The international break has come to an end and two wins in that period that have put Germany on the brink of qualification. Joachim Löw’s men made light work of Austria and the Faroe Islands, beating both teams 3-0 in what were comfortable evenings on both occasions despite some notable absentees.
The German team went into the international break on the back of some very poor defensive displays recently. The had conceded 8 goals in their previous 3 games against less that impressive opposition (Paraguay, USA and Ecuador) and given this, it was understandable that some German fans went into the Austria game slightly uneasy. Especially as they were missing Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lars Bender and Ilkay Gündogan. All of whom would be possible partners to Khedira in the double pivot that provides the necessary protection for the back four.
However those nervous fans needn’t have worried as Toni Kroos took that position and immediately stamped his authority, involving himself heavily in the creative efforts of the team. He started the move for the opening goal, grabbed the second himself with a lovely strike from 25 yard and got the secondary assist for the 3rd goal. His performance showed that he could really step into that deep-lying playmaker role that Schweinsteiger as has made his own in recent times. The team were defensively were very good apart form Schmelzer who is still clearly the weak link in the German team. The Dortmund man was elbowed in the face just before half time and the manager seemed to use that as an excuse to remove him from the action. His replacement Höwedes was much more defensively capable (as you would expect from a centre-back) and even grabbed himself the assist for Müller’s goal to make it 3-0.
The second game of the international break was much less of a worry as Germany traveled to the Faroes to grab 3 points that were never really in doubt. The match started quickly however and the minnows somehow ended up with a very good chance on the volley just outside this 6 yard box. However this would be the pinnacle of the threat they would pose and would spend the next 89 minutes defending. Germany opened the scoring through Mertesacker who volleyed home from a yard after a corner. After this it was just a matter of time until the flood gates opened and the superstars from Germany routed the poor islanders. However this never really materialised. The next goal came from a penalty and Arsenal’s new man Mesut Özil calmly put the ball into the bottom left-hand corner after Thomas Müller was adjudged to have been fouled with a goal scoring opportunity within his grasp which left the Faroes with only 10. The scoring was complete in the 84th minute when Lahm pulled the ball back to Bayern team mateMüller who smashed passed Motherwell ‘keeper Gunnar Nielsen.
With all the worries that had gone before this international break, one of the main pluses that was the ‘Die Mannschaft’ had come through both games with consecutive clean sheets. The last time that had happened was during the European Championships in 2012 as they beat Israel 2-0 in a friendly before beating Portugal 1-0 in the opening game of the group stage, showing how much a problem defending has become for them. Löw’s changes to the team for these two games seemed to show that he was acutely aware of the problems his squad has.
He made the bold move to drop Mats Hummels from the team in favour of in-form Boateng to add some pace to a back-line that with Mertesacker could really use it. Hummels has been going through a patch of poor form recently, so not too much of a big surprise. He was awful in the 3-3 draw against Paraguay and was subbed at half-time in Dortmund’s win over Eintracht Frankfurt the week before. Klopp later took some of the heat off Hummels, declaring that he was scared that he would get a second yellow card. A likely outcome as he seemed very off the pace and the agility of Frankfurt recent signing Vaclav Kadlec was giving him real problems. This decision to leave him out however might not be the reason alone why the team looked so much more solid. It suited both of the centre-backs to be with a partner that they maybe more familiar with, although not directly.
In my opinion Per Mertesacker is a fantastic defender but obviously has one huge flaw; he is slow. Arsenal deal with this by pairing him with Laurent Koscielny, one of the fastest defenders around. Similarly, Jerome Boateng played a lot of last season with another notoriously slow defender, Daniel van Buyten. In Dante’s absence, Boateng’s pace along with van Buyten’s reading of the game and aerial ability meant that either of them were never really exposed, even when tested against one of the most agile teams in the world; Barcelona. Now obviously they had a fantastic midfield ahead to protect them for Bayern but Germany have the same quality of personnel. Now with players that are familiar in their role as stopper (Mertesacker) and covering defender (Boateng), Germany could have a more solid unit at the expense of arguable the more talented Hummels. Now its very quick to jump to conclusions after two games against relatively weak opposition but an interesting sub-plot for the games to come.
The other maybe slightly contentious selection decision that Löw made was to play Klose in both games from the start instead of Mario Gomez. Now consider that Gomez essentially ousted Klose from the Bayern team under van Gaal. It’s at this point that the manager is clearly saying Gomez is better than Klose and yet at 35, Klose overtakes Gomez in the race for the national team spot. It may be that Löw has taken a leaf of from van Gaal’s successor Heynkes in playing a hardworking striker opposed to one whose main aim to score goals. Under Heynckes, Bayern implemented an extremely effective pressing game that had to start from the front and therefore Mandzukic was the man that was preferred. The effectiveness of pressing is no doubt cumulative in that sort of system. If one person is allowed time and space, then it could be fatal. This is, in my opinion, the reason that Gomez despite being more of a goal threat is no longer seen as first choice by those teams in the upper echelons of the game. Simply due to the fact that pressing has become such an important way of defending.
Both of these selection decisions indicate the same thing from Löw. That he is prepared to put the needs of the team ahead of individuals despite their talents and maybe even more importantly their ego’s, which is exactly the same thing we saw from Heynckes (e.g. Robben) on the way to his record breaking season. Its this sort of management that can only be good for the team and could even drive of those on the periphery to work even harder ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. The student indeed does seem to be learning from the master!