Germany’s attacking prowess was on full display in Gelsenkirchen with a convincing 6-2 win over neighbors Austria. An Özil brace, and a goal each from Klose, Podolski and the two substitutes Schürrle and Götze ensured qualification for next year’s EURO championship in Poland and the Ukraine.
Coach Jogi Löw made three changes from the side that impressively beat Brazil 3-2 last month. Local player and Schalke captain Höwedes replaced Träsch at right back while first team regulars Özil and Klose returned to the starting line-up, replacing Götze and the injured Gomez respectively. He kept his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with a slight adjustment to its’ shape. With Kroos playing in central midfield instead of Khedira, it effectively becomes a 4-1-4-1 in practice given Kroos’s more advanced positioning. It worked well against Brazil and Löw hoped it would again against Austria.
Austria coach Dietmar Constantini surprisingly lined up with what most closely resembled a 4-4-2. He had used the formation before but against an attacking minded side like Germany away from home it was a risky proposition. Seven Bundesliga players lined up for Austria including Hannover’s latest signing, Daniel Royer. Harnik and Arnautovic up front were supposed to be a mobile interchanging striker pair, both having played or playing out wide as well as in the center for their clubs.
As is typical for Germany, they started the match with an intense tempo to try and unsettle their opponents early. Löw encourages this aggression to capitalize on the pace and the energy of players like Müller, Podolski and Özil and to get an early goal. The strategy worked and Germany took the lead just 8 minutes into the game. Space opened up on the right and Schweinsteiger found time to send a cross into the box. Pogatetz’s clearance fell to the feet of Özil who lightly tapped the ball goal bound. The shot took a slight deflection off Klose and the ball landed in the lower left corner. 1-0! The pressure on Austria increased after the goal and Constantini’s men failed to effectively keep possession, always giving up the ball in midfield. Baumgartlinger and Alaba were especially under heavy pressure from Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Özil who always looked to collect the ball in the middle.
The more Austria gave up possession, the more fluid Germany became. Özil and Klose combined well several times and dislodged Austria’s defense throughout the first half. Klose’s movement and ability to read the game was a refreshing change from the usual static play of Gomez. The duo’s chemistry was effectively running the show for Germany and on 23 minutes it finally resulted in a goal. Özil picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch, laid it off to Klose who cleverly flicked it back to the playmaker who rounded Gratzei to double the lead. 2-0! Müller meanwhile kept Fuchs busy all game long on the right, always pinning him back and rarely allowing the fullback to get forward and getting the best of him at every turn. Müller remained out wide for much of the first half but found more space in the middle as the game progressed. A third goal seemed inevitable and give minutes after the second goal Badstuber’s run up the pitch set up Podolski for the third. 3-0! Gratzei will be criticized for not stopping the shotb ut the fact that a center back had the freedom to run the length of the pitch to set up a goal was more telling of Austria’s issues in midfield.
Almost completely against the run of play, Austria pulled a goal back. Not completely surprising though considering that Germany have too often displayed moments of complacency when in control of a match or in the lead. This time Fuchs switched the ball to Klein on the right three minutes before time. The right back was given all the time and space in the world by Lahm to place his cross. The oncoming Arnautovic beat Badstuber in the air to head the ball past Neuer. 3-1!
Löw was furious going into half time but his side was rarely troubled by Austria and the second half continued in the same vein as the first. The more offensive minded Boateng replaced Höwedes at the break to add further pressure down the right, the side that Germany had arguably been more threatening on. Their fourth goal came on a trademark counter attack. An Austria corner kick was cleared. The clever Müller read the trajectory of the clearance and flicked the ball with his head into the path of the onrushing Özil who outran Fuchs and slipped the ball under Gratzei. 4-1! Once again though Germany let their guard down though and Austria pulled another goal back four minutes later. Harnik picked up the ball in front of Germany’s box, played it to Arnautovic who cleverly flicked it over the heads of both German center backs and blasted it past Neuer. It was a combination of complacency and a lack of communication in the back. Hummels came out to intercept the ball and instead of staying back and tracking Harnik’s run, Badstuber stepped out of the back as well, giving Harnik all the space to score. 4-2!
Germay did not let the goal deter them though and continued their direct high tempo game. The introduction of Boateng added another element of attack and the right back carved out two chances for himself in the next five minutes. The game was a lot more open now and Austria in particular adjusted some of their play. Alaba took the initiative and played a more offensive role with Arnautovic switching over the to the left side to try and exploit the space left by Boateng’s forward runs. To their credit, Austria did well to create chances (7 shots by then) despite Germany having 60% possession with the trio of Harnik, Alaba and Arnautovic looking good going forward. Unfortunately for them, they lacked service and had no answer to Germany’s options off the bench.
Rather than protecting the lead, Löw brought on two additional attackers. Schürrle replaced Podolski and Götze came on for Kroos. Going into this game, there were talks over who would start on the left and whether it was time for Löw to drop Podolski in favor of the more in form Schürrle. The Leverkusen attacker had convinced in his previous games for the National Team and seemed a better fit for Germany’s style of play. Sure enough, Schürrle scored 10 minutes after being brought on. Müller cut into the center and played a one-two with Klose. Austria could not clear the ball and it fell to the feet of Schürrle who neatly scored his 4th goal in 7 appearances for Germany. 5-2! Germany’s quality in depth became even more frighteningly obvious when Götze added a sixth a minute from time. Müller was the playmaker yet again when he picked up the ball on he right and spotted Götze’s run into the box. He sent in a precise cross to Götze whose great run was outdone only by a great finish, a delicately weighed and accurately placed volley to see out the game. 6-2!
Conclusion and what to expect against Poland
Löw sung the praises of his team after the match and rightfully so. The plethora of young talent was visible for all to see and the only concern for Löw now is who to pick going forward. Schürrle scored his third goal off the bench and his record is quite amazing considering his age and the limited playing time given so far. It will be difficult for Podolski to maintain his place as a starter now considering Schürrle’s consistent performances and form. The team also appears more fluid and dangerous with him on the pitch. The same can be said about Götze but he will likely remain a backup for Özil. Either way, Löw is spoiled for choice and the biggest task for him is to optimize the output and talent of his squad. Defensively Löw also admitted that goals are inevitable with the offensive orientation of the team but against better sides it could prove more costly unless addressed. There remain questions about Badstuber as Hummels’s partner but with the return of Mertesacker and the continuous improvement of Boateng and Höwedes there exist plenty of alternatives.
With EURO qualification wrapped up Löw said he will experiment against Poland. meaning that certain players will be rested and others given a chance to start. Götze will most likely start in place of Özil while Schürrle may finally get a chance to play from the beginning instead of Podolski. Mertesacker could also make his long awaited return in place of either Hummels or Badstuber while Träsch may slot in at right back again. It is unlike Löw to make too many wholesale changes though and we could see some regulars start against Poland but for the most part it will provide another chance to experiment ahead of next summer’s tournament.
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