Although Germany are one of the favourites for the World Cup, holders, and qualified for the tournament with ease, their chance creation is concentrated in a peculiar place.
Attacking full-backs are a feature of the modern game, but Germany’s seem to be consistently focused on the final third than most.
Both Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector were in the top five for defenders who made the most touches inside the opposition box per 90 minutes.
The other three nations to have a player inside the top five were Belgium (Thomas Meunier), Spain (Jordi Alba), and Iceland (Kári Árnason).
Árnason, a centre-back, is presumably the beneficiary of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s set-piece delivery. The other two are, unsurprisingly, full-backs, but their colleagues on the opposite flanks are much lower down on the list.
For Spain, Dani Carvajal ranked 15th while Belgium have changed their system to a back three and don’t have another traditional full-back in the top ranks.
However, neither Carvajal nor Meunier is anywhere near the top of the list of their sides’ top creators.
Kimmich and Hector, though, made the second and third-most open play key passes per 90 during qualifying in Germany’s World Cups squad. In fact, their 1.8 and 1.78 per 90 are so high that, out of the Europeans who will be in Russia, they rank as the 11th and 13th highest.
Interestingly, Kimmich played in a very different style to most attacking full-backs, including Hector. The emphasis on crossing is interesting, for such a modern side as Germany – for most full-backs in these elite international sides they tend to hold their side’s width high up the pitch and either engage in build-up play or try and manufacture cut-back opportunities.
Perhaps this is a function of Thomas Müller being the right-sided attacking midfielder. The Bayern Munich player is the only excuse for using the word ‘raumdeuter’, or ‘space-investigator’, finding holes between opponents in which to influence play.
He was Germany’s most-threatening force as the country made their way past Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic to qualify for Russia. He took the most shots, scored the most goals, set up the most shots from open play and the most big chances for his nation.
With him operating more centrally to do just about everything for Germany’s attack, there probably wasn’t someone in the right half-space – between the right wing and the centre of the pitch – for Kimmich to exchange short passes with, and hence the need to cross the ball.
Lack of creativity?
But does this concentration of creativity in the full-backs signal that Germany are, in some ways, struggling?
Their win against Saudi Arabia in a pre-tournament friendly was their first in six matches, the most embarrassing being a 2-1 loss to neighbours Austria earlier in the month.
Still, the world champions weren’t lacking goals in qualifying, scoring 43 in a ten-in-a-row winning streak (although their group included San Marino, who finished with a -49 goal difference).
Even if the Germans do struggle to create in front of goal in open play, they’re also a real threat from dead-ball situations. In qualifying, they scored seven goals from set-pieces, the highest goal-per-game rate of any side who will be in Russia.
It’s still a curious note that their principal creators – after Müller, with 2.68 open play key passes per 90 – are full-backs.
After Hector and Kimmich, their next-most frequent creator wasn’t the ethereal Mesut Özil, who might be the obvious choice, it was Julian Draxler (1.65, 18th in Europe). The 24-year-old is another wide player, although his role is to cut inside when playing for his national team.
With attacking midfielders cutting in-field, this is likely why the full-backs posted such strong creative numbers in qualifying. Able to press on, knowing that their team was not likely to be vulnerable defensively, they could offer width high up the pitch.
Perhaps, though, against stronger opposition at the World Cup than they faced on their way to get there, Kimmich and Hector will be forced further back, and Germany will have to look elsewhere for their chance creation.