It has been a broken record since the months leading up to the 2018 World Cup debacle: Germany coach Joachim Löw needs to figure things out.
When the 2014 World Cup winner made the decision to “go young” and lop talent like Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng, and Mats Hummels off the roster, the squad did not get better. It has gotten worse, much worse.
But that is water under the bridge at this point. Löw has staked his reputation on proving that, indeed, it was the “old heads” on the roster who were the problem and not the team’s chemistry, his tactics, or even his overall influence to attempt to get the most out of this group.
After stunningly lame efforts against Turkey and Ukraine, Löw sounds like a man trying to convince not just the increasingly frustrated German fanbase that things will get better, but even himself. He said ahead of Germany’s next Nations League game against Switzerland:
#Löw on the Switzerland game: "I expect focus, more precision and courage, and that we make the right decisions going forward. It will no doubt be very different from the Ukraine game. We will have to find solutions to deal with them."#DieMannschaft #GERSUI pic.twitter.com/LZIlpwu4vC— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) October 12, 2020
If you would have told anyone after 2017 Confederations Cup (Löw’s last dynamic coaching performance) that Die Mannschaft would be “no sure thing” against the Swiss by 2020, people would have spit out their Paulaner to howl in laughter.
One of the worst things about Löw’s half-hearted commitment to a youth movement (you cannot commit to youth and still rely heavily on Toni Kroos and Marco Reus) is his insistence on rolling out the team with three central defenders (a 3-5-2 or some variation of the formation), which simply wastes the roster’s talent.
So what should he do as a last-gasp effort to avoid looking like he has lost the team? He should just use a 4-2-3-1 and here’s why:
Granted, Leroy Sané is not yet healthy, but let’s assume he will be for the European qualifiers (which is really what the squad is playing for these days). And let’s also assume that Germany’s roster will not change that much from what it looks like now.
Germany’s biggest strength offensively is its pace. With a front-four featuring Sane, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry, and Kai Havertz, Löw would not only have incredible speed to play with, but also four players who are adept at exchanging positions on the fly. There is no “target man” for Germany (Erling Haaland’s citizenship is not changing unfortunately), but continuing to befuddle defenses with blazing pace and players attacking from different positions might just be the Germans’ best chance to deliver consistent and productive efforts.
Counting Havertz as part of that offensive group is key. He’d have more responsibility on offence, and he also has the potential — because of his frame and pace — to be a Mülleresque #10 who can press and track-back defensively. Don’t jump to conclusions here — Havertz is not at Müller’s level, but his traits and physique make him the best contender to mimic some of the great things that Müller does off the ball.
Havertz could be coached to be that type of player. No one is expecting Havertz to offer all of Muller’s offensive movement or creativity, but he is the best facsimile Germany can offer at this point. Start to mold the young man now and you’ll reap the rewards later when it really matters.
In what might be the most important aspect of this formation, Löw needs to use Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka as a double-pivot! I repeat: “Use Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka as a double-pivot!” The duo was only good enough to help lead Bayern Munich to a treble, and the twosome played a good portion of that season together as part of Hansi Flick’s midfield.
If they are good enough to do that, they are good enough to stabilize and control the midfield on an international stage. Kimmich and Goretzka have developed a unique relationship and are able to play off of each other extremely well. If you want stability and consistency, this is the way.
The most frustrating part of Löw’s insistence on using a 3-5-2 is that he really doesn’t have three “ready” center-backs to deploy and a set of wing-backs who decisively know when to attack and when to stay back. Frankly, because Germany’s central defending has been so inconsistent, it could easily be surmised that the rest of the unit feels like it has to overcompensate at times, resulting in confused or hesitant play.
Let’s dumb things down as just use the two best and most consistent center-backs available: Niklas Süle and Matthias Ginter. Süle is the main man and Ginter is solid. Germany cannot do better with a duo at this stage give the roster Löw has selected. As for outside backs, Lukas Klostermann offers great pace and consistency, while Marcel Halstenberg could be a greater asset in this formation, as he could be given a more defined and defensive role.
Marc-Andre... ahh, just kidding. We can give Löw a pass on one area to “stay old.” Manuel Neuer gets The Wire chess story treatment (The king stay the king) until he shows consistent signs of decline.
Now, it is easy to have players who can compliment whatever is needed on a per-game basis:
- Toni Kroos: The Real Madrid star can effectively slide into any position in the midfield and provide the experience needed to make an impact...off the bench.
- Marco Reus: Reus is another versatile player who can play anywhere across the front line and keep the ability to interchange as part of the fabric of the offense. Reus is also extremely creative and can still provide a spark when needed.
- Julian Draxler: Again, versatility. Draxler would offer Löw a player who can slide into a number of positions and be solid.
- Robin Koch: The 24-year-old has a long way to go, but might be best equipped moving forward if his role is limited to focusing on his defensive positioning. You could convince me that Antonio Rudiger is the proper play here because he can slide out-wide and I wouldn’t argue. My solution for an outside-back reserve would be to drop Kimmich back and insert Kroos in the midfield before bringing in Koch, though. Again, get me the best available 11 players.
Could this work? Maybe, maybe not, but it at least is getting Löw’s best available 11 on the field and at least provides greater stability in front of the defense and goalkeeper.