Austria v Germany: A chance to silence the doubters

After the disappointing semi-final defeat to Italy at Euro 2012 and the rather insipid 3-1 friendly defeat at the hands of Argentina in August, Joachim Löw’s side would get back to winning ways with a 3-0 win in their opening World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands – but doubts about the team’s form have continued to grow.

The common sense consensus is that the Mannschaft did enough in Hannover, but for some that is simply not enough. Although they kept a clean sheet the defence is still being cross-examined, and after a bad day at the office striker Miroslav Klose has suddenly found himself in the firing line from some sections of the overly critical German media.

Yes, so Klose had an off-day: there was at least two chances that he should have put away. But it is worth noting that the Faroese goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen – a man once on the books at Manchester City – had an excellent evening. Were it not for the ‘keeper, Germany might have scored five or six and we would probably not be having this discussion. Had Klose nodded in at least one of those chances, we’d still be hearing about his breaking Gerd Müller’s goalscoring record and making the squad for Brazil 2014.

I believe this team is good enough, and that they should have enough talent and firepower to overcome neighbours Austria tomorrow in Vienna. The last encounter at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion at the end of the 2010-11 season saw the Mannschaft scrape a last-minute 2-1 victory, and while a similar result would be more than satisfactory I get the distinct feeling that something more convincing will be needed to silence the growing army of doubters. I have faith that the coach will pick the right formation – I trust him to return to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 – and that the players will pull out all the stops.

While I can understand where some of the doubters are coming from – I will admit to being one of those who was highly critical of some of Löw’s tactical decisions in Poland and the Ukraine this summer – the time has come to draw a line under it. It is time to move on.

As far as the lineup is concerned, the Nationaltrainer is looking to keep Philipp Lahm out on his preferred right side, which again means no start for the skipper’s FC Bayern München teammate Jérôme Boateng. Should left-back Marcel Schmelzer achieve full fitness he looks likely to slot in at left back, with Holger Badstuber moving back into the centre of defence at the expense of Per Mertesacker. Of course, Jogi may surprise us all with another volte-face: I wouldn’t be surprised if he brings Boateng back and switches Lahm back out to the left. Ahead of the back four we should expect to see Sami Khedira being joined by another defensive midfielder, with Toni Kroos being favourite should he too get back to complete match fitness. The alternative would be Lars Bender.

With the formation being rejigged, the man to miss out in the offensive midfield should be Mario Götze – unlucky perhaps given that he was one of the better players against the Faroes. We should expect to see playmaker Mesut Özil start with Marco Reus on the left and Thomas Müller stationed out on the right, but once again we should be prepared to see something different. A trio of Özil, Müller and Lukas Podolski would not surprise me.

Up front, we would expect to see Klose start his 124th match in the Schwarz und Weiß, but with all of the talk about Germany needing to follow Spain into the strikerless era we could just see a flexible forward four with Götze sitting alongside Özil and covering the left side of the field, with Reus or Podolski overlapping as a “false nine”.

I’ll be honest and admit that all of the speculation is started to do my head in slightly, and much as I feel compelled to write about it I would rather just not be too surprised by what we see in Vienna and hope that the tactics pay off. After all, the most important thing is the result. Germany have not lost to Austria since 1986, and have not been defeated by the Ösis in a competitive match since 1978. Hopefully this long and successful run continues.

So here’s my predicted starting XI, fitness issues permitting:

Neuer – Lahm (c), Hummels, Badstuber (Mertesacker), Schmelzer (Badstuber) – Khedira, Kroos (L. Bender) – Reus, Özil, Müller – Klose.

Germany’s Austrian opponents should be fairly familiar, in that the vast majority of their team ply their trade in the Bundesliga. Fortuna Düsseldorf ‘keeper Robert Almer will be looking to keep things tight behind what is a solid-looking defensive unit, and the dangerous VfB Stuttgart striker Martin Harnik will be looking to test the German defence.

Other familiar faces in Marcel Koller’s side include FSV Mainz 05’s Andreas Ivanschitz and Werder Bremen’s temperamental midfielder Marko Arnautovic, though Bayern München starlet David Alaba is still out through injury.

The game does not appear to be on the television schedules here in the UK, so I will hope to find a decent stream online. Watch out for the minute-by-minute report.

Austria v Germany: A chance to silence the doubters
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