Next week we see the Nationalmannschaft in two rather tasty-looking fixtures: away in Kiev against Euro 2012 co-hosts the Ukraine and then what should should be a classic at Hamburg’s AWD Arena against old rivals the Netherlands – twenty-three years after the last encounter at the then Volksparkstadion that saw Marco van Basten deliver a killer 88th-minute strike and the almost cartoonish school bully Ronald Koeman do naughty things with Olaf Thon’s shirt.
The twenty-four man squad has a somewhat familiar look to it, though with a few familiar faces missing from the list. In what is something of a surprise, skipper Philipp Lahm has been rested for both matches, while Bastian Schweinsteiger – who would have almost certainly been given the Spielführer’s armband – is out until at least the new year with a broken collarbone, sustained in FC Bayern’s Champions’ League victory earlier this week against Napoli. This means the two remaining senior pros – Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski – are likely to lead the team out in one or both of the upcoming fixtures.
Here’s the squad:
Manuel Neuer (Bayern München, 24 Apps/0 Goals)
Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen, 5/0)
Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96, 0/0)
Dennis Aogo (Hamburger SV, 7/0)
Holger Badstuber (FC Bayern München, 16/1)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 17/0)
Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04, 5/0)
Mats Hummels (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 10/0)
Per Mertesacker (SV Werder Bremen, 78/1)
Marcel Schmelzer (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 5/0)
Christian Träsch (VfL Wolfsburg, 9/0)
Lars Bender (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 1/0)
Mario Götze (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, 10/2)
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid CF, 22/1)
Toni Kroos (FC Bayern München, 22/1)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München, 23/8)
Mesut Özil (Real Madrid CF, 28/7)
Lukas Podolski (1. FC Köln, 93/43)
Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 2/0)
Simon Rolfes (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 24/1)
André Schürrle (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 10/5)
Mario Gómez (FC Bayern München, 49/21)
Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio, 112/62)
Cacau (VfB Stuttgart, 20/5)
Apart from the resting of Lahm and the enforced absence of Schweinsteiger, the squad is more or less exactly the same as that named for the last double header against Turkey and Belgium; Marcel Schmelzer is back in for Lahm, while Lars Bender takes Schweinsteiger’s slot.
I really have no idea what sort of line-up the coach might be thinking of for the first match against what is on paper the weaker of the two opposing teams – though what is almost certain is that over the two games one of Lukas Podolski/André Schürrle, Mesut Özil/Mario Götze and Miroslav Klose/Mario Gómez will start. While I can see a number of the more fringe players getting a start in Kiev, a far stronger starting eleven is likely to be named for the prestige fixture against the Oranje.
In goal Manuel Neuer has only been pencilled in for the Netherlands game, so we will see one of the reserve ‘keepers start in Kiev. I would like to see Ron-Robert Zieler make his first start, but the coach is more likely to start with Tim Wiese, and then bring Zieler on at the beginning of the second half if things go to plan.
The absence of Philipp Lahm means that Jérôme Boateng is likely to move out to the right side of defence, with one of Per Mertesacker or Benedikt Höwedes in the centre. My personal choice would be the younger Höwedes, but I get the feeling that Löw is likely to stick with the more experienced Mertesacker even though his more recent performances have been slightly shaky. Schmelzer and Dennis Aogo may get also get a run out as the second-half substitutions start flowing in Kiev.
The defensive midfield duo should be a no-brainer – more so given the injury to Bastian Schweinsteiger. Both Sami Khedira and the in-form Toni Kroos are a good distance ahead of the competition, and are almost guaranteed shoo-ins for both matches. In terms of possible substitutions Lars Bender and Simon Rolfes would naturally be the first names to come to mind, though given the lack of depth in defensive midfield it might be an idea to give Christian Träsch a go in a position that he is more suited to – as opposed to dumping him out at right back where he has time and again proved to be something of a liability. If there is scope for some experimentation, I’d rather see Träsch in one of these positions than the solid but unspectacular Rolfes.
The attacking midfield trio is where the Nationaltrainer has far more options and flexibility, in that there are two decent players vying for each of the three positions. On the left Lukas Podolski has hit a rich vein of form in the Bundesliga for 1. FC Köln and should – particularly given his seniority in the side – start against the Dutch, but André Schürrle has time and again turned on the style in the Schwarz und Weiß. Things are much the same in the central role, where first-choice playmaker Mesut Özil has a more than adequate reserve in the form of teenage sensation Mario Götze. The recent form of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marco Reus also means that there is genuine competition for the slot on the right of midfield, although Thomas Müller would always be expected to be first choice if fit.
I would like to see all three of the “reserves” start against the Ukraine – although as Podolski is likely to be selected as captain, Schürrle may well end up playing his customary super-sub role. Götze needs to be given more responsibility in the centre and Reus by now deserves a chance to strut his stuff for more than just a few minutes at the end of games that have already been won. Moreover, Müller cannot be expected to keep his high work-rate up for ever, and surely deserves a bit of a rest so he can charge his batteries up for the Dutch.
Up front, it’s a tough one. The squad’s elder statesman Miroslav Klose has experience on his side and is currently in decent form in the Serie A for Lazio, while Mario Gómez is scoring goals for fun for Bayern at the moment both in the Bundesliga and the Champions’ League – and some spectacular ones too. Given Klose’s position in the squad and his being one of the the main candidates to take the captain’s armband, I’d see him start against the Dutch, with Gómez possibly making an appearance as sub. For the Ukraine game, I’d have Gómez start with the likelihood of giving Cacau a few minutes at the end.
So, here’s my starting eleven for the Ukraine friendly on the 11th, with possible substitutes in parentheses:
Wiese (Zieler) – Badstuber (Schmelzer), Hummels, Höwedes, Boateng (Aogo) – Khedira (Träsch), Kroos (Bender) – Podolski (c), Götze, Reus – Gómez (Cacau)
And here’s my team for the Netherlands on the 15th:
Neuer – Badstuber, Hummels, Mertesacker, Boateng – Khedira, Kroos – Podolski, Özil, Müller – Klose (c)
Germany have not lost to the Ukraine in four meetings since 1997, winning two and drawing two. Of these four encounters, perhaps the most memorable was the World Cup play-off second leg in Dortmund almost ten years ago to the day – when Michael Ballack inspired the Mannschaft to a thumping 4-1 win. The Ukrainians have always been a tough rather than an exciting side, and as one of the hosts of Euro 2012 will not be taking what is for them a very important warm-up game lightly – much like fellow hosts Poland who held Jogi Löw’s side to a 2-2 draw a couple of months ago.
The Dutch have always proved to be difficult opponents, and despite a healthy overall record against the Oranje (played 37, won 13, drawn 14, lost 10) Germany have not had the best of things in recent years. The last time any German side beat the Dutch was over fifteen years ago when Oliver Bierhoff scored the winner in a 1-0 win in Rotterdam, while the most recent encounter six years ago – again in Rotterdam – saw Jürgen Klinsmann’s side come back from two Arjen Robben goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw with goals from Ballack and Gerald Asamoah.
While there will be no Robben this time around, the Dutch have a battery of first-class attacking players, not least midfielder Wesley Sneijder and the prolific Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who is second only in the Bundesliga scoring charts to a certain Mario Gómez.
Maybe it’s just me thinking about these bizarre things, but I wonder if this is the first time two games against countries with “the” in their name – the Ukraine, the Netherlands – have ever been played within a week? I wonder. Maybe just as well the Gambia aren’t being lined up next.
Also: Germany will be playing in their new white Euro 2012 shirt. It’s not bad, but not as good as the current one which I will be a little sad to say goodbye to…