ANALYSIS | How Germany executed their gameplan to surgical precision against Scotland

Julian Nagelsmann’s Germany kicked off the latest rendition of the European Championship in record breaking style under the Munich lights. A thorough 5-1 demolition of Scotland not only entitles the host country to renewed optimism, but seals its place as the largest margin of victory that the Germans have ever managed in its deeply rooted Euro’s history.

Skeptics have been largely correct to hold reservations about this team until a convincing performance was executed when it was required most. Citing the trends of defensive fragility that’s been routinely intertwined with erratic and inexplicably fruitless possession in the opposition final third. That Germany no longer exists.

Instead, what transpired was the expression of everything Nagelsmann has represented since his reputation grew at Hoffenheim. The visualisation of a modern Germany side with both elite tactical nuance and proven individual player management as its guide. Put simply, this is what most of the German public expect to see and It was clear that, from the earliest moments of the match, that Scotland’s vibrant arrival to Munich was quickly muted by the brilliance of Nagelsmann’s best playmakers.

Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz have been hyped as the potential long-term duo that could return Germany to its usual glory. Scotland received an uncomfortable front row view to this prospect as both operated where and when they wanted. At the back, the inevitable orchestrator, Toni Kroos, picked apart the front line of Scotland’s pressure with the accustomed surgical precision. Most often drifting into a narrow left-sided center-back position, it formed a 3 + 1 shape that afforded players like Robert Andrich, Jonathan Tah, and Antonio Rudiger the luxury of both time and space, ensuring stability in all phases of build-up.

The problems that Steve Clarke’s side would encounter as a result of this level of comfort became abundantly clear from the outset. The utilisation of a rather ambitiously placed defensive line, particularly in mid-block phases, was far from compatible with a forward line that was unable to make Germany break a sweat. Early warning signs included long balls that found the likes of Wirtz or Kai Havertz potentially in dangerous spaces beyond the back line of Scotland and only lacked bite due to fractionally mistimed runs.

As the aforementioned warnings registered in the minds of Scotland’s defence, and the posture of the back line gradually began to reflect the growing hesitancy to step forward, Nagelsmann’s primary vision for success was allowed to come to life. Both Musiala and Wirtz dropped into deeper midfield gaps that enabled them to gather, turn, and make aggressive vertical runs into the heart of the opposition defense.

The last thing Steve Clarke would have wanted to allow, and the first thing that Nagelsmann would have wanted to exploit. It was Wirtz who opened the scoring in a manner that Bundesliga supporters are all too familiar with. With Joshua Kimmich and Maximilian Mittelstädt occupying wide areas, Havertz and Ilkay Gündoğan pinned Scotland’s central defenders back and opened space for a late arrival outside the box from the Leverkusen starlet. Landing a vital early blow that undoubtedly calmed pre-existing German nerves.

From here, the already exposed gaps in central areas became even more vulnerable. Again, this was and has always been the priority from previous examples of a Nagelsmann coached team. The emphasis is placed on asymmetrical sequences in which, ideally, you get an overload of technically superior midfielders in tight spaces. This is precisely what occurred en route to the next goal.

Kroos’ clever ball to Gündoğan produced an incredible sequence of technical brilliance on the part of the captain in which his first touch enabled a mercurial spin around the onrushing pressure and ended with a world class through ball to send Havertz through on goal via the left flank. This time, it was the late arrival of Musiala that proved fatal to Scotland as the Bayern man received Havertz’ pass with an elegance that served as a prelude to a thunderous strike into the roof of the net.

Germany found themselves executing their tactical game plan with surgical precision. Musiala’s influence grew. Continuing to seek out any semblance of space and often finding it within a few meters of Kroos’ deep lying operation. It was a showcase performance from the player who, alongside Wirtz, is being relied on to carry Germany deep into the latter stages of this tournament.

An obvious penalty decision was awarded in favour of Germany when Musiala once again weaved through multiple helpless defenders in trademark fashion to set up a Kimmich cross into a dangerous area. The ensuing scrap for a clearance found Gündoğan fortunate to walk away from the scene as Ryan Porteous committed a studs up foul to the shin via a desperate lunging tackle. A justified red card that was followed by a composed finish from Arsenal’s Havertz.

A 3-0 scoreline that was fundamentally earned over the course of the first period of play, but it was the manner in which Germany arrived at that point that placed them in stark contrast to previous sides in recent tournaments. Musiala had danced, dribbled, and found spaces in Qatar as well, for example, but that version of Germany demonstrated little sense of cohesion or fluidity in the final third of the pitch while leaving itself inexplicably exposed during defensive transitions.

There are now other methods of dissecting compact opposition and different players who are major threats in terms of central ball progression. Again, Nagelsmann clearly understands that the strength of this group of players is found in the technical mastery of its midfield. What it needs in order to thrive is the tactical mastermind who can place these midfielders in situations that allow them to solve problems in real time.

Is Scotland the litmus test of defensive stability? With all due respect, no, but then again, neither was Hungary in the previous European Championship. Nor were Costa Rica or Japan producing a robust defensive approach that should have resulted in such disarray for Hansi Flicks teams.

There is a long way to go, but the DNA of this group is plain to see and evidently willing to place its faith in a measured blend of Kroos’ timeless dictation and both Musiala and Wirts’ ascending ingenuity.

A (mostly) stress-free second half saw Germany seal an emphatic 5-1 opening day win with late goal contributions from the Dortmund tandem of Niclas Füllkrug and Emre Can, who was called up at the last minute to replace Bayern’s Aleksandar Pavlović.

On paper, this was exactly what both Nagelsmann and the German public wanted to see. An aggressive, precise, and controlled performance that could properly illuminate a realistic path to Berlin on July 14. In this sense, the job was done and the next step on this road requires a trip to Stuttgart and a date with Hungary on Wednesday.

GGFN | Reece Edwards

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