Home » Euro 2024 Group A guide: Germany’s narrow No 10s, resolute Hungary and Scotland’s set pieces

Euro 2024 Group A guide: Germany’s narrow No 10s, resolute Hungary and Scotland’s set pieces

Euro 2024 Group A guide: Germany’s narrow No 10s, resolute Hungary and Scotland’s set pieces

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Six groups, with 24 teams in total, playing 51 games in 31 days — Euro 2024 is going to be relentless.

To help you navigate and prepare, The Athletic has compiled guides to each of the groups. They detail each team’s tactics, key players, weaknesses, stats and quirks.

Expect screengrabs to show team shapes and tactics-board GIFs demonstrating attacking rotations and pressing structures. There will be podcast clips and videos embedded for further reading/listening.

First up, it’s… Group A, where the host nation Germany are joined by Hungary, Scotland and Switzerland. All four were at the previous European Championship three years ago, though none of them went beyond the quarter-finals. It is a group of back threes, No 10s and set pieces.

Let’s go.


  • Manager: Julian Nagelsmann
  • Captain: Ilkay Gundogan
  • Qualifying record: Qualified automatically as hosts
  • Euros debut: 1972 (winners — as West Germany)
  • Euro 2020: Round of 16
  • Average age of squad in qualifying: N/A
  • Most caps in squad: Thomas Muller (129)
  • Top scorer in squad: Thomas Muller (45)

How they play (tactics and formations)

Had they not qualified by virtue of being the hosts, Germany might not have been at this tournament. By their standards, 2023 was disastrous — six defeats from their 11 games, including three consecutive losses for the first time since 1985.

It was their most defeats in a calendar year since 2018 and also their most goals conceded (22) since 2012. Bad records to break at any time, especially in a year without a major tournament and with evidence that the problems we saw during their 2022 World Cup group-stage exit had not been solved.

Nagelsmann became the second-youngest men’s national-team head coach in Germany’s history, replacing Hansi Flick — who was sacked after just 25 games. When asked the classic football-philosophy question in his first press conference, Nagelsmann described it as “healthy aggression towards the opponent’s goal, which doesn’t only apply when in possession. We want to cause problems for our opponents.” He alluded to principles rather than patterns in attacking, saying that “it won’t be as complex as it can be in club football. It’s about giving the players something to identify with.”

Despite the limited time he’s had in the job, Nagelsmann has trialled various systems and personnel — 31 players featured in his first six games. He started with a narrow 4-4-2, followed by a 4-2-3-1 with a pure No 9, switched to a back three with Kai Havertz at wing-back, and settled on a 4-2-3-1 with Havertz as a false nine. The Arsenal forward frequently drops in to overload midfield, while central midfielder Toni Kroos rotates out to the left frequently. This pushes the left-back, Maximilian Mittelstadt, upfield.

Boldly, the attack is structured around two 21-year-olds in Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz — narrow No 10s who play either side of captain Ilkay Gundogan. This trio have freedom to roam and rotate.

Build-up is patient, packed with short passes trying to shift opponents so that lanes into the No 10s are opened. Expect up-back-through patterns, centre-backs trying ambitious balls into the forwards and occasional passes in behind if the opposition play a high defensive line and do not put pressure on the ball. With three (arguably four) No 10s, Germany have plenty of midfield runners to attack that space — see their second goal away against France in a March friendly.

They press aggressively, locking on man-for-man out wide. The 4-2-3-1 tends to shift to a 4-4-2, allowing them to mark and cover opposition central midfielders before stepping out, though they take risks by pushing full-backs high to press opposition full-backs. Considering Nagelsmann hasn’t been in charge for long, it is well co-ordinated.

Germany showed against France and the Netherlands, their other opponents in March, that they can disrupt the build-up of Europe’s best sides. Equally, when played through, their back line is exposed, centre-backs are pulled wide and opposition midfielders can exploit space in behind the Germany full-backs.

High risk, high reward.


Key player(s)

Kroos came out of international retirement in February at the age of 34, after nearly three years away, and says he will hang up his boots for good whenever Germany’s tournament ends.

He is ninth on Germany’s caps list, and made his return in the impressive wins at home to the Netherlands and away to France in March. He provided assists in both games — a precise chip into midfield for Wirtz’s kick-off goal away to the French, and an inswinging corner for Niclas Fullkrug’s winner against the Dutch.

Kroos joins Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lothar Matthaus and Lukas Podolski as Germans to play in four European Championships. Nagelsmann’s play-style suits, and needs, Kroos’ distribution and line-breaking abilities.


What’s their weakness?

Finishing. They were the most wasteful team at the World Cup 18 months ago, scoring six goals from chances worth over 10 expected goals. In their 25 games under Flick, no player reached double digits for goals. So this problem predates Nagelsmann, and there is no straightforward solution.

Havertz suits the passing style but has been a wasteful finisher in recent seasons, whereas Nagelsmann’s goalscoring options have box forwards and target man profiles. Borussia Dortmund’s Fullkrug is the standout, with 11 goals in 16 caps — including five in 10 substitute appearances. He came off the bench in all three World Cup games, scoring twice.

Fullkrug (12 league goals), along with Deniz Undav (18) and Maximilian Beier (16), were three of the top five German scorers in Europe’s top-five leagues in 2023-24. They all play in the Bundesliga.

German strikers currently fit one of three categories: stylistically suited (Havertz), experienced (see Thomas Muller) or goalscorers (the three above).


Kai Havertz (Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

One thing to watch out for

Germany must fight the form books to win. They reached four semi-finals and three finals in eight major tournaments between 2002 and 2016, winning the 2014 World Cup. Since a semi-final finish at Euro 2016, however, they have not won a knockout game.

Compounding that, none of the past 10 host nations have won the European Championship — France in 1984, Italy in 1968 and Spain in 1964 are the only three countries to win the competition when staging it. England (Euro 2020), France (2016) and Portugal (2004) have all lost the final on home soil more recently.


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  • Manager: Steve Clarke
  • Captain: Andy Robertson
  • Qualifying record: P8 W5 D2 L1 GF17 GA8
  • Euros debut: 1992 (Group stage)
  • Euro 2020: Group stage
  • Average age of squad in qualifying: 27.7
  • Most caps in squad: Andy Robertson (71)
  • Top scorer in squad: John McGinn (17)

How they play (tactics and formations)

Steve Clarke’s contract was extended until 2026 in March. It was recognition for Scotland achieving Euros qualification, and how they did it. Clarke, Scotland’s longest-serving national team manager since Craig Brown between 1993 and 2001, has evolved a squad and implemented a clear style.

He coached Scotland to and in Euro 2020, their first major tournament in 23 years. No wins and only one goal from the three group matches made for a sobering tournament, despite an excellent defensive performance to draw 0-0 against England at Wembley.

Qualification suggests they are better this time around. Scotland won their first five group games, notably beating Spain 2-0. They play a 3-4-2-1 and defend in a 5-4-1.

It is a partial truth but really an oversimplification to see their system as a way to fit Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson, two top-level left-backs, into the same team. Tierney plays left centre-back, as Scotland’s best forward passer and with impressive range, and underlaps in attack. It allows Robertson to play a wing-back role, perfect for his athleticism and final ball.

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Clarke plays two narrow No 10s behind a target-man No 9. The first-choices for that pairing are John McGinn and Ryan Christie, who both play on the opposite side to their dominant foot. This sets them up to deliver back-post crosses and hit switches when they have their back to goal. The latter is important as they are often the out-ball when the back five win duels and launch counter-attacks.

“A few years ago, we played with that deep block against the teams seeded above us and made it difficult for them and looked to counter,” said Clarke after March’s friendly defeat against Northern Ireland. Scotland are evolving beyond just underdog football, and on their good days mix build-up between playing through the thirds and hitting the forwards directly.

They defend across the pitch more, sometimes sitting deep but pressing high specifically at opposition goal kicks. This is typically man-for-man, and they drop to a mid-block quickly if the press is broken.


Key player(s)

McGinn is Scotland’s top scorer (17) under Clarke, playing in all but three of his 55 games in charge. McGinn’s role varies, sometimes crashing the box, linking play in deeper positions, providing the final ball himself and offering a long shot.

Scotland will benefit from McGinn going into the tournament on the back of his best-ever top-flight season, one in which he helped Aston Villa to fourth place in the Premier League, and a return to the European Cup/Champions League after 42 years.

“The way we play, the way the team is structured, is for that striker to help the midfield to score goals,” said Clarke. This applies to Scott McTominay, too. The Manchester United midfielder plays deeper than McGinn in build-up but attacks the box as an auxiliary striker. He scored seven of Scotland’s 17 qualifying goals “I’d be lying if I said I’d expected it,” said Clarke. “I tweaked his position a little bit, I allowed him a little bit more freedom to get forward and suddenly he was scoring goals.”


What’s their weakness?

Scotland’s recent performances against Spain and England are exceptions to the rule. Under Clarke, they have only won once in 10 games against opponents who were in the top 20 of FIFA’s world rankings. Their starting XI, individually and collectively, is better than at the previous Euros, but Clarke partly picks a consistent team because of a lack of quality depth options — especially at right wing-back beyond Nathan Patterson and Aaron Hickey, who both miss this tournament through injury.

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Scotland were excellent for 70 minutes in March against the Netherlands, mixing their attacking and defensive approaches, but eventually faded and lost 4-0.

Before beating Gibraltar 2-0 last Monday, they had gone seven games without a win (19 goals conceded) for the first time since 1997-98. That run also included friendly defeats against England and France, and draws in the final two qualification matches after sealing their place in Germany, and quite crudely suggests a glass ceiling. Scotland are not a nation with great tournament history, with group-stage exits in all 11 appearances at World Cups and European Championships.


One thing to watch out for

Austin MacPhee is Scotland’s set-piece coach, working with both them and Villa at club level since the start of the 2021-22 season. Scotland have plenty of height and in playing a back three have aerial threats aplenty for both boxes — their success or not in defending crosses often determines their results against better teams.

There were identical headed goals by Lyndon Dykes (who misses these Euros through injury) from inswinging corners in the 3-0 win against Ukraine in the 2022 Nations League. James Forrest’s deliveries to the corner of the box, at the near post, resembled typical Villa inswinging corners from the left.

McGinn, who works with MacPhee at Villa, delivers fantastic deep inswingers from the right. That delivery created goals against Austria, Denmark (both 2021), Armenia (2022) and, most significantly, the winner in their 3-2 victory at home against Israel in 2022 World Cup qualification.


(Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Switzerland

  • Manager: Murat Yakin
  • Captain: Granit Xhaka
  • Qualifying record: P10 W4 D5 L1 GF22 GA11
  • Euros debut: 1996 (Group stage)
  • Euro 2020: Quarter-finals
  • Average age of squad in qualifying: 29.0
  • Most caps in squad: Granit Xhaka (125)
  • Top scorer in squad: Xherdan Shaqiri (31)

How they play (tactics and formations)

Switzerland: perennially decent. They have qualified from the groups at four of the past five major tournaments but only won one knockout tie, beating France on penalties at Euro 2020.

Murat Yakin is tactically flexible but has issues to fix. Switzerland qualified for the 2022 World Cup with Europe’s strongest defence (only two goals conceded) and playing a 4-2-3-1 but they underwhelmed in the finals, dumped out 6-1 by Portugal in the round of 16.

Yakin had promised the “best World Cup ever” from “the best Switzerland national team that has ever existed”, and they fell well short. Euro 2024 qualifying then did little to vindicate him, with too many draws (five) meaning Switzerland finished second behind Romania in a favourable group. The Swiss FA have publicly backed Yakin, who said he would “try a few things” in the March internationals.

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He has trialled a permanent 3-4-2-1 with and without the ball, though Switzerland have attacked in that shape previously. The team is structured around three key left-footers, who are all among the nation’s four most-capped players.

Ricardo Rodriguez plays on the left of the back three, as he does for his Italian club side Torino (who play the same shape). Central midfielder Granit Xhaka is often the deepest midfielder in build-up and sometimes a box-crashing threat. Right-winger Xherdan Shaqiri has a free role. He provides back-post inswinging crosses and picks apart defences with dribbles or long shots. Switzerland often hit big switches to him and Shaqiri is supported by an overlapping central midfielder.

Against inferior opposition, their individual quality shines and they score stylish cutback goals — see Renato Steffen’s hat-trick in their 5-0 win over Belarus, where all three goals came from cutback moves from the left. When facing a superior side, expect early crosses, as Switzerland rarely get sustained possession upfield and struggle to play through a co-ordinated high press.

They had the second-highest possession average (71 per cent) in qualifying, but this is less a reflection of controlling matches and more that they faced weaker opposition. Yakin says Switzerland want to dominate the ball but they must shore up the defensive base — 11 goals conceded was the leakiest defence of any team to qualify for these Euros.

In the March internationals, they mixed between mid-block defending in a 5-4-1 or 5-2-3, and pressing man-for-man. It worked better, keeping clean sheets against Denmark and the Republic of Ireland (who also played back threes).


Key player(s)

Other players might play bigger roles in qualifying, but Shaqiri’s finals record speaks for itself. Switzerland have scored 28 goals across their past five appearances at World Cups and Euros, and 13 were either scored or assisted by Shaqiri, an ever-present at those tournaments. He is a triple threat of dribbler, passer and finisher, takes set pieces and can play as the false nine too, which he did in March’s game in Dublin.

At the other end, Switzerland will hope goalkeeper Yann Sommer can carry his club form into the Euros. He kept 19 clean sheets and only conceded 19 goals in 34 games last season as Inter Milan won the Serie A title — his international record is 34 clean sheets in 89 caps, conceding less than a goal per game (88 in total).


What’s their weakness?

Conceding late goals. Six of the 11 scored against Switzerland in qualifying came after the 80th minute and contributed greatly to them having so many draws. These goals had no repeatable pattern but a common theme of individual errors despite sound structures: the back five losing/not tracking runners in-behind (without enough pressure on the ball) in settled defence, losing first contacts at crosses and defending set pieces badly.

Such poor game-management belies their individual experience — Sommer, 35, was in goal for all six of those concessions — and is atypical for a team defending in a back five. It needs resolving.


One thing to watch out for

Burnley’s Zeki Amdouni. Vincent Kompany, his manager last season who is now in charge at Bayern Munich, has called the 23-year-old a “natural goalscorer”. He was Switzerland’s top scorer in qualifying (six), averaging a goal every 83 minutes. He is a flexible forward, equally threatening against set defences as in transition, with the ball at his feet or attacking crosses/passes in behind. He may not start, but could prove an excellent substitute.


Hungary

  • Manager: Marco Rossi
  • Captain: Dominik Szoboszlai
  • Qualifying record: P8 W5 D3 L0 GF16 GA7
  • Euros debut: 1964 (third place)
  • Euro 2020: Group stage
  • Average age of squad in qualifying: 27.8
  • Most caps in squad: Adam Nagy (81)
  • Top scorer in squad: Roland Sallai (13)

How they play (tactics and formations)

Hungary have grown exponentially as a footballing force in the past two years.

Questions were asked of Marco Rossi after a group-stage exit at Euro 2020 and their failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

The Italian, in charge since June 2018, is their longest-serving national-team boss since Lajos Baroti in the 1950s and 1960s. Hungary’s 2022-23 Nations League performance set a marker, finishing second in a group that included Euro 2020 winners Italy and runners-up England, plus Germany.

Those games showed Hungary at their best under Rossi: defensively strong, dropping into a typically-Italian 5-4-1 in their own half. They conceded just seven big chances across the six Nations League games, half as many as they created (14). Successful and sustainable.

Rossi’s favourite game of that Nations League run was not Hungary’s first win in Germany (1-0) since 2004 or in England (4-0) since 1954, but rather the 1-1 draw at home to the Germans. His explanation: because they “could only get behind us twice or three times, it was an almost perfect 90 minutes from a professional perspective”. Germany had 67 per cent possession that day but were outshot 11-6, and only managed one big chance and one shot on target (Hungary had four big chances and seven efforts on target).

The Nations League success proved no fluke, as Hungary qualified for these Euros without losing. They only conceded seven goals in their eight matches and 2023 became their first calendar year without a defeat since 1976. Hungary defend with more aggression now than at Euro 2020, where they had the least intense defensive approach based on opposition passes allowed per defensive action (25.9).

The centre-backs, especially Adam Lang on the right side, defend touch-tight. Central midfielders mark aggressively and the No 10s stay high to press centre-backs. The No 9 drops onto either the midfield pivot or a centre-back who steps out.

Hungary often lock on man-for-man when opponents play wide. All these jumps, especially from centre-backs, can leave exploitable space in-behind if the timing is not perfect. Equally, when well co-ordinated, it forces turnovers from which they can counter.

No 9s rarely have good games against Hungary. Since Euro 2020, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Harry Kane and Timo Werner have started a combined nine games against them and only scored one goal. Three very different strikers, all of which Hungary can defend. They are adaptable.

Their biggest vulnerability in settled defending is direct balls and runs inside the wing-back, especially back-post crosses delivered from their right and targeting left wing-back Milos Kerkez. Hungary defend better than they attack, but their rotational build-up approach has caused problems when they play long.

On paper, it looks like a box midfield in a 3-4-2-1, though the left No 6 regularly rotates out to the left centre-back spot, pushing that side’s centre-back and wing-back upfield.

Here’s how that looked against Italy in September 2022, where another of their typical rotations can be seen — the wing-back and No 10 trading places (see Loic Nego out wide).

Similarly against Germany three months earlier, this time with Callum Styles, of Barnsley in League One, the third tier of English football, fulfilling Andras Schafer’s role and no wing-back/No 10 rotation on the right.

All this is designed to get more bodies on the last line, especially when they are up against a back four.

Their first pass typically is short, but under pressure Hungary’s back line play direct to the No 9 rather than through midfield. Expect wing-back to wing-back switches and runs in behind, while their build-up patterns of defender to No 9 to No 10 to release the wing-back are reminiscent of Simone Inzaghi’s Inter Milan.

Hungary are strong at seeing out leads: they are unbeaten in the last 28 games when scoring first, which includes going ahead against France (once), Germany (three times) and England (three times).


Key player(s)

Dominik Szoboszlai became captain after Adam Szalai’s international retirement in September 2022. The 3-4-2-1 structure frees the Liverpool midfielder to play No 10 and rotate, maximising his passing range. Sometimes he drops into the box at goal kicks, receives from the goalkeeper and hits long balls.

Szoboszlai is Hungary’s key man against low blocks and weaker opposition, though this owes to the No 6s too.

The first-choice pairing here are Adam Nagy and Schafer. Nagy has played 57 of Rossi’s 63 games, and is often the lone pivot when Schafer rotates to left centre-back. The pair are tough tacklers, Schafer is a comfortable dribbler from the back and Nagy likes a diagonal.


What’s their weakness?

Dominating games. After all, Hungary had the fewest open-play sequences of 10-plus passes at Euro 2020. In qualifying, their possession ranged between 36 and 72 per cent, and they only managed eight goals from open play. When they have played expansively, notably at home to Serbia in qualifying, they looked vulnerable to counter-attacks.

“It could be harder against them (group opponents Montenegro, Bulgaria and Lithuania) than it was against the classy teams in the Nations League,” said Rossi before the start of qualifying. “It will almost be a completely new situation for us to have the burden of being favourites on our shoulders.”

Rossi emphasises they are a “young, developing team,” but in the group matches against Switzerland and Scotland — both likely to go with back fives themselves — Hungary will have to play more than just underdog football if they are to qualify for the knockout phase.


One thing to watch for

Set pieces. No team bettered Hungary’s six set-piece goals in qualifying. Szoboszlai takes most of these, and is also 17 out of 18 from the penalty spot in his senior career (94 per cent).

Like Scotland, playing three centre-backs and a tall No 9 means Hungary have aerial threats aplenty, and they defend corners almost exclusively man-to-man. Here’s their national-team analyst, Istvan Beregi, examining set pieces.


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Fixtures

Round 1:

  • 14/06/2024 — Germany vs Scotland (9pm CEST, 8pm BST, 3pm EDT)
  • 15/06/2024 — Hungary vs Switzerland (3pm CEST, 2pm BST, 9am EDT)

Round 2:

  • 19/06/2024 — Germany vs Hungary (6pm CEST, 5pm BST, 12pm EDT)
  • 19/06/2024 — Scotland vs Switzerland (9pm CEST, 8pm BST, 3pm EDT)

Round 3:

  • 23/06/2024 — Switzerland vs Germany (9pm CEST, 8pm BST, 3pm EDT)
  • 23/06/2024 — Scotland vs Hungary (9pm CEST, 8pm BST, 3pm EDT)

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)