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Timo Werner isn’t enough: Germany’s striker dilemma threatens to become a crisis

It’s amazing how a single position can be so important.

Germany v Sweden: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

No matter what everyone thinks about the issues plaguing the German National Team at the moment, most people can agree that Die Mannschaft has a bit of an issue brewing at the striker position. Timo Werner, once thought to be the man who would pick up where Miroslav Klose left off, has failed to impress. Germany’s attack was a shambles in the World Cup, barely managing to score 2 goals.

So, what exactly is going on? Is Timo Werner not a good striker? Well, let’s take a look, shall we:

Werner’s deceptive record

Let me preface this by saying that Werner is a pretty good striker. Since his debut in 2016, he has had 18 starts for Germany, and scored 8 goals in that time. Also, he’s had two assists. That comes from a playing time of 1,330 minutes, which translates to 0.68 goals+assists per 90 minutes. Sounds pretty good, right?

Not so fast: let’s compare Werner’s scoring rate to the career averages of some of Germany’s other striking options over recent years:

Sandro Wagner (a small number of games) = 1.01 G+A per 90
Mario Gomez = 0.93 G+A per 90
Miroslav Klose = 1.04 G+A per 90
Lukas Podolski = 0.89 G+A per 90

Werner’s numbers don’t look great in comparison.

When the shoe doesn’t fit ...

Realistically, Werner’s production (or lack thereof) isn’t a big deal. After all, Klose only scored 2 goals in World Cup 2014. The problem is his style of play.

Germany relies on goals coming from all parts of the pitch, and the striker selection has reflected that. Recent German strikers have been big, tall, target men who could hold up play and create space for others. However, they were also very talented poachers — able to make the most out of what little space is given to them in a crowded box. Think Robert Lewandowski, and you have the type of striker Germany likes.

Werner is, simply put, not that kind of striker. Werner is fast, agile, and a decent dribbler — but not a great physical presence inside the box. He isn’t the type to bully center backs or win headers. Instead, he likes to play through the lines, waiting for the through balls that he can chase down and score. If he had to be equated to a more well-known player — think of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

At Leipzig, Werner’s role is not like that of a traditional striker, but is more like a striker-winger hybrid. In the 4-2-2-2 formation, he will often drift wide to get the ball and do a bit of roaming in the wide areas like a makeshift winger. While Yussuf Poulsen occupies the center, Werner’s freedom makes him a dangerous prospect for opposition defenses to counter. Leipzig’s style of play means he doesn’t have to play inside of crowded boxes. That’s the way you use Timo Werner properly.

At Germany however, things are different. Germany already has wingers who can score (Thomas Muller, Marco Reus), midfielders who can score (Toni Kroos), and even defenders who can score (Mats Hummels on a good day, Joshua Kimmich). What the team needs is someone to make space in the box for all these players to get in on the action. Werner, unfortunately, is not that kind of player. This results in guys like Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos unable to show off their attacking talent.

Conversely the situation isn’t particularly rosy for Werner either. He is playing in a role he isn’t suited for and waiting for service that he barely receives. If Germany want to use Werner properly, then Jogi Loew should put him on the wings. That brings him into competition with the likes of Reus, Sane, and Draxler, but that can be a story for another day.

The crisis on the horizon

What matters now is that Germany needs a different striker. Die Mannschaft is struggling to score. Their single greatest need is someone who can hold up play and make space for the other forwards. If their relationship hasn’t completely disintegrated, maybe Löw should swallow his pride and try to call back Sandro Wagner to the team. If that doesn’t work, then...

I’ll be honest, it looks bleak for Germany at the moment. The only other option here is to change the system to accommodate Werner and strikers of his ilk. However, the problem — as highlighted here — is that accommodating Werner means a system that no longer uses Thomas Müller. To give you the short version of things, Thomas Müller is the single greatest determiner of performance on this German team.Germany win almost 40% more games with him than without him, and he’s only 28 with a lot of fuel left in the tank. It’s far too early to cut a player like him out of the national side.

That really only leaves on option. Germany needs to find someone who can play at striker. Whether it be Jann-Fiete Arp, Kai Havertz, Nils Petersen, or someone else, the coming years will be very painful if this issue doesn’t get sorted out soon.

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