany vs Portugal: Robin Gosens stars as tactical mismatch lets wingback wreak havoc

·4-min read
Germany’s wingbacks caused overloads in the final third (sharemytactics)
Germany’s wingbacks caused overloads in the final third (sharemytactics)

One of the loudest cheers of the evening came on 61 minutes, when No 20 flashed up on the fourth official’s board. Robin Gosens had just scored Germany’s fourth goal, his well-deserved reward for one of the performances of the tournament so far, and the partial crowd in Munich’s Allianz Arena who were lucky enough to witness it rose to salute him.

It was a standout team display too. Portugal and Germany put on the best show of Euro 2020 so far as two high-quality but totally different teams threw everything at each other, with fun results which brought the very best from Germany in particular. Much of the game’s beauty stemmed from an ugly mismatch on the flanks where Portugal’s forward-thinking wingers Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota didn’t fancy the job of tracking Germany’s attacking wingbacks, causing overloads and counter-attacks and patches of joyous mayhem.

Portugal’s 4-2-3-1 met Germany’s 3-4-3, and the hosts’ points of attack pierced straight through the gaps. Tactical nuances don’t entirely explain away moments of self-harm like a brace of own goals, but Germany’s shape certainly played its part in coaxing out Portugal’s first-half implosion. An often narrow front three of Thomas Muller, Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry worried Portugal’s defence enough to leave wingbacks Joshua Kimmich and Gosens free to arrive in the box undetected, and both were involved in all four goals.

It was not as if Portugal weren’t warned. Gosens, who has honed his wingback craft at Atalanta over the past four years, had already signalled his threat raiding down Portugal’s right flank with an untracked run to the back-post and a brilliant karate-kick finish, before VAR spotted an offside in the build-up, and it would prove the first of several similar moments which decided this heavyweight contest.

Germany’s wingbacks caused overloads in the final third (sharemytactics)
Germany’s wingbacks caused overloads in the final third (sharemytactics)

Gosens kept coming and when he volleyed Kimmich’s high switch back across goal, Dias could only steer past goalkeeper Rui Patricio while trying to defend Havertz’s near-post run.

Moments later Gosens was flying up the outside of Portugal right-back Nelson Semedo once more, before cutting back for Muller who switched the ball to Kimmich arriving at the back post. Kimmich did well not only to sneak in unmarked and get on to the ball but to fire a hard cross back into a mix of bodies, where Raphael Guerreiro was the unfortunate man to shin one into his own net in a panic.

That made it 2-1, a quick double overturning Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener which had come on the counter-attack against the run of play. Portugal’s was the best goal of the game, aesthetically speaking, a corner headed clear by Ronaldo himself before he sprinted up the other end to finish the move. But tactically it was something of an aberration and didn’t tell the story of a game which Portugal struggled to control.

Havertz looked genuinely downheartened to have been beaten to the ball by Dias for Germany’s equaliser but he finished a carbon-copy move early in the second half to get on the scoresheet, with Gosens again arriving on the left and squaring dangerously along the six-yard box for the Chelsea forward to tap in.

And then came Gosens’ goal, headed home at the back post and supplied by Kimmich of course, the two wingbacks combining to underline just how poorly Portugal dealt with their twin threat.

Where France were defensively disciplined against Germany, with Paul Pogba often seen sprinting towards his own goal into a right-back position to defend, Portugal failed to prepare or adapt. Head coach Fernando Santos attempted to react, eventually switching to 4-3-3, but if anything it seemed to give Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan more space in their deep midfield roles as time dwindled away.

Dramatic conclusions will be drawn of course, but Portugal are not heading for the exit door any time soon and Germany are not nailed-on champions of Europe. This was a game when things just clicked into gear, and excellent players like Gosens and Kimmich made hay while the sun shone. Even so, it will have gone a long way to vindicating Joachim Low’s unpopular tactics in Germany, and might even have provided the country with a new star in the making.

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