Nobody expected anything less than a German win against Azerbaijan, and the Mannschaft duly delivered. Up against a busy and well-drilled opponent Jogi Löw’s side stuck to Plan A, and scored four excellent goals as they maintained their perfect record in the group. After 679 minutes without conceding a goal, the German defence was finally breached – by a Bundesliga 2 player no less.
With the next group match in June against whipping boys San Marino, Germany should have one foot in the finals sewn up before the summer.
Facts and Stats
This was Germany’s fifth meeting with Azerbaijan, and their fifth victory with a goal count of nineteen scored and three conceded. It was an evening for a number of noteworthy statistics, the first of course being the end of the Mannschaft’s long clean sheet streak. Since Antoine Griezmann’s goal at the Euros in France, the German team had shut out all opponents in seven matches – keeping out the likes of Italy and England. In the end, it was Erzegebirge Aue’s Dimitry Nazarov who would finally breach the black and white wall with a well-taken strike. With this win, Germany extend their unbeaten away record in World Cup qualifiers to forty-five – a record that stretches back to their first qualifying fixture in March 1934 against Luxembourg.
There were a number of personal records too. With his thirty-seventh goal in his eighty-fifth international, Thomas Müller drew level team manager and Euro 1996 winner Oliver Bierhoff. Although he is still behind Bierhoff in the list on account of matches played (the Golden Goal scorer scored his total in just seventy games) Müller has plenty of time on his hands to continue moving up the Torjäger chart. He now needs five more goals to catch up with the next man, Michael Ballack.
Müller is in tenth place on the top scorer list, and not far behind him is a resurgent Mario Gómez. The thirty-one year old VfL Wolfsburg striker may have less time left to add to his total than Müller, but he only needs two more goals to draw level with 1980s legend Klaus Fischer in twelfth place. In scoring his thirtieth goal in the Nationaltrikot, Gómez moved in front of 1990s legend Andreas Möller.
Following his seventy-fifth appearance to break into the most-capped list, midfielder Toni Kroos drew level with the other Toni in the list – Toni Schumacher – and 1990 World Cup winner Guido Buchwald with cap number seventy-six.
Nationaltrainer Löw would make seven changes to the team that had beaten England four days earlier, some straight swaps and others determined by minor injuries picked up in Dortmund. Bernd Leno was drafted in goal for his first start in a competitive international, and old defensive hand Benedikt Höwedes was brought back into the back four in place of Antonio Rüdiger.
There were a number of changes further up the field. Julian Weigl was replaced by Sami Khedira who took the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured Manuel Neuer, and there was a new look to the offensive midfield unit with Müller, Julian Draxler and André Schürrle coming in for youngsters Julian Brandt, Leroy Sané and the recently retired Lukas Podolski. Up front, striker Gómez was back in the starting eleven with the injured Timo Werner returning back to his club side RB Leipzig.
Unlike the friendly against England where they had been unable to hit the right note for long spells, Jogi’s Jungs were quickly into their stride in Baku. Their passing game was back at its smooth, suffocating and efficient best, and provided the perfect foundation for a performance where they were never really threatened.
Germany would dominate the early phase of the match, and the opening goal was a matter of when rather than if. The approach play was excellent, the cross perfectly weighted by Jonas Hector, and Schürrle was in the perfect position to finish. Nazarov’s equaliser for Azerbaijan on the other hand would come completely out of the blue and against the run of play, the result of a sloppy mix up and far too many white shirts on one side of the pitch. A smart ball from Afran Ismayilov would give the striker all the time and space he needed to score what was a well-taken goal.
The Azeri equaliser appeared to have switched the Germans back on again, and within five minutes Müller had put the visitors back in front. Schürrle tracked back, won the ball and played a slide rule pass that has rarely been seen in Dortmund, while Müller executed the sort of calm and nonchalant finish that has been missing in Munich for most of this season. It is clear that the Nationaltrainer is doing something right. The same can be said of Gómez, whose perfectly looped header gave the Mannschaft a two-goal cushion going into the break.
The third goal had largely broken the back of the Azeri resistance, and from that point on it was plain sailing. The home side remained busy and competitive, but Germany clearly had their opponents’ measure. The fourth goal, and Schürrle’s second, was arguably the best of the lot. More precise approach play, another intelligent ball from Hector, and a finish that was simply emphatic. The sort of goal that provides that lovely sound as it hits the back of the net.
Conclusions and Ratings
A solid enough show that was well measured against a game but ultimately toothless opponent. All four goals were well constructed, and Germany’s almost complete control of the tempo was the key factor. The goal for Azerbaijan was more of a disappointment that anything else, more so given the long clean sheet record, and has to do gown as the result of sloppy play in the middle of he pitch. Sometimes, the simple option is preferable.
The performance was well measured, but there were times when Azerbaijan were allowed far too much time on the ball. One could argue that the Mannschaft were far too relaxed for their own good, a tactic that would only serve to embolden their opponents. Azerbaijan were competitive and one cannot take anything away from their performance, but they were allowed to look far better than they are. It was like a boxer allowing his opponent to have a few swings and play a part in the contest, only to land timely blows when necessary.
A decent first competitive outing for the Bayer Leverkusen ‘keeper, who had a fairly comfortable ninety minutes. Made a good attempt to keep out Nazarov’s strike, but had no real chance of stopping it. Didn’t have to make a save all evening.
A much better performance than against England earlier in the week, but still plenty of room for improvement. Was never really tested defensively and was far more confident in coming forward and making runs down the flank, but was often caught out of position. Sent in a perfect cross that was finished by Mario Gómez for Germany’s third goal just before half time.
Solid as ever, but was not really tested. Played a couple of nice passes out of defence, but he will surely see more action against better opponents.
Solid enough without being spectacular. Played a role in the buildup for the third goal, and did what was asked of him defensively – which was not much.
A mixed bag. Was a lot better than against England, but was also responsible for the mistake that led to the Azerbaijan goal. On the other hand, he was far more effective going forward with two excellent assists for the first and final goals.
The hidden hand. Distributed efficiently, controlled the tempo of the game and and managed things nicely in the middle of the park. Provided a killer ball to set Hector free for the fourth goal. Was replaced by Sebastian Rudy a minute from time.
Not the greatest game for the German skipper, who was not as effective going forward and a little absent at the back. Could have closed down more to prevent to Azerbaijan goal.
While Müller has been struggling for Bayern this season, he was back in his element in the Nationaltrikot. Delivered a solid performance, and scored an excellent goal that belied his poor finishing in the Bundesliga – his fifth in five qualifying matches.
A more than decent outing for the PSG winger, who was involved throughout in the middle of the park. Played a part in the buildup for the first goal, and showed plenty of energy going forward. Replaced by Leroy Sané with seven minutes left.
Schürrle will rarely be found in any world class name list on account of his lack of consistency, but when on form he remains a vital component of this German squad. Turned out his best display in the Nationaltrikot for a while, scoring two excellent goals and creating a third. Was busy helping out defensively as well as going forward, and his performance was best summed up with his winning the ball and assist for the second goal scored by Müller.
A quiet evening with little service and was often detached from the play, but when he did get something he made the most of it with a well-taken thirtieth international goal. Gómez may not always fit neatly into the style of play desired by the coach, but he remains an excellent option as a old fashioned finisher. Replaced by Mesut Özil a minute after the hour mark.
Replaced Gómez after sixty-one minutes, and slotted in nicely without ever really shining. Kept the passing machine ticking over, but there was little of the usual magic on show.
Came on seven minutes from time for Draxler, but never really had a chance to make an impact.
A couple of minutes on the pitch after replacing Kroos.
Leno (3), Kimmich (3), Höwedes (3), Hummels (3), Hector (3), Kroos (3), Khedira (4), Müller (3), Draxler (3), Schürrle (2) Gómez (3)
Leno (3), Kimmich (3), Höwedes (4), Hummels (3), Hector (3), Kroos (2.5), Khedira (3.5), Müller (3), Draxler (3.5), Schürrle (1.5) Gómez (3)
Leno (3), Kimmich (3), Höwedes (3), Hummels (3), Hector (3), Kroos (3), Khedira (4), Müller (2.5), Draxler (3.5), Schürrle (1.5) Gómez (3)