It’s the big question. Possibly Joachim Löw’s biggest decision in terms of selection, it is also the choice which generates the most intense debate among fans. Does Mario Gómez, FC Bayern München’s goal machine, lead the line for Germany at Euro 2012, or does the old head Miroslav Klose, who scored nine goals in six games in qualification for the tournament, still top the pecking order?
Because of lingering doubts over Klose’s fitness, Gómez possibly has the edge at the moment. Polish- born Klose has had few periods of sustained fitness all season, and missed the last two months of the campaign through injury. Gómez, however, has been ever-present and prolific for both club and country. In terms of raw statistics, Gómez has scored 54 goals in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons, and 21 in 22 Champions League ties over the same period, including five hat-tricks this campaign. He has replicated his club goalscoring form at international level too, netting in eight of his last ten appearances for his country. He also provided the sort of game-changing performance which could prove crucial in an international tournament, bailing out a below-par Germany in a 2- 1 win in Austria in qualifying with two goals, one of which was the last-minute winner, in one of the biggest individual contributions to Germany’s 100% qualifying record.
Looking at just the numbers, there’s little argument against Gómez’s inclusion. But despite the 27 year-old’s superb form, Klose has still plenty to offer in alternative. His intelligence, link-up play, technique, power and work rate are all superior to that of Gómez, and over the past couple of years the national side has tended to play better with him in it. He still possesses good pace too, especially for a man who turns 34 on the day of Germany’s first fixture.
Take the 3-2 friendly win over Brazil in August. With the two strikers playing 45 minutes each, it provided a crude snapshot into how the team operates with either up front. After an awkward 45 minutes with Gómez leading the line, Germany were a far more fluid attacking unit after Klose came on, and scored three times in the second half. Klose had a hand in the opening goal, successfully chasing a ball which had appeared lost and back-heeling smartly to set up a penalty.
Then Klose starred as Germany crushed Group B opponents the Netherlands 3-0 in November. The Dutch may have been missing their biggest attacking threats, but their defence was ripped apart by the devastating combination of Klose, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil. The win was reminiscent of the side’s marvellous attacking displays against England and Argentina in South Africa. The wavelength and understanding between the trio was unplayable, and responsible for all three goals. Germany are possibly at their best when these three are on song.
With both strikers staking impressive claims for the starting position, the most sensible course of action might be to rotate the two, certainly in the initial stages of the competition. This might suit Klose well, with questions remaining as to whether he is fully fit yet. Picking him for every match may not be possible.
Equally, relying solely on Gómez would be to the detriment of the team. He is an instinctive footballer rather than an intelligent reader of the game. He works hard for the team but link-up play is not one of his greatest strengths. It’s possible that Bayern München struggled at times last season because of their inability to adapt or change successfully with Gómez in the team. They particularly struggled against teams who play high-energy pressing games, losing four out of five matches against Borussia Dortmund and Mainz. (Of course, this was not Gómez’s fault, but intelligence and ball control are such important assets against sides like these.)
So using both strikers will probably be necessary for Löw. It could be a great asset for him too, because Germany can do what Bayern couldn’t this season: alter their style depending on the opponent or situation. Against a pressing side like Spain, or defensive sides more difficult to break down, picking Klose would seem the smart move, because of his intelligence, better physicality and the link-up play he provides with Özil and Müller; whereas Gómez’s greatest strengths could be against more open sides, where he might get scoring chances, or in tight matches where he can use the opportunistic striking abilities he is more capable of than Klose.
Either way, it’s a safe bet that club form can be discounted as Löw looks to select his main striker. Germany’s most effective team during the tournament might just include the more complete Miroslav Klose. That said, Gómez has filled in well in Klose’s absence with a fine international scoring run of his own, so much so that it’s possible Gómez’s goals for Germany could win him the battle, for the first match at least. “His [recent] ratio helps him and the team”, trainer Löw said after the Israel game.
But all indicators seem to suggest that rotation will be the best policy. Löw seems to have the luxury of choosing slightly different but effective options for certain matches. Not playing every game could benefit Klose. And crucially for tournament play, it will help keep Germany unpredictable, something which, factoring in their wealth of options behind the striker, could be their greatest asset. “It’s an incredible advantage that we are so strong up front”, mused Klose at Tuesday’s press conference.
Whereas Löw has spoken more decisively on selections for other positions, he has indicated he doesn’t see a pecking order for his two main strikers. Most tellingly, he said: “It’s good for the team to know that Miro and Mario can always score goals, no matter which of them plays. That is very important because we will absolutely need both of them if we want to achieve something here.”
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