Harding’s Hark: The Inside Story – Germany at Wembley
Germany’s 1-1 draw with Italy on Friday night was never really considered a friendly. Their failure to beat Italy in a competitive fixture before means every time they meet tempers flare and heavy challenges are made. After an unfortunate injury to Sami Khedira against Italy, one incurred by one of the more seemingly innocuous challenges, Joachim Löw is looking to test ‘new’ faces against England on Tuesday night. Manuel Neuer, captain Philipp Lahm and Arsenal’s new boy Mesut Özil have all been left out so what do Germany do now and what can England expect? Sports Editor Jonathan Harding investigates.
A draw against Italy was probably fair considering how back and forth the game was. Yes, Germany hit the woodwork three times, but they were also defensively vulnerable on a few occasions too. Löw men played a high defensive line, allowing Lahm and Khedira to join the attack regularly. Lahm didn’t look as strong as he does at Bayern in defensive midfield but this was a trial run for his country. Khedira’s injury means Löw will have to look elsewhere, and although Lahm is the world’s best right back, he’s also pretty good in defensive midfield.
Löw believes Khedira will return for the World Cup but his potential lack of match practice will be an issue. Both Lars and Sven Bender are options; Lars has even proved his versatility at right back. Toni Kroos can also drop deeper although I don’t expect him to. Even Simon Rolfes, who is in good form, could earn a surprise return if (and that’s a big if) Löw feels his current options cannot cover the situation. With Bastian Schweinsteiger and İlkay Gündoğan due to return in time for Brazil though, Khedira’s injury is a blow but not a reason to panic.
Wingbacks remain a point of concern for Germany. Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes might have been solid defensively against Italy but he is limited in an attack sense. Marcell Jansen might boast over 50 caps for Germany but he is a one-dimensional. The other Marcel (Schmelzer), is perhaps the best left back option Germany have but his positioning can sometimes be questionable. England, and most sides looking ahead to Brazil, should have a keen eye on how (and if) Germany can resolve this issue. Löw remains conservative in his selection, keen to keep the unity of the group. While there is a positive to this, the likes of Kevin Grosskreutz (utility player extraordinaire), Sebastian Jung and Oliver Sorg must be worth at least trying. Germany need to be more prepared to handle injuries, suspensions and tactical changes. In the wingback position, this still remains a doubt.
The centre-back pairing of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng was yet another example of two contrasting styles. Hummels may have scored but his primary concern is defending and in that respect, he is still short of the form we once knew him for. Hummels’s poor clearance led to Italy’s equaliser and the defender struggles from being a great footballer, but not as good a defender. Boateng’s rise to form has come from his development and regular game time at Bayern under Pep Guardiola. He remains prone to the occasional poor decision but he is getting better. Per Mertesacker remains a force in the air and Boateng compensates for his lack of pace. On form, the pair must remain first choice.
Löw got his tactics right against Mario Balotelli. The former Manchester City striker was hustled throughout and it left him quiet. I expect to see a similar sort of tactic deployed against Wayne Rooney on Tuesday night. We are also likely to see Roman Weidenfeller make his debut for Germany against England and no one begrudges the Dortmund goalkeeper this opportunity. He has been in fantastic form and deserves to be Germany’s number two in Brazil as well. He will be a little nervous though, and like a number of German goalkeepers he is prone to the odd erratic decision. If England can unsettle him, which certainly won’t be as easy as it sounds, then they might spoil his day.
Against England, I’d like to see Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Max Kruse (7 goals and 6 assists in 13 games this season) lead the line. His goals to assists ratio (both double figures last year) show exactly why Löw likes him and why he fits the system. Mario Götze was left far too isolated against Italy and looks like a better option in the ten, although Löw has seemingly made it clear that Mesut Özil is his first choice (normally) there. We could also see Julian Draxler, who incredibly has played 86 Bundesliga games at the age of only 20. And although Marco Reus is more likely to start, Sidney Sam is enjoying his best season to date – 11 goals and 7 assists in 18 games – and deserves some time on the pitch.
Whoever plays, England have to be wary of how quickly Germany counter attack. They are excellent at winning the ball in defence, surging forward and setting up chances. What Italy managed to do well was get numbers back quickly enough to slow Germany’s attack. Forcing Germany to be patient can often quiet them. If England get caught on the break though, they will be in trouble.
As much as this is a friendly, Löw is well aware that every result is analysed and Tuesday night will be no different. Jürgen Klinsmann turned Germany into an attacking aesthetic and after years of winning ugly, the country fell in love with Fußball all over again. Löw has taken on that mantle and continued that development but the honeymoon period is over. It’s time to produce the goods.