This season German football stamped its mark of authority like never before.
With Europe having witnessed the first ever all-German Champions League final, pundits and fans were quick to name Germany as the national team most likely to lift the trophy at the World Cup next year.
And, indeed, the sheer brilliance of Bayern Munich in demolishing Barcelona 7-0 in the semis-finals - and the attacking prowess shown by a supreme Borussia Dortmund side in getting past Real Madrid - might be indications that Germany can finally win a major trophy after 1996. However, Die Mannschaaft might still find it hard. Here’s examining why.
Germany is no doubt a highly talented team, with their attacking play winning many supporters across the world. And, at first glance, their defence seems solid as well.
But on closer inspection, one can see some major problems in the back-line of Die Nationalef.
The primary problem for Germany coach Joachim Low has been to find a centre-back pairing that works. Even though Germany have an embarrassment of riches at the position with Mats Hummels, Per Mertesacker, Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes all being in contention to start, Germany have had trouble finding a pair that is compatible.
Even though these players have been tried out in varying combinations, none of those combinations have impressed enough to stake a claim for a regular spot. Compare this to various other leading teams in the world: Spain have an established duo of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, Italy have Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, Brazil have Thiago Silva and David Luiz.
All have played with their partners for long and subsequently formed impressive partnerships in the process. This uncertainty in defence could end up being a major hurdle in Germany’s quest for the world title, with other teams being way ahead of the Germans in this aspect.
An even bigger headache for Low concerns the right-back position. For the past four years, Jerome Boateng - primarily a centre-back - has been played down the right in a system that can at best be described as ordinary.
Boateng does not possess the pace or the mentality to play as a right=back for such a talented side – but such is the dearth of options for the position that Low has had to stick with the Bayern Munich defender even though it presents a less than ideal proposition.
Even though Lars Bender was moderately successful in his few appearances at wing-back for Germany, he has often left far too much space behind him on the back, which could be exploited by the best opposition.
The few matches in which captain Philipp Lahm was played down the right, with Marcel Schmelzer taking the left-back spot, has also been less than impressive, as Schmelzer has failed to replicate his excellent club form at the international level.
These defensive frailties of the Germans have often been exposed; never more so than by Sweden in a World Cup qualifier last year - when Joachim Low’s team surrendered a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4.
The fact is that throughout the past few years, Germany have had their problems in defence – but rarely has it been noticed because they usually score way more than they concede. However this mantra of endless attack to alleviate the effect of an average defence is not an ideal solution, and could be exploited by good opposition.
These problems again came to the fore last week against USA, where Germany lost 4-3 (even though Germany fielded a predominantly experimental side for this fixture).
Ironically, another potential problem for Germany is their playing style, which is the reason why German football has won many plaudits in recent years. The extreme emphasis on attack often leaves a comparatively fragile defence exposed and vulnerable on the counter.
This is even more pronounced when Germany’s defensive midfield brawler Sami Khedira drifts forward to provide an extra body in attack. This has proved to be an effective tactic in the attacking third, but leaves their defence short of cover when the opposition counterattacks.
The only other potential problem that Germany face is the lack of depth they have at centre forward. With only Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose as established strikers in the team, Low could find himself shorthanded in case of injury. However, the emergence of Stefan Kiessling this season could mean that this problem can easily be solved in time for next year.
Even though they have the following weaknesses, there is still no doubt that Die Mannschaaft remains one of the teams to beat in world football today.
However, these weaknesses prove that the team is definitely not infallible – and that Spain are still up there at the top at the international level, at least for now.
At the moment it is premature to call Germany the favourites for next year, and they still have work to do if they are to lift the trophy that has eluded them since 1990.
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