The FIFA World Cup 2014 has moved into the quarter-final stage, pitting the eight best teams in the tournament against one another as the ultimate prize—world domination—looms ever-closer.
Here we take a look at the first tie on offer: France vs. Germany.
France have barely broken a sweat in marching to the quarter-finals, combining beautiful, free-flowing forward play with defensive solidity and tactical nous.
Didier Deschamps has tinkered with his side throughout the four games played—perhaps a little too much, in all honesty—but a record of three wins and three clean sheets is not to be sniffed at.
Mamadou Sakho is set to come in and Antoine Griezmann will probably start, lining up alongside Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena in a fearsome front three.
The 4-3-3 will be retained and the two sides will end up playing near-identical shapes. One, though, has proven far more penetrative than the other.
"I have made up my mind already on Philipp Lahm’s role,” Germany manager Joachim Low told reporters ahead of the game (h/t Gloucester Echo). "And I am sticking by it to the very end."
The Bayern Munich star will continue in defensive midfield despite heavy criticism of Low's decision to persevere with it—particularly given how much better Die Mannschaft were in terms of balance after he was restored to right-back against Algeria.
This side were taken all the way by Algeria in the round of 16 and have wholly unconvinced thus far, meaning they either hit top form and beat France, setting themselves up for a run at the final, or bow out with their tails between their legs.
Thomas Mueller needs another big game, while Mesut Ozil and Mario Goetze will need to shrug off some criticism and perform.
3 Tactical Clashes
1. The Flu?
The Germany squad has been hit by a bout of flu, per The Guardian, ahead of the match, with up to seven feeling symptoms. Mats Hummels missed the round of 16 clash but may well have infected just about everyone else.
Several starters will have reduced tanks to begin with, and if this match goes to extra time you can see Die Mannschaft dropping off (physically) very quickly. Their midfield already lacks mobility; imagine it flu-stricken after 100 minutes against the French!
2. Pulling That Line Around
France's No. 1 objective, offensively speaking, will be to put as much pressure on the German defensive line to see if it will break.
Algeria caught them high up the pitch early and often, springing quick balls into their clever runners and getting in behind Per Mertesacker. It was only Manuel Neuer's incredible sweeper-keeping that kept Die Mannschaft in the game over the course of 90 minutes.
In Benzema, Valbuena and Griezmann, France have enough clever movement and pace to seriously trouble this line; pulling it, springing it over the top and isolating the players one vs. one in space should be easy.
Griezmann in behind, in particular, will be a nightmare to defend. Mathieu Debuchy surging forward is another big threat.
We keep saying it, but now is the time Philipp Lahm must step up and lead the midfield.
With Christoph Kramer boasting no experience, Sami Khedira not 100 percent fit post-ACL surgery and Bastian Schweinsteiger in decline, Lahm is the only complete performer in the centre.
But barring a world-class block to deny the USA equalising in the final minute of their group game, he's been quite disappointing. There's no wiggle-room against France, and he's going to have Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba buccaneering forward either side of him.
Even for someone like Philipp Lahm that's a horror situation!
Bleacher Report will do a tactical preview and review of every single 2014 FIFA World Cup game. Stay tuned to this link and check it every day for more.