Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico in their group stage opener made the World Cup holders the third consecutive defending champion to lose their first match in the next tournament. But a jinx wasn’t the reason Die Mannschaft lost, it was due to many things, mostly the lack of a midfield.
During the UEFA World Cup qualification process, manager Joachim Low preferred to set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Low sacrificed a holding midfielder to have someone play in the no. 10 position behind the striker.
The formation made sense because it was the best way Low could implement as much attacking power as possible. With two players behind the front four to win the ball, recycle possession and start attacks from deep. The plan worked perfectly as the three-time European champions went through the qualification without losing a game and had six players score at least three goals. Their friendlies to prepare for the World Cup though exposed the weakness of their formation and tactics.
On March 23, they drew 1-1 with Spain. Four days later the Germans lost to Brazil 1-0. Then on June 2 the four-time World Cup champions suffered a 2-1 loss to Austria and on the 8th a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. In each match the glaring weakness was that the team attacked too aggressively and was exposed to counterattacks.
Centre-back Mats Hummels voiced his frustration after the match against Mexico that his teammates did not learn from the mistakes they made in the friendlies. “We spoke about not giving away possession cheaply and about the provision of cover but unfortunately didn’t get it right yet again. Seven or eight attacking players had brought about an imbalance that made it easy for Mexico,” said Hummels.
Centre-back partner and club teammate Jerome Boateng echoed Hummels’ statement, saying “We were, of course, completely alone at the back. We left so many spaces for counterattacks. They came at us four or five times. People were just running through and nobody said anything.”
The 4-3-3 will get the best out of Germany
When Germany won the World Cup in Brazil four years ago, Low set his team up in a 4-3-3 formation. The third midfielder added stability to the team because when the other midfielders advanced to be involved in the attack, there would still be three outfield players at the back to handle a counterattack.
Along with Manuel Neuer’s otherworldly sweeper keeper ability, the Germans defense bended but never broke.
Phillip Lahm, normally a right-back, played as the defensive midfielder in the group stage and in the round of 16. From the quarterfinals on, Low moved Lahm to the backline and made Bastian Schweinsteiger play the pivot.
Low recognized how the loss to Mexico affected his team after the match and declared that their next match against Sweden would be a must win. “As far as psychological situation, of course everyone is very unhappy and crestfallen but we have to put this behind us, our team’s next match will be decisive for us, we have to win it,” said the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup winner.
A return to the 4-3-3 formation would be a start. Toni Kroos is naturally a no. 10 and Sami Khedira is a box-to-box player whose best days are behind him. When they played the double pivot, it made their midfield become nonexistent because it is not their game to sit back and defend, they prefer to make runs and contribute in the attack.
Bringing in Sebastian Rudy, who can also fill in at the right-back slot when Joshua Kimmich makes his kamikaze runs, would bring balance to the team.