My last post-match stream of consciousness ramblings was pretty well received, so here’s another. A quick jump in and jump out match preview of Germany’s upcoming group phase meeting with Sweden. Opinions straight off the bat, spiced up and spliced with some picks from the Twittersphere.
If Germany can beat Sweden in Sochi, their Russia 2018 campaign will be back on track. Not steaming full speed, but back on track. Any other result, and the Mannschaft will be almost certain to follow Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014 as defending champions that have stumbled out in the group phase.
But this is Germany. A team that has never failed to make it past the first phase in 80 years. That’s right. 80 years, when Sepp Herberger’s German-Austrian hybrid team were eliminated by Switzerland. Germany are not Italy, and they are not Spain. They will surely get things right.
Following the shock opening defeat against Mexico, there was plenty of quiet contemplation. In the first press conference after Moscow, skipper Manuel Neuer made it known that there had been plenty of harsh words. The team had got things woefully wrong, and were determined to pick themselves up. Coach Jogi Löw would say much the same thing.
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) June 22, 2018
Statements of intent are one thing, but the proof will be in the lineup when the team walks out onto the pitch in Sochi.
At Friday morning’s press conference, it was revealed that Mats Hummels will not start against the Swedes. The experienced central defender is out with a slight neck injury, and should be replaced like-for-like by FC Bayern München team-mate Niklas Süle.
💬 #Löw: "@matshummels probably won't be able to play tomorrow. He twisted his neck yesterday and it hasn't improved. I'm not expecting him to recover in time." #GERSWE#DieMannschaft #ZSMMN #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/CurAzzEwqd
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) June 22, 2018
Hummels’ absence is a loss, but not as significant a loss as it might have been four years ago in Brazil. Süle is a more than competent replacement, who should fit in seamlessly if the formation and tactics are right.
How things might look
In my post-match analysis I pushed for the adoption of a three-man defence, and the idea appears to have acquired similar traction in the German media.
I had initially gone for a 3-5-2 (or more specifically, a 3-5-1-1), and having seen similar discussions elsewhere I am increasingly tempted by a 3-4-2-1. The key man for me is Joshua Kimmich. The kid is fantastic going forward, and the last thing we want to see is his being curtailed as an attacking option. A Dreierkette provides the right level of protection, allowing Kimmich to venture forward without the defensive angst.
I was previously mulling with a 3-5-2 for #GERSWE, but now thinking that a 3-4-3 / 3-4-2-1 could work out better. Same XI as in my previous analysis, save for @MatzeGinter coming in for the injured @matshummels. We can do this. #GER #DieMannschaft #ZSMNN pic.twitter.com/3SwdPF5wQq
— Rick Joshua 🇩🇪 (@fussballchef) June 22, 2018
The only sticking point, of course, are the other names that will be plugged in. I have already made my suggestions, and in Hummels’ absence would probably draft in the versatile Matthias Ginter alongside Süle, joining old hand Jérôme Boateng in the solid looking three-man back line.
A wingback duo of Kimmich and the returning Jonas Hector. A flexible core of Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka. Thomas Müller playing a fluid link role alongside the more dynamic Marco Reus, with specialist striker Timo Werner up top. Der Raumdeuter, der Sprinter und der Killer.
Many fans would be happy with this lineup. Sami Khedira, woefully short of pace and cumbersome against Mexico, replaced by Goretzka. The talented yet capricious Mesut Özil also benched, making way for the more dynamic Reus. One gets the feeling, however, that the Maharishi Jogi will look to compromise. After all, he has said that he will stick to his principles, harsh words and tough team discussions regardless. Will he really drop Özil?
Der Hammer has a shot
In what might be a worrying prediction, former player and now ARD Sportschau pundit Thomas Hitzlsperger presented the following lineup:
Mats Hummels wird sehr wahrscheinlich mit Halswirbelproblemen ausfallen.
Zweites Gruppenspiel: Deutschland gegen Schweden. In Sachen Aufstellung erwartet unser Experte Thomas Hitzlsperger ein paar Veränderungen gegenüber dem Mexiko-Spiel. Und Ihr? pic.twitter.com/qtR4mH5xzD
— Sportschau (@sportschau) June 22, 2018
We can see the Dreierkette. A good start. Hitzlsperger was not to know at the time about Hummels, but the basics are fine. I’d put the taller Süle in the middle of the back three, but that is a minor quibble. Hector and Kimmich out on the midfield flanks. Check.
Then it gets a little strange. Hitzlsperger drops Khedira, but has İlkay Gündoğan alongside Kroos. I am not sure if this is the right solution. There was a distinct lack of energy and bite in the middle of the pitch against Mexico, and I am not sure if Gündoğan can provide that. He is a cultured player, but one who is far too similar in style and approach to the languid conductor Kroos. It is Goretzka all the way for me. Even Sebastian Rudy.
Further up, Der Hammer has Reus and Özil, sitting behind Müller. Again, I am not sure if this would be the most effective combination. On paper, we have a heady mix of speed and guile. In reality, it is all a little lightweight.
As for having Müller up top, we all know how that went at the Euros two years ago. Müller may be wasted on the right, but there is no evidence to suggest that having him as the single striker – or even a false nine – has ever really worked. We have a genuine striker in Werner. Let’s use him. Yes, he had a poor day against Mexico, but we all know what he can do. With Müller as a link man and Reus providing pacy overlaps, we could see something special.