World Cup 2018: Mexico stun Germany by exposing their full-backs and harassing Toni Kroos out of the game | The Independent

Click to followSport World Cup 2018: How Mexico stunned Germany by exposing their full-backs and harassing Toni Kroos out the game Popular Videos The first four days of World Cup 2018 have featured a string of impressive underdog performances, largely about sitting back and frustrating the opposition. Iceland’s defensive-minded approach worked well against Argentina , Switzerland were content to soak up pressure against Brazil , and both recorded unexpected draws. Mexico’s approach in yesterday’s 1-0 victory over reigning champions Germany , however, was braver, bolder and ultimately more successful. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio has been criticised for his constant chopping and changing, but while he might be reactive, that doesn’t mean he’s defensive. Here, he used a 4-2-3-1 system, rarely seen throughout Mexico’s qualifying campaign, in order to nullify Germany’s strengths and expose their weaknesses. There was plenty of attacking intent: Mexico pressed well in open play, and left three men upfront when defending set-pieces. In the latter stages they were forced to defend deep, but for long periods of the first half, they outplayed Germany.
Mexico’s key defensive tactic involved man-marking Toni Kroos, Germany’s deep-lying playmaker. Kroos was followed diligently by Carlos Vela, more renowned for his attacking speed than his defensive work, and occasionally by centre-forward Javier Hernandez, when Vela found himself out of position atfer attacking moves broke down. Mexico record first shock of Russia 2018 by beating reigning champions
Kroos failed to vary his position to find space, and without his metronomic influence, it was left to centre-back Jerome Boateng to spray hopeful diagonal balls into the final third, generally without success. Kroos only influenced the game when Mexican man-marking was impossible - his 25-yard free-kick was expertly turned over the bar by Guillermo Ochoa. Whereas Kroos was tracked everywhere, Germany left-back Marvin Plattenhardt was completely ignored, with Mexico’s right-sided midfielder Miguel Layun tucking inside to assist the outstanding duo of Andreas Guardado and Hector Herrera, frequently leaving Plattenhardt all alone. Germany seldom looked towards him, however, and this felt somewhat similar to Germany’s experience at the last World Cup, when Benedikt Howedes, naturally a right-sided centre-back, offered no threat from left-back, which allowed the opposition to mark more dangerous players. Four years on, the left-back problem hasn’t been solved. World Cup 2018: Germany vs Mexico player ratings 20 show all World Cup 2018: Germany vs Mexico player ratings 1/20 Manuel Neuer 7 Could do little for the Mexico opener and was left exposed by a wandering defence AFP/Getty Images 2/20 Marvin Plattenhardt 6 Put in a solid performance and a surprise inclusion into the starting XI. Again could’ve tried harder to get back for Mexico’s counter Getty Images 3/20 Joshua Kimmich 6 Despite all his talent, Kimmich struggled to get back after attacking, and left Ozil to defend, making him culpable for the Mexico goal AFP/Getty Images The stronger of the German defenders but still caught on the counter attack several times Getty Images Struggled against the intelligence and pace of Hernandez, another to be caught on the counter Getty Images 6/20 Sami Khedira 4 Usually the defensive cover in midfield, he left his defence open to the Mexican counter attack, hauled off early in the second half AFP/Getty Images 7/20 Toni Kroos 5 Provided little to the German attack, other than an excellent free kick pushed onto the bar by Ochoa Getty Images 8/20 Thomas Muller 5 Failed to impact the Germans attacking play, and wasn’t helped by the likes of Khedira underperforming Getty Images 9/20 Mesut Ozil 6 Sprayed some average passes to his teammates, may get the blame for Mexican’s opener but at least he tracked back unlike others AFP/Getty Images 10/20 Julian Draxler 7 Offered an attacking outlet down the left and looked a bright spark against the Mexican defence, but ultimately couldn’t break through Getty Images Had a couple of half chances and showed some of his talent at just 22-years-old. Getty Images 12/20 Guillermo Ochoa 8 An excellent save to deny Toni Kroos from a free kick, and kept his nerve towards the end as Germany attacked AFP/Getty Images 13/20 Carlos Salcedo 7 Solid at the back against the array of German talent especially as the pressure piled on in the second half AFP/Getty Images 14/20 Jesus Gallardo 7 Had remarkable energy to defend all the German attacks, and still manage to fly forward to the byline in the 87th minute. Getty Images 15/20 Hector Herrera 7 Loose in possession at times as Germany pressured to come back into the game, but gave everything until the end Getty Images A calm and composed figure with the vast energetic attacking talents in front of him AFP/Getty Images 17/20 Carlos Vela 7 Impressed on the counter and linked well with Layun and Lozano. Guilty of missing a couple of chances from range AFP/Getty Images 18/20 Miguel Layun 8 Missed a host of chances, mostly from range, but was one of many to look dangerous on the counter Getty Images 19/20 Javier Hernandez 9 A constant threat to the German defence, his pace and intelligence can frustrate most defences in the world. Always looks better for country than club AFP/Getty Images 20/20 Hirving Lozano 9 Picked up an early, needless yellow card for time wasting, but performed well and gave everything for his team AFP/Getty Images Could do little for the Mexico opener and was left exposed by a wandering defence AFP/Getty Images 2/20 Marvin Plattenhardt 6 Put in a solid performance and a surprise inclusion into the starting XI. Again could’ve tried harder to get back for Mexico’s counter Getty Images 3/20 Joshua Kimmich 6 Despite all his talent, Kimmich struggled to get back after attacking, and left Ozil to defend, making him culpable for the Mexico goal AFP/Getty Images The stronger of the German defenders but still caught on the counter attack several times Getty Images Struggled against the intelligence and pace of Hernandez, another to be caught on the counter Getty Images 6/20 Sami Khedira 4 Usually the defensive cover in midfield, he left his defence open to the Mexican counter attack, hauled off early in the second half AFP/Getty Images 7/20 Toni Kroos 5 Provided little to the German attack, other than an excellent free kick pushed onto the bar by Ochoa Getty Images 8/20 Thomas Muller 5 Failed to impact the Germans attacking play, and wasn’t helped by the likes of Khedira underperforming Getty Images 9/20 Mesut Ozil 6 Sprayed some average passes to his teammates, may get the blame for Mexican’s opener but at least he tracked back unlike others AFP/Getty Images 10/20 Julian Draxler 7 Offered an attacking outlet down the left and looked a bright spark against the Mexican defence, but ultimately couldn’t break through Getty Images Had a couple of half chances and showed some of his talent at just 22-years-old. Getty Images 12/20 Guillermo Ochoa 8 An excellent save to deny Toni Kroos from a free kick, and kept his nerve towards the end as Germany attacked AFP/Getty Images 13/20 Carlos Salcedo 7 Solid at the back against the array of German talent especially as the pressure piled on in the second half AFP/Getty Images 14/20 Jesus Gallardo 7 Had remarkable energy to defend all the German attacks, and still manage to fly forward to the byline in the 87th minute. Getty Images 15/20 Hector Herrera 7 Loose in possession at times as Germany pressured to come back into the game, but gave everything until the end Getty Images A calm and composed figure with the vast energetic attacking talents in front of him AFP/Getty Images 17/20 Carlos Vela 7 Impressed on the counter and linked well with Layun and Lozano. Guilty of missing a couple of chances from range AFP/Getty Images 18/20 Miguel Layun 8 Missed a host of chances, mostly from range, but was one of many to look dangerous on the counter Getty Images 19/20 Javier Hernandez 9 A constant threat to the German defence, his pace and intelligence can frustrate most defences in the world. Always looks better for country than club AFP/Getty Images 20/20 Hirving Lozano 9 Picked up an early, needless yellow card for time wasting, but performed well and gave everything for his team AFP/Getty Images
But the real battleground was on the opposite flank, where Germany’s Joshua Kimmich played an absurdly attack-minded role: overlapping Thomas Muller regularly, and sometimes making diagonal runs into centre-forward positions. He offered an attacking threat in the first half, crossing to the far post and nearly tempting Mexico right-back Carlos Salcedo into an own goal, and later chipping into the path of Timo Werner, who tested Ochoa after a quick turn. He also attempted an extravagant bicycle kick from on the penalty spot, hardly the natural positioning of a right-back.
Kimmich’s attack-minded tendencies constantly caused Germany serious problems when they lost possession, because Mexico’s dangerman Herving Lozano, playing on the left, remained in a position to counter-attack and regularly found space on the outside of Boateng.
This was apparent inside the first two minutes after Vela and Hernandez had found space between the lines, and on 17 minutes Hernandez drifted to the left himself, before producing an unsuccessful pirouette in an attempt to work the ball onto his right foot, when he might have pulled the trigger with his left. (www.sharemytactics.com)
Lozano was the greater threat, however, and Mexico ought to have located his dangerous runs more regularly, with better decisions on the counter-attack. Boateng and Mats Hummels were badly exposed against several Mexican runners, with huge amounts of space in the full-back areas, vacated by the dangerous Kimmich and the ineffective Plattenhardt. Hernandez, meanwhile, also made runs towards play, bringing Boateng or Hummels up the pitch, and opening up space for others to exploit. Generally considered a mere goal-poacher at club level, Hernandez’s all-round game for Mexico has always been impressive, and here his movement in deeper positions was outstanding. Mexico’s winner, on 35 minutes, was a perfect demonstration of their attacking strengths. Germany vs Mexico Germany vs Mexico 1/10 Mexico fans await the start Mexico fans enjoy the atmosphere in the ground before the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 2/10 Toni Kroos arrives Toni Kroos of Germany arrives at the stadium prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia FIFA via Getty 3/10 Javier Hernandez arrives Javier Hernandez of Mexico arrives at the stadium prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia FIFA via Getty 4/10 Germany fan inside the stadium before the match Group F - Germany vs Mexico - Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 17, 2018 Germany fan inside the stadium before the match REUTERS 5/10 A fan waves a Mexico flag General view of stadium as a fan waves a Mexico flag in the stands prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 6/10 Oezil is challenged by Hector Mesut Oezil of Germany is challenged by Hector Herrera of Mexico during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 7/10 Germany fans during the match Germany fans during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 8/10 Lonely Neuer of Germany Manuel Neuer of Germany looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty Image 9/10 Juan Carlos Osorio, Mexico Manager Juan Carlos Osorio, Manager of Mexico during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 10/10 Özil of Germany looks dejected Mesut Özil of Germany looks dejected. Germany v Mexico, Group F, 2018 FIFA World Cup football match, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - 17 Jun 2018 Rex 1/10 Mexico fans await the start Mexico fans enjoy the atmosphere in the ground before the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 2/10 Toni Kroos arrives Toni Kroos of Germany arrives at the stadium prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia FIFA via Getty 3/10 Javier Hernandez arrives Javier Hernandez of Mexico arrives at the stadium prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia FIFA via Getty 4/10 Germany fan inside the stadium before the match Group F - Germany vs Mexico - Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - June 17, 2018 Germany fan inside the stadium before the match REUTERS 5/10 A fan waves a Mexico flag General view of stadium as a fan waves a Mexico flag in the stands prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 6/10 Oezil is challenged by Hector Mesut Oezil of Germany is challenged by Hector Herrera of Mexico during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 7/10 Germany fans during the match Germany fans during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 8/10 Lonely Neuer of Germany Manuel Neuer of Germany looks on during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty Image 9/10 Juan Carlos Osorio, Mexico Manager Juan Carlos Osorio, Manager of Mexico during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Germany and Mexico at Luzhniki Stadium on June 17, 2018 in Moscow, Russia Getty 10/10 Özil of Germany looks dejected Mesut Özil of Germany looks dejected. Germany v Mexico, Group F, 2018 FIFA World Cup football match, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - 17 Jun 2018 Rex Germany lost possession in midfield with Kimmich charging forward on the overlap, leaving Lozano with space to break into. Hector Moreno’s direct pass into Hernandez, again moving deep, prompted such a neat one-two with Guardado that it left Hummels on the floor, which in turn meant Boateng was isolated against both Hernandez and the rampaging Lozano. Mesut Ozil, of all people, found himself desperately attempting to cover Kimmich’s right-back zone, but Hernandez slipped in Lozano, who turned inside and crashed home the biggest goal of World Cup 2018 so far.