Now that everyone has had time to discuss yesterday’s experiment/disaster/wake up call in Basel, it’s time for my analysis of the match, the players and where everything stands – or in my view should stand – with the selection of the final squad of twenty-three.
There were a number of serious issues in what was a very disappointing afternoon for all fans and followers of the Nationalmannschaft, but some bright ones too – notably the performance of some of the second-half substitutes.
Facts and Stats
This was the twelfth defeat for the team under current Trainer Joachim Löw, and saw the most goals conceded since the 3-0 defeat against the Czech Republic in 2007. It was also the first time that the Nationalmannschaft had shipped five goals since the 5-1 thrashing in Romania in 2004.
The five goals conceded by goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen is the most by a debutant since Heinrich Kwiatkowski conceded eight during the FIFA World Cup group match against Hungary in 1954. Timo Hildebrand had seen Romania’s fifth go past him in Bucharest, but had only appeared as a second-half subsitute with Oliver Kahn having conceded the first four. Curiously, Hildebrand’s final match for the Mannschaft was the 3-0 defeat to the Czechs.
This was the first defeat for the German team against Switzerland since 1956, when the then World Champions under Sepp Herberger suffered a 3-1 reverse in Frankfurt am Main. Their last defeat in Switzerland was as far back as 1941 when Herberger’s team were defeated 2-1 in Bern.
Between the 1956 defeat and yesterday’s encounter, the Mannschaft had played the Swiss a total of eighteen times, winning sixteen and drawing – with forty-nine goals scored and ten conceded.
At the age of eighteen years and 249 days, Schalke 04 midfielder Julian Draxler became the fourth-youngest player to make his debut for the national team, slotting in below Uwe Seeler, current national team mate Mario Götze and fellow Schalker Olaf Thon.
The Team and Tactics
The starting eleven named by the Nationaltrainer – missing all eight of the FC Bayern players – was always going to be seen as an experimental lineup, but nobody had any idea just how experimental things were going to be – to the point where it seemed that even the players themselves didn’t know what was going on at times. I’d seen fewer basic tacical errors when watching the Under-17s.
While there were a few sparks of inspiration up front – particularly during the second half – the defence was a complete and utter shambles, with many players probably signing their own exit form from the final squad.
Without the eight Bayern players the Nationaltrainer had a squad of nineteen to choose from, and raised a few eyebrows in giving Borussia Mönchengladbach stopper ter Stegen his international debut – as opposed to playing the more established second choice Tim Wiese. It was a move that was welcomed by many – at least prior to kick-off – given that ter Stegen has enjoyed a very successful season with his club qualifying for next year’s Champions League.
There were a number of things we were watching from the start: Marcel Schmelzer at left-back, the recovering Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose, and the combination of Mesut Özil and Mario Götze in midfield – last tested to no great effect during the 3-3 draw in the Ukraine. With both of these creative players in the same zone, we would see an adjustment of the traditional 4-2-3-1 formation to the same 4-1-4-1 that had been experimented with in Kyiv.
Having witnessed the first half in Kyiv I had concluded that the Özil-Götze “axis” should be a non-starter in that it left gaping holes in defence and way too much for the “mopper-upper” – in this case Sami Khedira – to do; when I saw the teams line up in Basel I was hoping that Löw might have spent the past months working on this. The truth is that I – and Kicker Online – had expected the coach to name someone a little more reserved to partner either Özil or Götze – someone like İlkay Gündoğan.
Apart from the first fifteen minutes and the three goals, there really was little to write home about. The opening had been bright with the Lindengrün-clad Mannschaft applying plenty of pressure in the Swiss half, but the most noticeable thing even during this bright period was their failure to capitalise on set pieces. Four corners were won in the opening ten minutes, but all of them were either badly struck or overhit. It was like watching Bayern in last week’s Champions’ League final – I am wondering what has happened to that famous German ability to conjure magic tricks – I’m not asking for a Pierre Littbarski here but someone who can at least deliver the ball into the box where someone can get on the end of it.
The first sign of danger came with Swiss full-back Stephan Lichtensteiner was flagged offside on the twenty-minute mark – having left German left-back Schmelzer treading water; lo and behold, within a minute the home side were in front, with Tranquillo Barnetta engineering a fine move that saw Eren Derdiyok find himself in acres of space to bury the first of his side’s five. Just two minutes later the same combination put the Swiss two up, with Derdiyok being allowed to stroll between the static Mertesacker and Schmelzer to guide the ball past the unfortunate ter Stegen.
The Mannschaft came back into the match with what was the last action of the half as a well-aimed Özil free-kick – at last – found the head of Mats Hummels, and with it some hope of a better second half. What was clear was that while the defence had been a complete shambles, there wans’t much up front either: as had been the case in the Ukraine both Özil and Götze appeared to cancel each other out, Lukas Podolski was floating anonymously out on the left and Miroslav Klose found himself completely isolated up front. The only visible movement was out on the right, where Benedikt Höwedes and André Schürrle provided the occasional spark of inspiration.
The start of the second half saw the introduction of Marco Reus and Gündoğan, and – offensively at least – there was a marked improvement. Reus was his usual effervescent self, and the classy Gündoğan seemed to hit the ground running. Schürrle also stepped things up, as did Höwedes who was looking genuinely dangerous at times with his runs down the right and into the Swiss box. Then there was teenager Draxler, who was almost immediately causing trouble for the Swiss defence.
There were two German goals: Schürrle’s shot swerved and squirmed wicked through through the hands of Diego Benaglio, while a well-hit Draxler effort was parried by the Swiss ‘keeper to allow Reus to score his first international goal.
So, these were the positives; the unfortunate downside was that the defence was just as shambolic as it had been in the first half. Mertesacker found himself beaten in the air by a man far shorter as he allowed Derdiyok to complete his hat-trick following another fine cross from Barnetta, ‘keeper ter Stegen did a Schumacher charge to allow Lichtsteiner to nod in Switzerland’s fourth, and the defence were caught napping by a smart training-ground free-kick that allowed Admir Mehmedi to round off the scoring.
Even then it could have been worse: Swiss defender Philippe Senderos found the back of the German net but was penalised for a foul on an indecisive ter Stegen, and a looping shot from the impressive Gelson Fernandes clattered against the crossbar. Needless to say, the Swiss deserved their victory and the five goals had been far from flattering. That said, the Mannschaft had been more than a little unlucky at the other end of the pitch, and with a little more luck they might have even scored a couple more themselves. Götze in particular found himself getting half chances in dangerous positions, but the ball just would not fall to him.
Conclusions and Ratings
In the final analysis, this game was all about the German defence – or the complete lack of it. Even if things had clicked up front and the team had scored six, these problems would still have been present. While Jogi Löw does have other options to call upon, the defensive backup is incredibly thin – just one suspension or injury could make a massive difference to the team’s prospects at the Euros.
Marc-André ter Stegen: A disappointing debut for the man hoping to travel to the Euros as the team’s third ‘keeper behind Manuel Neuer and Wiese. Was blameless for the opening two goals and the fifth, but his poor positioning for the third and the blood-to-the-head moment that allowed the fourth will place him behind Ron-Robert Zieler who had been far more impressive in him debut in the Ukraine – a match played in very similar circumstances.
Benedikt Höwedes: The one positive to come from the otherwise seriously disappointing back four. Was partly responsible for the first Swiss goal, but otherwise served up a solid display and looked particularly encouraging going forward. Was one of the the better players in the second half, where his runs down the right flank and into the Swiss box caused numerous problems for the opposition defence. Was replaced by Sven Bender with twelve minutes if the ninety remaining.
Per Mertesacker: The Nationaltrainer keeps persisting with the tall Arsenal centre-back, but with each game it is becoming clear that he is fast turning into a liability. Mertesacker does bring eighty caps worth of experience into the back four, but when this comes packaged with half a dozen errors it is time to look elsewhere. A fully-fit Merte has often caused nerves to jangle among supporters of the Mannschaft; a half-fit Marte is simply a recipe for a defensive disaster – he was clearly daydreaming when he allowed Derdiyok to beat him in the air for Switzerland’s second goal.
Mats Hummels: Another man who impresses on a weekly basis for his club side but has yet to truly impose himself for the national team. Although he committed no obvious gaffes, Hummels was often caught out of position and looking like a little boy lost. However there is plenty of potential there, and he did score a well-taken set-piece goal to open his international account.
Marcel Schmelzer: Once again, the one specialist left-back in the squad failed to impress in the national shirt. I just don’t know what it is about Schmelzer, but it is becoming increasing evident that there is something lacking. Whether it is just him or how he gels with the players around him, nobody knows. He found himself caught short on numerous occasions, and would consider himself very lucky if he finds himself on a Lufthansa flight to the Ukraine within the next fortnight.
Sami Khedira: Found himself having to do far too much running around to plug the gaps in midfield caused by the presence of the Özil-Götze combination, but otherwise had a solid enough game. Was replaced at half-time by İlkay Gündoğan.
Mesut Özil: Looked a shadow of his usual self, and was unable to play his usual role as sole distributor in the middle of the field. There was none of the usual synchronicity between Özil and an isolated Miroslav Klose, and it is clear that he does not fucntion at his best alongside a similar creative player like Mario Götze. If anything, they just seem to cancel each other out while leaving gaping holes behind them for the opposition to exploit. With this and the Ukraine game, it should be clear to the coach that the 4-1-4-1 with the “dream duo” just does not work. Was replaced by Marco Reus at half-time.
Mario Götze: For much the same reasons as Mesut Özil, Dortmund youngster Götze didn’t appear to do much at all during what was for him a very weak first forty-five minutes. Only once Özil had been replaced by Reus was Götze able to assume a more orthodox role, and he enjoyed a slightly better second half before he was replaced by Lars Bender in the seventh-eighth minute.
André Schürrle: A solid if not wholly spectacular performance from the Bayer 04 Leverkusen man, where he was able to show his versatility by playing out on the right. Combined well with Benedikt Höwedes – particularly in the second half – and occasionally looked dangerous in front of goal. Scored his sixth goal in what was his thirteenth international.
Lukas Podolski: A disappointing game for Arsenal new boy Podolski out on the left, where he was for the most part left isolated and anonymous. Was poor when called upon to perform his defensive duties, often leaving the already inept Marcel Schmelzer to deal with opposition attacks by himself. There was little going forward from Poldi, and he managed one weak shot on goal before being replaced by the far more dynamic Julian Draxler just after the hour mark.
Miroslav Klose: Coming back to fitness after an injury at the tail end of the Serie A season, the old man of the side was clearly a yard short of his best pace though often found himself isolated. The experimental 4-1-4-1 formation does not work well with Klose’s game, and the usual symbiotic link-play between him and Mesut Özil was non-existent. Had once decent effort on goal, but this would be one match for the Lazio man to forget. Was replaced by Cacau with thirteen minutes left.
Marco Reus: Coming on for Mesut Özil at the start of the secind half, Borussia Dortmund’s new signing brought some much-needed impetus into the German gameplan for the second half – and followed a cheeky long-distance effort with a well-taken goal to cap off what was an encouraging performance. Showed good pace and no little vision, and was one of the better players in what was otherwise a poor team display.
İlkay Gündoğan: Came on with Reus at the start of the second half to replace Sami Khedira, and turned out a solid display and showed flashes of the class and vision that has led to his squad selection. Showed some great touch, and was one of the few positives to come out of this game. Having been seen by many as a fringe player likely to miss the final cut, this display may have earned Gündoğan a ticket to the Euro finals.
Julian Draxler: Replacing Lukas Podolski after sixty-two minutes, the teenage starlet made an almost immediate impact with his intelligence and movement. Had a shot on goal within minutes of coming onto the pitch, and forced a good save from the Swiss keeper with another well-struck shot that resulted in Germany’s third goal. Draxler had clearly been picked to give him the experience of being part of the national team setup, but with this enthusiastic performance could very well squeeze himself into the final twenty-three.
Cacau: Replaced Klose after seventy-seven minutes, and offered little for the quarter of an hour or so that he was on the pitch. Looked sluggish, with his only real contribution being an overhit long pass. One of my candidates to be dropped from the final twenty-three.
Lars Bender: Replacing Götze, Lars Bender was only on for twelve minutes and was not really able to offer much. By this time the Swiss had already established their 5-3 lead. He would be appearing for the first time for the full national team with his twin brother Sven.
Sven Bender: Came on for Höwedes after seventy-eight minutes along with his brother Lars. Was not called upon to do anything, and his position in the team pecking order would not have changed. Unless he gets an opportunity against Israel next week he may be the unlucky fourth man not to make the final squad cut.
ter Stegen (5.5), Höwedes (3.5), Mertesacker (6), Hummels (4.5), Schmelzer (6), Khedira (4.5), Özil (4.5), Götze (4), Schürrle (4), Podolski (5.5), Klose (4.5). Subs (up until 75 minutes only): Reus (3.5), Gündoğan (3.5), Draxler (3)
Here also are the ratings from Bild:
ter Stegen (5), Höwedes (6), Mertesacker (6), Hummels (5), Schmelzer (6), Khedira (5), Özil (5), Götze (5), Schürrle (5), Podolski (5), Klose (5). Subs: Reus (4), Gündoğan (5), Draxler (5)
I do think the ratings from Bild are a little bit harsh, particularly on the second-half substitutes and Höwedes. One pick a few faults, but there is no way that he was as bad as either Mertesacker or Schmelzer. The Kicker ratings will follow when they are published.