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22 Jun 2018

Germany: Who should Joachim Low play in midfield?

Germany: Who should Joachim Low play in midfield?

Germany's midfield was made to look fragile against Mexico on Sunday, so what alternatives does Joachim Löw have available.

Reuters/HANNAH MCKAY

Germany lost, and the autopsy began. A 1-0 defeat against an effervescent Mexico side, brought about by an apparent inability to deny their opposition space on the counter-attack, laid bare the vulnerabilities of Joachim Low's side. Time and time again, Germany were overrun by green shirts, overwhelmed in key areas of the pitch.

It was Mats Hummels who brought the salient issue to attention:

"Our cover was often not good and we were left many times with Jerome [Boateng] and myself at the back,” said the Bayern Munich defender. “If seven of eight players are attacking then it’s clear our attacking power is greater. But that’s something that I have often talked about internally. It doesn’t always bear fruit."

Defence exposed

The inference was clear. Hummels was not happy with Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira, who throughout the game were bypassed by the more mobile, more purposeful Mexico midfielders. There was no shield in front of the defence. Germany were left exposed and Mexico capitalised; in the end, they should have scored more than once.

"They lacked a proper midfield bolt, with Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira huffing around in pursuit of the whizzing green machine," wrote Barney Ronay in the Guardian. "The centre backs looked flustered, left to deal with three on two as Mexico broke. Löw’s 4-2-3-1 seemed antiquated and creaky."

Reuters/KAI PFAFFENBACH

The defeat raised questions: should Low persist with the double pivot of Kroos and Khedira? Should he change his system - a 4-2-3-1 - to address the issue? Should he simply change the personnel in midfield?

Plenty of options

Germany are not short of options, but this is still a conundrum. Low has trusted Kroos and Khedira for so long, seen them play together with such control and efficacy. But the Mexico defeat was evidence of a need to refresh things. 

Reuters/KAI PFAFFENBACH

Sweden, Germany's next opponent, will probably not counter with the pace of Mexico. There is, though, a feeling that more mobility is needed in the middle. Leon Goretzka, Schalke's 23-year-old midfielder would provide that. He would bring an injection of youth, too, a much-needed energy boost. Khedira is 31 now and looked it on Sunday.

Alternatively, Low might consider bringing in Sebastian Rudy, who would provide the defensive cover Germany lacked against Mexico. He may not be necessary when playing a team like Sweden, who are likely to camp in their own half and attempt to earn a draw, although his inclusion might appease Bayern teammate Hummels.

Striking a balance

Low now faces the difficult task of striking a balance. He will be hesitant to remove the creativity in midfield in favour of more defensive solidity. But, against better teams, he could be forced into it.

Mesut Ozil was heavily criticised for his display against Mexico, so his place in the side looks in increasing doubt. An option for Low is to drop Ozil and replace him with another central midfielder. The result would be a switch to 4-3-3; more control and coverage of the midfield areas.

Germany have options but know now that there is little room for error. This is perhaps the most testing period of Low's tenure. His teams, in recent major tournaments, have been settled, consistent, at times seemingly infallible. Now there is a weakness to exploit; Germany must find a solution when - assuming they do not go out at the first hurdle - they play the tournament's best teams.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 8 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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