Germany more aesthetically-pleasing than usual

June 8, 2010

Germany's possible line-up

“They haven’t got any great players, but you can never write them off” is the usual line about Germany. In 2010, that old cliche might not be appropriate.

Not because you can write them off, but because Germany actually have a rather talented first XI. Worldwide superstars won’t be found in this side, especially with the loss of captain Michael Ballack, but in Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira they have some technically superb youngsters that have made a real impact in the Bundesliga – and are exactly the sort of players that often emerge from nowhere to take the tournament by storm.

The loss of Ballack is a big blow. 42 goals in 98 games is an incredible record for a midfield player, and he has rescued Germany so many times throughout the past decade. Today, he plays a deeper, more reserved role in the centre of midfield. He would have partnered Bastian Schweinsteiger, another who has moved back into a deep central midfield position recently. Instead, Ballack’s place will probably go to Sami Khedira, a talented, tactically astute player who has been virtually assured of his place in the first XI by Joachim Low. Schweinsteiger has been used to playing alongside a more dominant, experienced player in his new role (Ballack for Germany and Mark van Bommel for Bayern) and will have to step up and start to really dictate games.

Those two will play ahead of a defence that still has question marks about personnel. The one definite is that it will be based around the towering, 6′6 Per Mertesacker. His likely partner is Arne Friedrich, a less dominant figure, but decent enough, and good on the ball. Philip Lahm, the captain, could start on the right or the left – if it’s the former, Jerome Boateng will start at right-back, if it is the latter then Holger Badstuber is the favourite for left-back.

It seems slightly strange that Lahm, the closest thing Germany have to an established world class player, is unsure of his position, especially when his attacking tendencies when compared to his full-back colleagues will play an important role in how the rest of the team operates. It was Lahm and Bastuber for the final friendly against Bosnia, which worked quite well, so that seems the most likely combination for the opening game against Australia.

This screenshot shows the basic shape of Germany - a standard 4-2-3-1. The central defenders (pink) and full-backs (blue) take up standard positions, whilst the two central midfielders (yellow) play on the same axis. Further forward, Ozil (in red) looks to play between the opposition lines of midfield and attack, and plays slightly ahead of the two wingers (in green).

The band of three attackers will feature Mesut Ozil as the playmaker. Ozil is rumoured to be Arsenal’s first choice if Cesc Fabregas leaves the club this summer, and Fabregas is probably a good comparison for those uninitiated - he is a creative player but also a busy one who goes looking for the ball when it isn’t coming his way.

Rafael Honegstein wrote a gushing report on him earlier this season, saying, “Özil’s status (is) the best player in the league at the moment, a one-man source of creativity and surprise. Operating behind the strikers, he’s both a playmaker and an auxiliary winger; his intelligent runs provide the width that should be missing in Thomas Schaaf’s diamond formation. And his passing couldn’t be finer if he was folding kings against aces, every single time. The European Under-21 winner who destroyed England in the final has been working hard in the gym, too: a couple of extra kilos of abdominal muscle have given him more balance.”

When Germany do not have the ball, the wingers (green) have a responsibility to form two banks of four with the central midfielders (yellow). Ozil (red) plays higher up the pitch.

On the right wing will be Toni Kroos a (20-year-old who threatened to help take the title to Leverkuen this season, despite being owned by Bayern), Thomas Muller, Bayern’s hard-working, versatile forward or Piotr Trochowski, the Hambug winger. Muller may have the edge as he is superior defensively.

None of those three prefer the right, but are forced into that position because Low likes Lukas Podolski to fill the left-wing position. Whilst Podolski’s club career seems to have stalled, he has a quite incredible international scoring record of 38 goals from 72 games – at the age of just 24. It’s no wonder Low has such faith in him.

A similar thing could be observed of Miroslav Klose, who will play as the lone striker. His record of 48 goals in 95 games more than makes up for his underwhelming bench-warming 2009/10 campaign, and he is of course a World Cup specialist – the only man to score 5+ goals at consecutive World Cups.

Podolski and Klose need to start well, however, because they have Brazilian-born Cacau and yet another youngster, Marko Marin, ready to step in.

Ozil looks to drive at the opposition defence with direct runs. Klose (purple) looks to draw defenders away, whilst the two wingers stay wide and look to collect balls played between centre-back and full-back.

The 4-2-3-1 is a fairly structured one – it is more a Benitez-esque 4-2-3-1 than say, the fluid 4-2-3-1 favoured by Germany’s great rivals, the Netherlands. The wide midfielders are expected to get back and form two banks of four – Podolski is not particularly good at this, whilst Muller would be more disciplined on the right.

Ozil is given less defensive responsibility than the wingers, although he is capable of picking up an opposition holding midfielder. Schweinsteiger and Khedira will probably dovetail in midfield – both are capable of getting forward and creating.

Conclusion

Germany are depending on some talented youngsters who have little international experience and are completely unused to playing with each other. The most established partnership in the side is Klose-Podolski, and yet those two are hardly playing with confidence at the moment. Schweinsteiger is playing in what is still a relatively new role, Kroos, Khedira and Ozil all have under ten caps, and the defence is far from settled.

So whereas we’re used to German sides being experienced, boring, and effective, we are now faced with one that is young, exciting and unpredictable. Atypical Germans.

Germany more aesthetically-pleasing than usual

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