It’s another 4th of July knock-out game at a World Cup for Germany. The last time was eight years ago in Germany when Die Mannschaft lost a thrilling semi-final to eventual champions Italy. Joachim Löw, who was the assistant coach that night, will hope for a different result against France on Friday. Following the very tight victory over a hard fighting and tactically well-schooled Algeria, many have questioned Germany’s credentials for winning this year’s title. However, watching fellow title contenders Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Holland and opponents France struggle and barely defeat their “weaker” opponents underlines the fact that their simply aren’t any easy games left at this level.
That being said, not all is well for Germany. Löw’s continued insistence of playing Philipp Lahm as the sole holding midfielder, and having center backs play in fullback positions leaves Germany vulnerable. Fast and technically skilled players can and will exploit this tactical nuance; Algeria did and so will France.
One thing that became immediately apparent when watching Germany’s mainly first half struggles was that Mats Hummels was sorely missed. Not only does he have much more pace than Mertesacker or Boateng, but he is key for developing play from the back. Versus Algeria, both Mertesacker and Boateng seemed clueless and unsure when they were asked to fill this role, and their lack of pace forced the world-class keeper Manuel Neuer to rush out of his box way too many times. But Hummels is scheduled to play against France, having recovered from his viral infection, which will most likely see Boateng once again moved to right back. And this is where the real debate starts. When Mustafi got injured, Löw brought on Sami Khedira and moved Lahm to right back. Almost immediately Germany had a better shape, was more threatening moving forward and dominated the central midfield positions.
Since then, most everybody has been pleading, some might say begging, to have Löw use this formation moving forward. The problem is that Löw is incredibly stubborn, but at Wednesday’s press conference, goalkeeping coach Andreas Köpke said that playing Lahm at right back is being discussed.
So you say there’s a chance? I say there is.
With Mustafi going down injured, Germany are starting to run out of defenders. An idea could be to have Lahm play at right back and sit Boateng on the bench for added cover should there be any more injuries. I do, however, see this as a misplaced discussion. Boateng is a decent right back. The biggest issue for Germany is at left back. Benedikt Höwedes simply isn’t a left back. PERIOD! He’s a good center back. For years, Lahm was one of the world’s best left backs. That is where Löw should play him or maybe consider the youngster Erik Durm who never seemed to show any nerves when playing powerful opposition last season with Dortmund.
Moving Lahm to a full back position not only will strengthen Germany’s back line and better help support attacking movements, but it will help counter-act France’s biggest strength; their central midfield. How? Very simple. The physical presence and work rate of Sami Khedira, coupled with that same intensity of Bastian Schweinsteiger will make life increasingly uncomfortable for the likes of Cabaye, Pogba and Matuidi. These key figures won’t be able to dictate the play in the same way as they did in previous matches. In attack, I would stick with Özil, Götze and Müller. Though Schürrle’s pace and never-give-up motor changed the game versus Algeria, I think Löw would be wise to keep him in his hip pocket for a change of pace if needed in the second half (or if Özil and Götze once again refuse to work back in defense).
Despite the struggles against Algeria, especially in front of goal, Germany should be seen as favorites. A frustrating part of Germany’s game has always been that they seem to play down to their weaker opposition. On the other side of that coin though, Germany are always up for it against quality opposition. And even though France have some added motivation, since Germany twice knocked out Platini’s golden generation in 1982 and 1986, the tough fight Germany had against Algeria will focus their minds and bring out those old German values of grit and never-say-die attitude.