Joint favourites Germany face England's conquerors Italy in the second semi-final of Euro 2012 on Thursday night, with Löw’s side having been heavily backed since the tournament began having won all of their games so far.
In comparison, Italy have only actually won once in normal time of their 4 matches, coming against arguably the tournament's weakest side, in Ireland. Despite the countless and rightful plaudits for their midfield against England, and in particular Andrea Pirlo, Italy have struggled for goals thus far and this will be a real worry against the Germans.
The Azzuri have netted just 4 times in the tournament (excluding the penalty shoot-out with England) and have scored just once from open play. Funnily enough that strike was their first in the competition and came against reigning champions Spain, relying on goals from set piece situations against Croatia and the Irish before drawing a blank against England.
In comparison, no team has scored more goals than Germany's 9, or more from open play for that matter, than their tally of 7. One would automatically assume, therefore, that the German's had created more big chances than their semi-final opponents, though that is not the case. Italy's tally of 10 big chances created is testament to the creativity of Pirlo and co. and is a tournament-leading figure, with Germany only carving out half of that amount.
Furthermore, Löw’s side have needed just 60 shots to register their impressive 9-goal haul (15% conversion rate) while Italy's tournament-high of 88 shots proves that their finishing has been wayward thus far (4.5% conversion rate). Germany have tested the keeper with 40% of their efforts up to now, which is significantly higher than Italy's 30% and proves that Buffon is likely to have a far more lively evening than he did against England at the weekend.
In terms of the two sides' possession and pass accuracy statistics, there isn't a great deal to choose between them. Germany rank higher for both, with 59.3% possession and 88.7% pass accuracy respectively, though Italy's figures are still impressive, with averages of 55.8% and 84.7% both ranking them 5th overall in the competition.
However, when looking at their passing styles there are clear differences. Though both sides rank in the top 3 and only behind Spain for short passes per game, with Germany on 538 and Italy averaging 491, Prandelli's side tend to look long far more often. Partly due to the sheer brilliance in the range of passing from Pirlo, but also due to their more direct approach, Italy's average of 62 long balls per game is only behind Ukraine. In contrast, Germany have averaged just 39, which is fewer than any other side at the tournament.
Another area in which the two sides differ greatly is their aggression. Italy have picked up a tournament-high of 11 bookings thus far, with Germany receiving just 3, and between just 2 players, representing a tournament-low. However, another interesting statistic shows that the German's have actually averaged more tackles per game than the Italian's, with the latter's figure of 15.3 ranking them down in 12th at the tournament despite their poor disciplinary record. What this would suggest is that Löw’s side are far better at timing their challenges, and Italy will need to tread carefully to avoid giving away fouls in dangerous areas.
Although neither is likely to directly man mark the other, most feel that the game on Thursday could well be won and lost by either Mesut Özil or Andrea Pirlo. Both will play in a similar area on the pitch, with Özil roaming behind the lone striker for Germany and Pirlo constantly coming deep for the ball for Italy. The two are both considered playmakers for their sides, though their styles in doing so contrast greatly.
Pirlo has averaged slightly more passes per game than Özil, though this is greatly influenced by his performance against England last time out. However, Özil just edges it for key passes, and in turn has picked up one more assist than Pirlo thus far. This can be attributed to the fact that he has done much of his work in and around the box at the Euros, playing shorter passes, which have also contributed to the better pass accuracy of the two.
The Madrid man has averaged just 1.5 long balls per game, with Pirlo's average of 10 the most obvious difference in the duo's playing style with regards to where on the pitch they pull the strings. Set-piece duties for Pirlo mean that he has completed 2.8 crosses per game thus far, while Özil floats in the corridor between midfield and attack, drifting wide to average 2.3 per game in comparison.
The way that the two managers see fit to deal with either sides' puppet master will be intriguing, but the reality may be that, with an extra two days rest and a fresher squad, Germany have more stars to fall back on if Özil’s threat is nullified.