We’re not even past the round of 16, and already Euro 2020’s so-called group of death is down to its last survivor.
With France and Portugal both crashing out of the tournament in recent days, Germany are the final remaining representative from Group F – but England will be looking to put pay to that fact at Wembley on Tuesday evening.
Make no mistake though, the Three Lions face a monumental task against their old rivals.
That’s not to say that Gareth Southgate’s men aren’t capable of doing the business against their visitors – after all, they’re ranked eight spots above them in the FIFA World Rankings – but so much is going to depend on how the manager looks to deal with the Germans’ signature style of play.
And the main tenet of their approach is possession, possession, possession.
Despite coming up against the reigning world and European champions in the group stage, as well as plucky Hungary, Germany registered an average of more than 60% possession per game.
By contrast, England have averaged around 55%, but that figure dropped to below 50% in their opening encounter with Croatia – arguably the most proficient side they’ve played so far.
Taking that into account, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Germany dominate the ball against Southgate’s men – so how do the hosts try and combat that?
The temptation could be for England to camp deep in their own half in a bid to keep things tight. Even a side with France’s quality – plus the dynamism and energy of the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, and N’Golo Kante – were forced to drop 20 yards or so towards their own goal to prevent Joachim Low’s side from passing through their central column.
The issue is with this tactic, however, is that it allows playmaker extraordinaire Tony Kroos more time on the ball to sit and distribute as he sees fit. The Real Madrid star has averaged 99 passes per game so far – a figure bested only by Spain’s Aymeric Laporte and Marcos Llorente.
We’ve seen Harry Kane drop deep regularly so far this tournament, but the 27-year-old’s natural game isn’t to press and hassle, and the obvious issue with tasking him to do the legwork needed to nullify Kroos is that it then leaves England without a focal point or an out ball.
Perhaps the best solution, therefore, is to stick with the solidity that a double-pivot comprised of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice provides, but then supplement it with a more advanced midfielder willing to run himself ragged for the cause – how does a fully-rested Mason Mount sound, for instance?
It’s in the final third that Germany have a real tendency to push the ball out wide to the flanks, with either one of their wing-backs driving on to support the attack.
Whereas a battling presence in the middle of the park will be important, it’s these wide areas in which England can really make headway.
By identifying and stifling danger when the Germans look to make the transition from central positions out to the wings, Southgate’s full-backs can not only break up attacks, but could pose a threat to the visitors in their own right.
Another hallmark of Germany’s possession-intensive style is a higher defensive line that looks to reinforce their territorial advantage. As we saw in their opener against Croatia, however, England are not averse to going long, especially when it comes to feeding balls into the channels.
Southgate is blessed with an abundance of pacy, ball-carrying talent in attacking positions, and whether it’s Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, or another of his options, there could be ample opportunity for his defenders to nip attacks in the bud and get the Germans turning on their heels to chase direct balls in behind to the forwards.
In short, there’s every chance that England will have to pursue the ball and work with a smaller share of possession this evening – but if they’re disciplined, smart, and willing to be patient, there should still be plenty of chances for them to deal some damage of their own.