Fritz Walter. Uwe Seeler. Gerd Müller. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Rudi Völler. Jürgen Klinsmann. Oliver Bierhoff. Miroslav Klose: over the years, Germany has always been blessed with a centre-forward that anyone can call world class. For as long as we all can remember there has always been a striker leading the line whenever the Nationalmannschaft have walked out onto the pitch.
That may well change today.
The current first-choice striker is Klose, now plying his trade in Italy with Lazio – who is just one goal behind Müller in the all-time list. But Klose is currently injured, and his place in the side – and hope of overhauling Müller’s record – is getting increasingly precarious. Then we have FC Bayern’s Mario Gómez, who has a decent strike rate of twenty-five goals in fifty-eight game but who divides opinion among fans.
After that, we have the invisible man in the form of Bayer Leverkusen’s Stefan Kießling and a number of journeymen – not exactly long-term options – and promising youngsters, who are just that: promising.
So we have a situation where if Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw decides not to start with Gómez against Kazakhstan in Astana we will be seeing the first German team in over a century to start without a dedicated front man – and the discussion of the so-called “false nine” hidden in the midfield. Someone like Thomas Müller, Lukas Podolski or Leverkusen’s André Schürrle. (The mercurial Marco Reus is suspended for this first encounter in the Kazakhstan double-header, but expect him to start next week in Nürnberg).
Jogi Löw started the last game against France in Paris with Gómez, who having just returned from injury ended up looking detached and forlorn. He was replaced with half an hour remaining by Toni Kroos, and for the first time Germany would be playing without a striker – and looked pretty good. Some people would then naturally ask if the team needed Gómez, while some would go even further and ask if there was a need for an old-fashioned striker at all.
Given the dearth of dedicated German goal-getters in the Bundesliga, the issue would have particular resonance: quite simply, it may soon be that the coach won’t actually have any choice in the matter.
Tonight’s starting XI
As for tonight’s starting eleven, it promises to be pretty strong but with a few changes from the France game. With Mats Hummels out for at least a month, there are questions how the back four will line up. Will skipper Philipp Lahm stay out on the right with Marcel Schmelzer slotting back into the left-back slot and a centre pairing of Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Höwedes? Or with the Schalke skipper give way to the recalled Jérôme Boateng? Or will Lahm switch back to the left leaving Boateng to fall back into the right-back slot?
This is perhaps the toughest one to call, so much so that the coach may surprise everybody by leaving both Boateng and Höwedes on the bench to start with Hamburger SV skipper Heiko Westermann in the centre alongside Merte. I’m banking on a Lahm-Merte-Höwedes-Schmelzer quartet.
The defensive midfield duo by contrast is a lot easier to predict with the recalled Bastian Schweinsteiger slotting back into his recognised role alongside Sami Khedira in place of the slightly unlucky İlkay Gündoğan, while the attacking midfield should see the playmaker Mesut Özil start alongside Schürrle and the in-form Müller – though with Reus being out one cannot rule out a start for Podolski.
Then that leaves the question of the man up front, which begs the question: will Gómez, who scored a great goal for Bayern in their last outing and looks to be returning to form and full fitness, start in Astana? The coach may very well be tempted to start with Mario Götze or the impressive teenager Julian Draxler, but for all the talk about false nines, I think the Bayern Stürmer will start.
So… Here’s my projected starting lineup for tonight:
Neuer – Lahm (c), Mertesacker, Höwedes, Schmelzer (c) – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Özil, Schürrle – Gómez
That said, whatever team is chosen I am expecting to see a comfortable victory in the surreal post-midnight match atmosphere on Astana’s artificial surface.
US Tour dates finalised
As for some other news, dates for Germany’s post-season tour of the United States has also just been announced. The Mannschaft will first take on Ecuador in Boca Raton, Florida on May 29th, while coach Jogi Löw will be taking on former boss and current US coach Jürgen Klinsmann when the two sides meet in Washington on June 2nd.
With the games following hot on the heels of the Champions’ League final, we should expect to see a different German side in these matches. If both Bayern and Dortmund make the Wembley showcase, we would expect to see a very different German side…