- Joachim Loew’s intransigence threatens his job
- Some German players, despite their talent, lack character
- France may already be sated by their restored reputation
- Paul Pogba could dominate Germany’s wallflower midfield
The new, caring, sharing, sensitive Germany that Joachim Loew has created over the last six years shouldn’t be going into the last eight of the World Cup in the margin of error – but that’s the reality ahead of Friday’s clash with France in Rio de Janeiro.
A shambolic second-half against Ghana, a workmanlike win over the USA, and an abject extra-time win over Algeria suggest that the one good German performance at this tournament, the 4-0 crushing of Portugal in Salvador, was the exception that proves the rule: Germany, under Loew, are a mess. Twelve months ago, the very idea that France would go into a head-to-head with Germany as likely winners would have been laughed at – but Germany are now in the margin of error. Their advantages have been diminished through injury, coaching inadequacy, and lack of character.
The intransigence that has seen the best full-back in the world transferred to midfield could well be the decisive mistake that costs Germany it’s shot at Brazil – and Loew his job. Philipp Lahm is needed in his regular position because Germany simply doesn’t have experienced full backs worthy of the name in his absence. Benedikt Hoewedes is a centre-half – as is Jerome Boateng. Playing one of them as a full-back is a risk. Playing two is dereliction of duty.
Loew clearly doesn’t believe that Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are fit enough to play together in midfield. Oh how he must miss Ilkay Guendogan and the Bender brothers – all lost to injury. But moving Lahm to midfield just doesn’t work. If his performances there haven’t already proven that to the coach by now, one must surmise that Loew has ideological reasons for his stubbornness. His fatuous admiration of Bayern coach Pep Guardiola springs to mind here.
It’s all well and good sticking to principles, but a good coach must be able to identify when he’s got things wrong. He must get the best out of the players at his disposal. When Lahm moved to full-back against Algeria, Germany looked a far more balanced side. A clever coach will adapt and change his mind when the evidence changes. It changed on Monday evening, but will Loew?
France come into the game having restored their international reputation. After the debacle of South Africa and the internecine warfare of Euro 2012, they are now a force again. The question now is whether with “mission accomplished” will they feel sated with what they’ve done? If not, they could well have too much for an unbalanced, under-pressure Germany.
Germany need a signature performance if Loew is to stay in a job. The 2-1 semi-final defeat to Italy in Warsaw two years ago was a tactical disaster for the former Stuttgart coach. Toni Kroos was deployed to mark Andrea Pirlo and palpably failed to do so. Germany attacked naively and got caught on the break. On the back of some eccentric team selection for the previous match against Greece, Loew was accused of tampering with a winning team.
For France, Loew has no option but to tamper. Mesut Oezil and Mario Goetze ghosted through the Algeria match – the latter for a mere 45 minutes before being hooked – and it’s now likely that the Bayern man will lose his place to Andre Schuerrle. The ethereal Oezil will start – but is surely on borrowed time now. It’s win or bust.
Sadly, Germany’s problems are really as much about character as they are tactics. Loew is not helping them, but the players are not helping themselves. Against Algeria, they lacked on-field leadership all over the pitch. Only the game Thomas Mueller tried to impose himself. Compare to Brazil, a more limited team, who have even the three stooges at the back, David Luiz, Dani Alves, and Marcelo stepping forward when the chips are down. They may not be great players – but they are personalities and are prepared to be counted.
Germany, especially in midfield, lack this conviction. The impassive, android-like Kroos is a technically excellent player, but lacks the force of personality to bend a match to his will. Oezil floats around like a dementor, magical but devoid of all happiness. Goetze, meanwhile, wears an invisibility cloak. Against Paul Pogba and co, Germany could be bullied.
In the final analysis, Germany are the more-talented side – with or without the injured Marco Reus. Yet, unless the midfield steps up and the coach returns a modicum of balance to his formation, France seem the side with fewer self-inflicted wounds. If the French really want to achieve more, they’ve got every chance – especially if Philipp Lahm takes up station in central midfield…