How to Play Around the Low Block: A German Masterclass

football painted with germany flag close up on grass sky background

The opening game of EURO 2024 had the potential to become a nerve-wracking nightmare for Germany.

The host nation were playing in front of a packed, expectant 65,000 strong crowd at the Allianz Arena against a Scotland side who would surely revel in their role as underdog.

But Germany made light work of a potentially awkward night, romping into a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes before running out 5-1 winners.

It was joy and relief all around then, with much of the credit going to head coach Julian Nagelsmann – he got his tactics spot on, making light work of Scotland’s low block and bodies behind the ball.

Catch Us If You Can

Those betting on EURO 2024 will no doubt have taken great interest in Germany’s performance – particularly in the context of England’s torturous 1-0 win over Serbia in their opener.

The EURO 2024 winner odds have England as the 7/2 favourites ahead of France (4/1) and the Germans (4/1), but the dynamism of the latter in their victory against the Scots suggests they can be considered a danger to the market principles.

Some critics will argue that it was ‘only’ Scotland who they defeated, but that misses the point: the Scots in fact beat Spain and Norway in the EURO 2024 qualifying matches, demonstrating their talent as a team.

Instead, this was a German side that showed their aptitude for unlocking Scotland’s low block – a common feature of big tournament football. Indeed, even some of the elite operators occupy this sort of shape defensively; anyone that sat through the second half of England’s victory over Serbia can testify to this.

Nagelsmann set up his side in what was effectively a 2-2-6 shape while in possession. Jonathan Tah and Antonio Rüdiger played high up the pitch in central defence, compressing Scotland in their half, while full-backs Joshua Kimmich and Max Mittelstädt provided the width in attack.

Toni Kroos and Robert Andrich were the foundation in midfield, before the fluid front four was given licence to roam – it was that movement which ultimately made the Germans so hard to defend against.

Seeing Red

The most staunch optimists in the Scotland camp would argue that the red card shown to Ryan Porteous on the stroke of half-time was the game-changer.

But it wasn’t: Germany were already 2-0 up at that point, with the Scots barely registering anything in an attacking sense.

In a way, Germany’s task was made harder by the sending off – with ten men on the pitch, Scotland had no choice but to bunker down even deeper in their low block.

Nagelsmann sacrificed the dynamism of Kai Havertz for the more forceful presence of Niclas Füllkrug, with one eye on having a Plan B on the field – at 6ft 2in, the Dortmund striker is a more typical target man.

But it worked: Füllkrug scored one of Germany’s second-half goals, indicating that Nagelsmann has more than one way to circumnavigate an opponent’s low block.

As EURO 2024 plays out in full, it will be interesting to see how close that versatility takes Germany to lifting the trophy on home soil.