Gourcuff vs Ozil Part II

July 14, 2010
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When I said at the end of my first comparison between the two that “hopefully it should remain an interesting comparison”, this isn’t quite what I had in mind.

First, the positives. Mesut Ozil had an outstanding tournament and was correctly nominated for the Golden Ball. Unlike Gourcuff, Ozil was part of a great German unit and was often given the time and space he wanted to work in by his opponent’s set-ups.

After the first game against Australia, Germany suffered their first loss of the tournament against Serbia. Switching from their normal 4-4-2 to what could be described as a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3; Dejan Stankovic was given the task of picking up Ozil and did so very well, while Kuzmanovic and Ninkovic pressed Schweinsteiger and Khedira. Denied the space that Australia had allowed him, Ozil was very quiet and this only got worse once Klose was red-carded for some rather innocuous challenges. He was then left as the highest player up the pitch and had little control over the game.

Despite also playing their own 4-5-1 system, Ozil was afforded plenty of space by Ghana. In that sort of shape you’d expect Anthony Annan to pick up Ozil, but instead he joined Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwoah Asamoah in pressing Schweinsteiger and Khedira and leaving plenty of gaps for Ozil to work in. Although not as dangerous as against Australia, Ozil was able to dictate play and the space he was given allowed him to score his first World Cup goal.

fig. 1 – Klose’s goal

That goal against Ghana ensured Germany won the group and set them up for a second round tie against England. Perhaps Ozil’s best game, he not only displayed his brilliant ability on the ball but showed more positional awareness than any of his opponent’s midfielders, who had close to 50 years professional experience between them. England’s rigid 4-4-2 left them unsure of who was meant to be picking up Ozil; Gareth Barry was, at times, tracking Ozil wherever he went, but seemed to desert him to help Lampard press Schweinsteiger and Khedira, leaving him to Terry or Upson who had to break their lines to deal with him. Unsurprisingly Ozil had a significant part to play in all 4 goals and, unlike Pim Verbeek, Capello made no attempts to rectify his mistake.

The opening goal from Klose (fig. 1) wouldn’t have arisen had England matched Germany and played 4-5-1. As Barry (blue) is picking up one of Germany’s midfielders, Terry (yellow) has to break from the back 4 to pick up Ozil, which leaves Upson (green) alone with Klose. A terrible mistake no doubt, but easily defendable had they matched Germany’s midfield, keeping Terry in the defensive line.

fig. 2 Podolski’s goal (click for animation)

For the second goal (fig. 2) Terry again seemed pre-occupied with Ozil. As Cole (pink) presses Muller, Barry has pressed the passer Khedira, Klose has dragged Upson (green) to the left and Terry (yellow) has moved up to pick up Ozil. A simple exchange of passes sees Klose flick the ball over into the suicidally large gap left behind by England’s centre-backs onto the onrushing Muller and Glen Johnson (red) is forced to come across to cover, leaving Podolski in acres of space to score.

While it’s true that the last two goals wouldn’t have happened had England not been forced into attacking, England would have probably still lost had Lampard’s ghost goal stood. With the game at 2-2, the problems of the goals above are still very much present.

Still, Barry’s game went from bad to worse. He made a hash of controlling the ball from a free-kick on the edge of the German box and within seconds it was in the net at the other end.

Fig.3 – Muller’s goal

3 vs 3.  Ozil makes a run through the centre (fig. 3) into Cole’s blind spot, forcing Terry to follow him, so Muller has the time and space to finish the move.

For the final goal, the ball is again given away on the edge of the German box. Kicked out to the left wing, Ozil outpaces Barry, despite having to make up a lot more ground, and leaves him trying to trip thin air. He then slows down, giving Muller the opportunity to catch up, and squares it through Cole’s legs for Muller’s second goal.

A similar pattern emerged against Argentina, although Ozil was much quieter because Javier Mascherano played in the holding role that England were lacking. Maradona’s attempt to play Higuain, Tvevz and Messi backfired badly as none of them did much defensively and left Argentina overrun in midfield. Schweinsteiger dealt with Messi, allowing Khedira to bomb forward into acres of space; if Di Maria moved over to stop this, he left Lahm with plenty of space to run into and Mascherano was forced into doing the work of several players. Despite their hard work, neither Rodriguez or Di Maria are defensive players and were easily overrun and even Maradona’s attempts at narrowing the midfield by making them switch sides did little stem the flow of germany’s attacks.

Even when in possession, Argentina weren’t able to create much. The insistence on playing central defenders at full-back and the axing of Veron to make way for the attacking trio meant there was, unlike Germany, no one to link the defence and attack – Messi dropping so far back he held little attacking threat.

Simply by being on the pitch, Ozil caused problems by preoccupying Argentina’s players.

Like Serbia, Spain matched Germany’s 5 man midfield and beat them. Busquets followed Ozil everywhere, with Xavi covering him when Ozil dropped deep, completely nullifying any threat he posed. Meanwhile, with Iniesta coming inside, Germany found themselves being overun in midfield for the first time.

It was a honourable defeat to the most talented group of players at the tournament and Ozil had already left a brilliant impression. Unlike Gourcuff.

A ghost in the opening game against Uruguay, he was dropped against Mexico. Returning for the loss against South Africa, he was rather harshly red-carded with just 26 minutes gone for an elbow on MacBeth Sinaya – an appropriate exit for a terrible French side.

Although shocking on the pitch, their off-field antics were worse. Amid the spats with coaching staff and strikes, a story emerged that Gourcuff was being bullied by several members of the French team

In L’Equipe, captain Evra confirmed Gourcuff was isolated:

“Yo, I never hear him. To speak to Gourcuff, you have to talk to Toulalan. It’s with him that I see him having a laugh.”

With his only other allies in the camp being his Bordeaux teammates and Hugo Lloris, Gourcuff supposedly eats and trains alone and other players were reluctant to pass to him against Uruguay. Despite tearfully denying it in an interview on French television, Ribery is thought to be the ringleader, with Gourcuff moving out of his path to avoid him during an interview and visibly flinching when he goes by.

Other than his “New Zidane” label and preferential treatment by the coaching staff, it’s his quiet nature that annoys his teammates. Rather than joining them in nightclubs, he prefers to stay at home or going to the opera – resulting in Ribery asking him “does your mother not allow you to go, you homosexual slut?” Bixente Lizarazu remarked he was “too self-effacing, too nice and probably too well-brought up” for the current French team and “needs to start baring his teeth and sharpening his elbows.

South Africa was a terrible time for Gourcuff, but, with his Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc taking over as national team coach and reform expected, there’s every reason to expect a better environment and team catered to his talents in the future.

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8 Responses to Gourcuff vs Ozil Part II

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  7. Capello’s Mistakes | Holding Midfield on January 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    […] in a 4-5-1 at club level and Rooney proved he can lead the line on his own last season. The main problem against Germany was that England were out numbered in centre midfield, usually leaving Mesut Ozil free between the […]

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