German clubs dominate

For all the continued dominance of Bayern and Dortmund, the German national side is yet to display the ruthless efficiency associated with its clubs. The attributes of Joachim Loew’s side contrast significantly from those of the machine-like German teams of yesteryears. By Priyansh.

The year 2013 in football was always certain to be imbued with speculation and anticipation. For it preceded a World Cup year — slated to take place in Brazil during the months of June and July. Developments during this period were analysed more diligently as one sought to spot trends and markers for the biggest sporting event on the planet.

In that context, the rise of Germany and Brazil suggests a weakening of the Spanish pre-eminence. Though the latter’s emergence was limited to the Confederations Cup in June, the Germans provided a more convincing summation of their capabilities. Bayern Munich trumped Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the first-ever all-Deutsch UEFA Champions League final at the Wembley Stadium on May 25.

For the Spanish, a particular defeat in both the aforementioned tournaments left a deepening scar. Perhaps, Brazil’s 3-0 success over Spain in the Confederations Cup final doesn’t match the horror evoked by Bayern Munich’s 7-0 aggregate thrashing of Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. Yet, the host’s success over Vicente Del Bosque’s side engendered, similarly, grave doubts about the world champion.

Against good reason, many were moved to write obituaries of tiki-taka football once Spain collapsed at the Maracana Stadium. Brazil overwhelmed a tired Spain in the final; the same eleven players had featured in the 4-0 thrashing dished out to Italy in the Euro 2012 summit clash. Certainly, within 12 months, no significant decline in abilities had occurred. Rather, fatigue and poor conditioning were to be blamed for this defeat.

Also, a place in the Confederations Cup final is no little achievement.

A further vindication of tiki-taka was witnessed in the Champions League. By no means was the possession and high pressing-based approach superseded, rather it evolved into a more effective strategy. During its successful continental campaign, Bayern Munich combined possession with physical play (no pejorative connotation here) and vertical passing.

When it faced the master of ball retention in Barcelona, Jupp Heynckes’ side gladly conceded possession. Here, artifices like counter-attack and physical power were deployed to stun the Spanish side.

Among all the marquee contests in 2013, this one caused the most severe bewilderment across the world. In an era where the most successful tactics come from Marcelo Bielsa’s ideas, Bayern claimed a resounding success over the most ‘bielsista’ of sides. More strikingly, by passing the ball more vertically than horizontally, the German club came closer to the Argentine’s concept of football than Barcelona.

Bayern’s opponent in the final, Borussia Dortmund, thrived on pressing and counter-attacking football as well. Jurgen Klopp’s side surprised many teams thanks to the impeccable fitness of its players which allowed them to win the ball deep in the opposition half throughout the season.

Dortmund’s crowning glory arrived in the first leg of its semi-final against Real Madrid as it ran away with a 4-1 win.

Later, the final between the two German sides was arguably the most entertaining in years; Arjen Robben’s 89th-minute winner separated the teams.

4-2-3-1, arguably introduced by Juan Manuel Lillo in Spain during the 1991-92 season, continued to be the favoured tactical system at both club and international level. Brazil was no different during the Confederations Cup but the presence of Oscar allowed it to evolve into a 4-3-3 formation when possession was lost.

The leadership of Luiz Felipe Scolari — who guided Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title — has given the next year’s tournament host a conviction it often lacked under previous manager Mano Menezes. Felipao’s ability to motivate a group of players from the same nation remains strong as ever; his influence means that Brazil will start as one of the favourites for the World Cup trophy.

The other contenders stand beside the host or marginally behind.

For all the continued dominance of Bayern and Dortmund, the German national side is yet to display the ruthless efficiency associated with its clubs. The attributes of Joachim Loew’s side contrast significantly from those of the machine-like German teams of yesteryears; the team’s 1-2 defeat to Italy in the EURO 2012 semis raised serious questions over its ability to excel at the business end of major tournaments.

Spain certainly faces issues in central defence, in addition to the problem of choosing its lone striker. But one should remember that Cesc Fabregas played the role of a “false nine” efficiently as Spain romped to the EURO 2012 title.

A little mention for Italy is the least it deserves. Manager Cesare Prandelli has made use of various formations since he was appointed in May 2010. Consequently, Italy has evolved into a dynamic side that no longer subscribes to its defensive stereotype. A third-place finish at the Confederations Cup suggested that the Azzuri will be a serious contender in Brazil.

A successful campaign at the World Cup could well depend on Prandelli’s ability to get the best out of his forwards. But with Mario Balotelli leading the line, that’s hardly going to be straightforward.