Not Reus, not Schweinsteiger, not Özil. Löw’s Germany are in need of a full back.
When World Champions Germany were stunned by Poland 2-0 in Warsaw on Saturday, fingers quickly pointed towards the Germans’ wastefulness in the final third. After all, they boasted thirty shots compared to the Poles’ five. Overall, despite the loss, Germany had a decent game – Mats Hummels put in some brilliant tackles, Christoph Kramer showed great distribution and Karim Bellarabi worked his socks off for the team. Yet, a familiar problem was visible in their defensive display.
When Benedikt Höwedes and Jerome Boateng were used as full backs in the World Cup, a few eyebrows were raised even though the idea proved to be a success. Defending against wide attacks was always going to be a concern.
With many of the World Cup winning contingent out injured, Joachim Löw named just one natural full back in the form of Erik Durm in the team, and Poland were happy to exploit this. Almost all of Poland’s attacks came via the right flank, where the young Dortmund defender had a tough task in coping with the trickery of Lukasz Piszczek and Kamil Grosicki. Joachim Low singled out Durm after the game and acknowledged that he needs to improve his game.
Although it wasn’t a poor display by any means defensively, a warning call was handed out.
Right now, Erik Durm and Benedikt Höwedes are the likeliest to play on the left side. A natural choice in the future, at left back, is Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer, who is currently injured. Having made it to the European Championship in 2012, he missed out on a place in Brazil due to persistent injury problems, which have affected him this season as well. In the long run, once he is fully fit, Schmelzer seems to be the likeliest to start on the left side of defence.
Other options include Eintracht Frankfurt’s Bastian Oczipka, Hamburg’s Matthias Ostrzolek and Marcel Jansen. Oczpika, of Leverkusen formerly, is a hard working and quick defender possessing good skill on the ball and is capable of picking out a good cross. However, he lacks the experience at the top level and is often pressurized into defensive mistakes, which is evident in the League against tough opposition. Additionally, he is a good set-piece taker.
Ostrzolek was one of the best defenders in the league last season for Augsburg, but is still a bit raw on the edges. Although fast and agile, he lacks the top level experience like Oczipka. Marcel Jansen is a veteran in this regard. Already having amassed 45 caps, the tall defender is a composed figure who can sturdy the defence. However, considering his age and a poor 2013 season, he might give Löw second thoughts.
The right flank poses more of a challenge. After Philipp Lahm’s retirement, Hoffenheim’s Sebastian Rudy, a playmaker by trade, has been used as a right back as a temporary fix, where he has performed decently enough. Against Poland, Stuttgart starlet Antonio Rüdiger made his bow in German colours. Despite having never put a foot wring in the game, he could be better utilized as a backup center back. With Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes and Lars Bender capable of playing on the right as well, this position appears to look secure.
However, faster opposition wingers can easily break this system down. The other alternatives that Jogi Low might consider are Wolfsburg’s Sebastian Jung, Freiburg’s Oliver Sorg and ‘Gladbach duo Tony Jantschke and Julian Korb.
Sebastian Jung is considered to be one of the best right backs in the league and has led Eintracht Frankfurt to a Europa League spot two years back, which has attracted the attention of Arsenal with his solid defensive displays. Also, a proven leader, Jung can easily fit into the current German setup with ease.
Julian Korb and Oliver Sorg have proven inconsistent over the last year, and despite their obvious talent, they would need to prove themselves this year. Tony Jantschke has been used more often as a centre-back and is a safe option, with no significant strengths or weaknesses.
So far, this obvious lack of natural full backs has never been easily exploited by any team, but it is a disaster waiting to happen and Low will no doubtedly look into this issue before the next set of qualifiers.
With two years and many more friendlies to go before the next major tournament, Joachim Low has the time and luxury to experiment with different squad setups before he arrives on a consistent one.