The Nationalmannschaft beat the Czech Republic 1:2 in Prague on Friday night, keeping their lead (and perfect record) atop Group C in World Cup Qualifying, but the recent Confederation Cup victors looked anything but inspired here.
Though Germany trainer Joachim Löw has recently used a dynamic 3-5-2 formation, here in Prague he opted for a nominal 4-1-4-1 with Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos as single pivot. On paper, the formation should have worked, but in reality – other than a very bright start – it became ever more thorny as the match progressed. The word “thorny”, thinking of it, implies a sort of prickling excitement; little of which played out on the pitch.
Large swathes of the match were flat-out boring. Germany’s inevitable build-up play, marshaled by Kroos going forward, led to a misplaced passes in Löw’s top-heavy side. Karel Jarolím’s men scooped up the errant passes to counter, only to be denied by Germany’s backline, or a generally non-threatening shot. I have to be honest. I nodded off at halftime. And even when the match was not lulling me deeper into my couch, it was annoying – except for a few bright spots.
If you’re going to award a man-of-the-match, that man would certainly be Bayern Munich’s centre-back Mats Hummels. His go-ahead goal was expertly taken in the dying minutes from a seemingly nonchalant Kroos free kick. That, unfortunately, had the potential to be negated just minutes later as his off-the-ball foul gave the Czechs a golden opportunity to equalise.
Hummels verily looked brilliant throughout. But I might be inclined to have that impression only because his centre-back partner, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Matthias Ginter, generally looked out of his depth. That, and Kroos is no true holding midfielder.
Hertha Berlin’s Vladimír Darida was nonplussed facing the familiarity of many of his Bundesliga foes here. (An aside: I always forget Theodor Gebre Selassie is Czech!) His penetrating runs, after reclaiming possession, were well-informed. His goal from 30 yards out was unstoppable; perfectly placed into the top corner. And despite a somewhat uneven performance from Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen on the day, it’s not a goal that Manuel Neuer would have saved, either.
Trying too hard?
Two guys under the gun (pun intended) at their respective clubs – Arsenal’s Mesut Özil and Bayern’s Thomas Müller – would be the keys to unlock a crowded Czech defense behind Timo Werner. And they both succeeded to an extent.
Özil nabbed the assist with a brilliant pass for Werner’s fourth-minute opener, while Müller should have been on board for the same as his perfectly-placed ball saw Lars Stindl’s ensuing rocket saved brilliantly. But… their respective influences grew less-and-less as the match continued as their play seemed forced.
Is it trying too hard? Is it too lackadaisical? A bit of both? I know that those two words are a contradiction, but here it makes sense. Passes might have been a bit crisper as time wore on. More straightforward football might have been the thing, at times, instead of trying to walk a ball into Tomáš Vaclík’s goal.
Both gentlemen are facing crises at their respective clubs that are largely out of their control. And both men are still insanely talented midfielders. It is easy to say, “Relax. Enjoy the game” when I am sat on my couch as an armchair coach, but they will have to find a way to do that going forward.
Rasenballsport Leipzig’s forward Werner scored a hell of a goal just four minutes in, but a section of the visiting crowd – Germans – were heard insulting him. Not only were chants against Werner heard, but National Socialist chants as well as chants against the DFB.
Say what you will about Leipzig, but at the end of all things? Timo Werner is simply a German. Representing the national team. Werner is likely the future of die Mannschaft’s attack and club politics should have no place in national team football. Just my two cents.
Monday 4th September sees Germany face Norway in Stuttgart. Löw might be inclined to utilise his bench a bit better against a Lars Lagerbäck side that’s 14 points behind him in the qualifying table. After this slog of a match, I’ll endeavour to keep my eyes open.