It has been a sweet couple of weeks for the Nationalmannschaft. The fans saw Germany dominate Brazil in a friendly victory, and crush neighbors Austria to become the first team to qualify for Euro 2012. The end to this International excursion wasn’t satisfactory though, as Germany had to come twice from behind to draw level against another neighbor, Poland. Even though Germany could only manage to share the spoils with Poland, the disappointed fans must remember: 1) They were missing the services of Neuer, Özil, and Schweinsteiger. 2) They were also witnessing the services of Rolfes and Träsch.
Change In Tactics
One of the things we have learned from this international break about Team Germany has been a change in tactics. Lets take a look at Löw’s latest strategical rejig.
Löw have come up with a balanced 4-1-4-1 form, abandoning the slightly defense-heavy 4-2-3-1. Under the fresh tactical set up, Germany would be playing a more attacking game, with high pressing and speed. In order to perform at full throttle, one of the defensive midfielders of 4-2-3-1 has to be sacrificed to play someone in a unique box-to-box role. In the absence of Sami Khedira, Low has bestowed the floating midfielder’s role to Toni Kroos.
In all probabilities, the success of this new system will depend a lot on the box-to-box midfielder’s ability to play a dual role. With Schweinsteiger and Özil diametrically at the opposite end of defense and attack, Kroos will help maintain equilibrium in the middle. It is his movement that will trigger an attack or defense by connecting with Özil or Schweinsteiger respectively. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger will keep doing the dirty work by sitting back, while Özil will have the freedom to move further up to create a menacing rapport with the wings and the lone forward up front.
On paper the new blueprint looks attractive. However, the three games has given something else to ponder upon; the predicatble movement of the players in the attacking third. It came to the fore very much in the game against Poland as it appeared Germany has somewhat missed Özil in the central role. Mostly the attacks were coming down the flanks but there were no subtle, fast one-two movement.
The fullbacks were providing the ball to the wider players in the attacking third and overlapping them, thereby taking a marker along with them. The wide players remained stranded, contemplating whether to cut inside or pass to the fullback on the move – eventually, they ended up passing back to the midfield. Very less horizontal passes were played to seek creativity from the centre or at least to draw the opposition backline ahead, so as to create gaps down the flanks to take advantage of – similar to what happened during the final movement in the game against Poland, resulting in a late German equalizer. Surely Müller and Schürrle/Podolski will learn to play the horizontal passes often, with Özil/Götze to bring the flavor of unpredictability in the German attack.
The Legend Of Super Miro
Miroslav Klose is still the best option for the national team. Period. Though he had a poor game against the country of his birth, he was brilliant in the game against Brazil, as well against Austria. His inclusion after the break in the game against Brazil saw a sudden shift in tempo in Germany’s buildup play, which was previously reduced to a lullaby because of Gomez’s lack of movement.
Klose pressurized the opposition backline for every ball, ran his heart out and provided a backheel to Götze, which in the end resulted in a penalty kick, giving Germany a 2-0 lead in the game. In the game against Austria, it was he who broke the deadlock with an opportunistic strike, and then returned the favor to Özil by generously releasing him for Germany’s second. He also played a part in Schürrle’s strike as well, later on in the game. Even at 32, his manoeuvres make him more suitable to Löw’s free-flowing style of football than the erstwhile immobile Gomez.
Envious Squad Depth
Thanks to the investment in youth academies, a plethora of fresh talents has immensely benefited the present German national team. There are suitable replacements available for each and every positions in the team. Such has been the case that Löw had the luxury to make seven changes to the team that ripped Austria apart to take on Poland. Despite making so many changes, the team managed to come back twice from behind to draw level.
Today, Löw is spoilt for choice to field one single team, resulting in a healthy competition amongst the protagonists. Goal Keeper: Neuer (Backups: Wiese and Zieler), LB: Lahm (Backup: Schmelzer), RB: Boateng (Backups: Höwedes and Träsch), CD: Mertesacker, Hummels (Backups: Badstuber, Boateng) , DM: Schweinsteiger, Khedira (Backups: Bender brothers and Kroos), CM/CAM: Özil (Backups: Kroos, Götze), Wingers/Wide Midfielders: Podolski, Müller (Backups:Schürrle and Götze), FW: Klose (Backups: Gomez and Cacau).
Two To Tango
Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze are two of the most talked about German talents, who can take Germany to the greatest of heights! It’s not about the irresistible skills and thrills they add to the game, it is about how they do the simplest things right and show maturity beyond their ages. Götze can play in a central attacking role a la Özil and can also operate in a wider role a la Müller. He was unplayable in the game against Brazil, where he topped the outing by netting home Germany’s first by rounding off Julio Cesar. He scored with a delightful volley off Müller’s cross, withing minutes after coming on against Austria, and showed composure by not losing his cool against Poland as the opponents made it a point to take him down whenever he has the ball. He was at his menacing best and Poland had one of their players sent off for constantly committing fouls on Götze.
Schürrle, who has scored a goal in both the games against Brazil and Austria, was one of the sharpest German footballer against Poland. This lanky young winger can play as an auxiliary striker, likes to cut in and shoot from long ranges. Comfortable with both feet, Schürrle can be deployed down either of the flanks, but he generally prefers the left flank and if he continues his untouchable form for the next few months, he might just be able to pip Podolski in Löw’s first team. To be honest, Schürrle offers much more as compared to the lackadaisical Prince Poldi’s consistent inconsistence.
The Brittle Berlin Wall
After securing an injury time stalemate against Poland, Germany have now conceded at least one goal in as many as nine consecutive international games. Needless to say, defense has proved to be the weakest link of Löw’s team. The problem is both with the resources as well as with the defensive organization. Mertesacker, Hummels, Badstuber, and Boateng have been tried to fit in to the heart of defense. While Höwedes and Träsch were handed the right-back job, Lahm was deputised by Schmelzer on the left back.
One valid argument in favor of conceding so many goals would be that Löw has constantly changed the defensive personnel. The lads, as a result, never got enough time to gel with each other, to know the style and attributes of their teammate so as to develop any kind of understanding with one another. Now, with the new tactical adjustment, Germany will concentrate more on the attack with one man less in defense. So it will be vital for the defense to build a cohesion with each other to get over the defensive blues. For that to happen, Löw must fix the spots for the would-be first choice defenders as soon as possible to develop the necessary understanding between them.
So, who all should make the cut? Since Schmelzer has not yet been tested that much at the highest level, Lahm should find no difficulty in keeping his place, irrespective of the number of swipes he takes at ex-managers or continues to deliver mediocre performances defensively. Träsch has proved that chasing shadows and pulling jerseys are not the way to go for a right-back. So, the contenders for that role will be Boateng and Höwedes.
As for the most important central role, Mertesacker still remains the cleanest of tacklers, aerially strong and perfect in anticipation. But he has lost pace and acceleration so much even Polish attackers were able to make short work of his (dis)abilities. In addition, Mertesacker’s ball playing ability is definitely not upto the mark of that of Badstuber’s or Hummels’. And since Germany have opted to play with a high backline in the last few games, playing Per in such a role is always like waiting for the impending disaster because of his lack of pace.
At present, Badstuber and Hummels look the most likely candidates to make it to the first team. Hummels, the modern day libero, and Badstuber somehow complement each other. The former is a clean tackler, has good judgement, is a solid marker, is aerially strong, and has got good acceleration. While, the latter is physically strong, ball-winning defender, but with an all-important hitch of losing concentration at times. There is one attribute which they both share – the ability of ball distribution. Both youngsters like to move up and supply the balls from deep positions. Since Germany will be sacrificing one defensive midfielder for a box-to-box role, it will be wise to ask one of these rookies to sit back and let the other do the ball-playing bit. Apart from these usual suspects, it will be interesting to see how Nürnberg’s Wollscheid, Leverkusen’s Reinartz or Gladbach’s Zimmermann develop during the course of this season and see if they can earn themselves a place in the Mannschaft.