Selection Shenanigans: Jogi's Dilemma

I had promised to just watch every match as it comes and not get too involved in the ongoing discussions regarding the selection choices and tactical decisions being made by Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw, but as the tournament enters the knockout stage I just can’t help myself. There are a number of topics that have been hashed, rehashed and done to death, and here’s my take on some of them ahead of tomorrow’s second round meeting with Algeria in Porto Alegre.

Just keep those comments coming in.

What's the Maharishi Jogi going to do next?
What’s the Maharishi Jogi going to do next?

Sami Khedira v Bastian Schweinsteiger

This discussion actually takes us back to well before the World Cup, and even well before the current situation where the coach has had to juggle with two players who have not been at the top of their game for a considerable time. Some of the discussions among German fans in some of the dark recesses of the Internet have been rather intense, with two definite camps being formed around the two players and the role they play in the side.

In a perfect world with both players being 100% fit, it is highly likely that we would have seen them start together. It is indeed the perfect defensive midfield partnership, with the metronomic distributor Schweinsteiger sitting behind the tireless box-to-box specialist Khedira. However, with neither player guaranteed to last the full ninety minutes we have reached the situation where the coach has ended up rotating the two, with the other two midfield positions being occupied by Toni Kroos and reassigned skipper Philipp Lahm.

Khedira would start in the opening match against Portugal and would last the entire ninety minutes – completing an astonishing recovery from what had looked like a season-ending knee injury. However the heat and humidity of Fortaleza in the second game against Ghana would see the Real Madrid man fade rapidly in the second half, and his replacement – none other than Schweinsteiger – would play a major part in rejuvenating the team as they fought back from a goal behind to snatch a valuable point.

Schweinsteiger’s impact against Ghana and the need for additional control in the defensive midfield would lead to the FC Bayern man getting the nod in the final group game against the United States, and in a rain-sodden Recife he would play his part in blunting the opposition threat and bringing a sense of stability.

With the Nationaltrainer looking to implement some of FC Bayern coach Pep Guardiola’s ideas in the national team – Lahm’s move from the back four into the defensive midfield is perhaps the biggest indicator of this fairly recent tactical revolution – the Bavarian trio is arguably the perfect combination. But while this does offer far more stability, one could argue that it is far more predictable and a little stagnant. The German midfield trio would string together more passes than the entire United States team combined, but the fact remains that possession and a higher passing quotient doesn’t necessarily win football matches.

Khedira’s charges up the middle of the field clearly add an extra dimension to Germany’s play, and his commanding presence also allows Kroos to utilise his creative powers far more freely. Against the US Kroos would be sucked into the passing game, and while maintaining his passing accuracy would offer little threat to the opposition defence.

I have always been a fan of the “Schweini-Sami” combo, but I think we all know there is little chance of that happening in Brazil. As a Bayern fan I’d want to pick Schweinsteiger, but for the additional pace through the middle of the park and as a complement to Kroos I’d pick Khedira. However against fast-faced opposition the stability offered by Schweinsteiger may be a better option.

Perhaps we should just leave this one to the coach.

Philipp Lahm: Where should he play?

During the warmup games before the World Cup we would see skipper Lahm play in midfield for the Nationalmannschaft, after having made the majority of his one-hundred plus appearances at left or right back. Lahm’s redeployment in the Schwarz und Weiß would follow his being being moved into the defensive midfield for club side FC Bayern München as part of coach Guardiola’s tactical revolution, and after initial doubts he would take to his new role with ease.

This would be just the fillip – or should we say Philipp – for Jogi Löw, for whom Lahm’s move away from his recognised position would be integral to his new 4-3-3 system.

Apart from a slightly iffy performance against Ghana Lahm has generally fitted well in the role, gelling perfectly with club team mates Kroos and Schweinsteiger against the United States. So why move him? The answer becomes obvious as soon as one looks at the current back four, which is composed of four specialist centre-backs.

While Jérôme Boateng has slotted in well in the role of right back, all three group games have resulted in questions being asked about the suitability of Benedikt Höwedes out on the left. While the Schalke 04 defender has not made any significant mistakes, his lack of pace and laboured performances would immediately identify him as a possible weak link. BBC television pundit Mark Lawrenson would describe him as “caravan man” on account of his looking like he was dragging the sort of thing seen pootling up the Autobahn A1 towards the flatlands of Schleswig-Holstein.

The alternatives to Höwedes at left back have discussed. The most obvious is the one specialist left-back in the squad, Erik Durm. But while the Borussia Dortmund man has impressed many this season and would make his way into the final twenty-three on the strength of this, he is one of the most inexperienced members of the squad with just a friendly appearance against Cameroon to his name. After taking a little flak for the inclusion of Shkodran Mustafi as first choice replacement at centre-back for the first two matches, it is unlikely that the coach will risk playing another inexperienced player in such a sensitive position as left-back.

Then we have the option of Durm’s BVB colleague Kevin Großkreutz, a versatile player who can slot in anywhere on the pitch. While not a specialist left-back, he can cover the role or even switch out to the right with Boateng out on the left. There are of course a number of problems with this: Großkreutz is truly a jack of all trades and master of none, while it would be tactical suicide to switch Boateng at this stage of the tournament.

Which of course leaves the option favoured by many: drop Höwedes, and bring Lahm back into the Viererkette. With Boateng sticking to his new role at right-back, Lahm would simply replace Höwedes out on the left, a position where he has played for both club and country.

The problem is of course that right now the removal of Lahm from what is already a weakened defensive midfield just adds to the coach’s problems. With both Khedira and Schweinsteiger less than 100% fit and with only one of them guaranteed to be on the pitch at the same time, the only choice the coach has is another inexperienced player in Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Christoph Kramer to play along side Kroos and one of Khedira and Schweinsteiger. Again, this is unlikely to happen.

The coach has made it abundantly clear that Lahm will remain in the defensive midfield, and only a serious injury to one of the experienced members of the back four is likely to elicit any change of mind.

Is there a place for Podolski?

After a number of indifferent performances, Arsenal winger Lukas Podolski – a “veteran” in the context of this young squad – would work his way back into the reckoning, showing of some fine form in the Mannschaft’s final warmup game. Podolski would score one goal and make three in the 6-1 thrashing of Armenia in Mainz, and for many would be right back in the picture for a starting spot.

After an eight minute cameo in the opener against Portugal Podolski would get the nod over the more talented but physically weaker Mario Götze for the game against the United States, but after a bright start would look one-dimensional and all too predictable. To many many it would be the same old Podolski, a man who would have plenty of energy and enthusiasm – only to keep running into brink walls or down blind alleyways. A ordinary performance would result in his being replaced at half-time by Miroslav Klose, and – perhaps conveniently for the coach – a slight knock in training means that he is unavailable for the second round tie against Algeria.

So, it there a place for Podolski? While many have pointed to his poor forty-five minutes against the US and argued that his time in Brazil – and arguably the national team – is now done, I still think there is a role for him to play. For a long time I have argued that Podolski is best suited as an impact substitute or “disruptor”, the man perfectly suited to inject energy and pace and take advantage of tiring defences – even more so in the energy-sapping Brazilian conditions.

Podolski’s absence from the starting lineup against Les Fennecs is likely to see a return to the starting eleven for Götze, though I would start with the player should arguably have lined up against the States – Chelsea’s André Schürrle, who offers a more balanced combination of skill and tenacity.

Klose the Joker

I think everyone is agreed that given his age and fitness Miroslav Klose is best suited as a second-half “joker”, and so far he has played the role pretty well. After scoring a record-equalling goal less than two minutes after coming on against Ghana, the thirty-six year old would add another dimension to a stagnant offense against the United States with his pace and movement off the ball.

However, with the Algerians susceptible to high balls in the box and the aerial threat in general, it might be an idea – just to pull something out of the box here – to start with Klose. With the game being played in Porto Alegre the conditions are also not likely to be as oppressive as any of the three previous venues, which will make life just a little easier for the veteran.

I doubt that Löw will wander far from his strategy, but a front line of Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Klose certainly has a bit of an edge to it.

Selection Shenanigans: Jogi’s Dilemma

9 thoughts on “Selection Shenanigans: Jogi’s Dilemma

  • July 1, 2014 at 11:11

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I can’t help thinking Klose should have been put on abut 25 from the end of normal time. I think Miro would have scored some of the chances that came Germany’s way (especially the headers that came to Müller and Schweinsteiger). I had to watch the match with the commentary turned right down. I could not bear the ramblings of the Laurel & Hardy of the football world; Messrs Tyldesley & Townsend 🙁

    • July 1, 2014 at 11:40

      I think the enforced change (which was pretty fortuitous in the end as Khedira had a good game) messed up the sub strategy along with Schweinsteiger breaking down near the end. I probably would have started with Klose in this game, particularly with the Algerians not being too good against crosses and the ambient weather conditions.

      But then nobody can get inside the head of the Maharishi Jogi.

      As for Tyldesley and Townsend… What can you say? The only think worse is that cretin Chiles piping up with more nonsense side of the match and during the half-time break. 🙁

    • July 1, 2014 at 12:18

      I would side with the coach on this one. The only chance Klose had to play was stating the match. Having taken the decision not to start with Klose, Low had virtually condemned him to not playing. The Schurrle substitute was needed, while Mustafi was forced. Keeping the last substitute till the extra time was an inevitability taking into consideration that someone especially Schweini was bound to break down sometime during the 120 min, so I would not have brought Klose on either unless you want to play with 10 players for 20 minutes. In addition, the Algerians made their first substitute only at the end of the first 90 minutes, so Low was right to keep one option with him and watch what the other coach would do.

  • July 1, 2014 at 10:00

    I will not comment on the match now, but the injury update:

    Schkodran Mustafi: Unfortunately his world cup is over. I feel sorry for the lad, but this might force Low to make some much needed bold decisions.

    Schweinsteiger: Had a muscle spasm, but should be available on Friday. However, it is getting more worrying his ability to play such long periods of time.

    Hummels: Hopefully the antibiotics do their job soon. He needs to be fit a day or two before the match to be able to play. He is a major pillar, without him our defense looks at best comical.

    Podolski: Will be fit for Friday.

    • July 1, 2014 at 11:37

      Quick repsonses:

      Mustafi: I was really disappointed after backing him so strongly. Looked nothing like the defender I have seen in Italy, but then he is more a natural CB than RB. I would only ever put an experienced player in an unfamiliar position, and in doing this the blame should be on the coach rather than the player. Sad news about his injury.

      Schweini: this has always been the case, hence the rotation with Khedira and the result that we cannot see them start at the same time. Imaagine if they both broke down part-way? The sub strategy would be stuffed.

      Hummels: he is a mainstay, and just has to be there as we approach the sharp end of this tournament.

      Podolski: good news, but should not be a starter. Impact sub as part of a “second wave” strategy.

  • July 1, 2014 at 03:08

    Writing this after the fact; Thought Kramer looked fantastic against Algeria!

    With all the experience in this squad (what other team in this WC can boast the experience of CL, EC, and WC experience of Germany?) I think it might be a huge plus to have a combination of guys like Durm, Grosskreutz, and Kramer to spark things up; hell, bringing on Schurrle was a huge spark and maybe Goetze would wake up up with a little more youth in the line-up?
    Of course this is based on the possibility that JLow actually wants an exciting, attacking squad which does not seem to be the case.
    I think I might be mistaken but WTF is the problem of these few, concrete headed individuals (LVG seems to have given it up) who insist on a possession based, high defensive line strategy? This will be the death of this fine squad at this WC….TOO BAD, SO SAD

    • July 1, 2014 at 11:33

      I agree Kramer was great, and I’d put him into a reformed defensive midfield trio with Kroos and one of Khedira/Schweinsteiger (given that we run the risk of both breaking down and screwing up sub strategy).

      Lahm has to go to RB with Boateng and Hummels as CBs, with Durm or even Großkreutz as LB. Höwedes has to go, and Mertesacker while tactically good is really suffering playing in that high defensive line. He looked really slow.

      Up front, only Reus not being there is keeping Özil in the starting XI. Müller is a must-have of course, and I’d have Schürrle instead of Götze who was just dreadful.

  • June 30, 2014 at 10:05

    hi Der Chef, agree 100% to start with Klose. I was sketching a preferred starting lineup yesterday, and put Klose as a starter. Another idea is to keep Ozil on the bench for once, and bring him on as a second half substitute.

    • June 30, 2014 at 10:24

      Yep, the conditions and opposition are perfect. Götze for Özil?


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