49 days after their disappointing semi final exit to Italy at the EUROs, Germany kicked off their new season with a loss against Lionel Messi’s Argentina. An early red card to goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler turned the game in Argentina’s favor after a good opening from the hosts. A saved penalty from his replacement, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, wasn’t enough to stop the inevitable as Germany’s backline struggled to contain Argentina’s talented attack. Khedira’s own goal and a goal each from Messi and Di Maria sealed the game before Höwedes pulled a consolation goal back at the end. The result will no doubt be defined by the red card but more noteworthy for Germany will be a defense that has let them down once again.
Lineups and Formations
Joachim Löw was adamant about giving all his players some minutes in this game as he looked to banish the bad memories of the EUROs. Without a large contingent of Bayern players, Löw shuffled his deck a bit and fielded an even younger team than usual. Klose captained a side whose players were all 25 or younger. Lars Bender partnered Sami Khedira in midfield while Marcel Schmelzer and Marco Reus filled in for Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski on the left. Ron-Robert Zieler also made his second appearance in goal after Manuel Neuer had to pull out with an injury. Little did he know that he would set a rather forgettable record this match.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella voiced his admiration for German football before this game but came in wanting to prove a point and beat the side that humbled them two years ago at the World Cup. He selected Gonzalo Higuain to spearhead his attack with Messi playing slightly off him in a hybrid 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 system. Angel Di Maria and Ernesto Sosa flanked them with Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano holding in midfield.
Germany were the brighter side in the opening quarter of an hour but both teams played with a high tempo and aggressive pressing. Both backlines had to be highly alerted to second runs and through balls played by Özil and Messi. Germany created the first real chance of the game after Klose pulled the ball back to Özil who was making the run inside but the playmaker steered it directly into Romero’s hands. Slowly Germany began finding space on Argentina’s left where Rojo’s awkward positioning and Di Maria’s lack of defending opened up plenty of space. Both Bender and Müller created chances on that side but Romero handled everything thrown at him. For a moment it looked as if Germany were going to get the better of their opponents again but the game changing moments were just around the corner.
The first was a forced substitutions after Hummels clashed heads with Higuain, the Dortmund defender not able to continue, and was subsequently replaced by Höwedes, also pushing Boateng inside. The second, and more detrimental, moment followed shortly after when Mascherano played Sosa through on goal, Germany failing to spring the offside trap, forcing Zieler to come out. The Hannover goalkeeper was a split second slower and caught the player instead of the ball. Referee Jonas Eriksson immediately pointed to the spot and sent Zieler off. It was the first time in the DFB’s 104 year history (864 international matches) that a national team goalkeeper had been expelled from the match. Müller was sacrificed and the young Ter Stegen brought on to face Messi. Fortunately for Germany, ter Stegen pulled off an impressive save with his first touch of the game but Germany would never recover from the sending off, not defensively anyways.
Argentina immediately had a spring in their step and began probing Germany’s changed backline. Schmelzer nearly set up Klose for a goal in the 42nd minute but it was one of the few attacks the hosts would muster for the remainder of the half. Argentina continued to press and broke through in stoppage time when a Di Maria corner was deflected by Khedira into his own net. Löw’s pre-match plans had been turned on their head now and needed to react before things got worse in the second half.
Not wanting to alter the makeup of the team too much in the wake of the sending off, Löw kept the squad the same for the second half. Sabella sensed the vulnerability and went for the kill, bringing on Aguero for Sosa at the interval but despite being down a man, Germany did well to initiate attacks and maintain a level of pressure on the Argentines and had the better start in the second half. Reus’ energetic movement and runs troubled Zabaleta and always made space for Schmelzer to run into and overlap. He was unlucky to hit the post in the 49th minute after a great run inside and a shot from 20 meters out.
But as is almost always the case, playing down a man leaves you inevitably susceptible to the counter and Germany’s backline were faced with wave after wave of attacks in the second half. After missing from the spot in the first half, Messi made sure to get it right and a minute after Reus’ attempt finished off one of those Argentine attacks after Aguero and Higuain combined beautifully to set up Messi on the edge of the box, the captain finishing with deadly precision in the left corner. And so it continued for the remainder of the match, Messi getting another great opportunity in the 65th minute after Higuain played him through brilliantly with a backheel flick but his chip went just wide. Eight minutes later Di Maria (who had the winning goal in their friendly in 2010) scored the goal of the match when he hit a scorcher from 30 meters, ter Stegen unable to reach it.
Löw had brought on Schürrle a couple of minutes earlier though who injected a great deal of urgency and pace into Germany’s game. The Leverkusen player tested Romero in the 68th minute and was Germany’s most dangerous player in the second half. He too created Germany’s consolation goal when he played Götze through in the 82nd minute who pulled the ball back to an oncoming Höwedes, the defender heading it past Romero. It was Germany’s best play of the match but too little too late.
It is difficult to put this result down to anything but the sending off as it changed the complexion of the game almost entirely. There are however some repeating patterns in Germany’s play that cannot be ignored and should be pointed out. Whereas Germany did really well offensively a man down they again came up short in their own half. The mix up and lack of communication on the penalty was a symbol of a greater defensive disarray, one that has been evident for years now under Löw. Hummels’ departure also deprived Germany of a defensive organizer and a player who did well to anticipate Argentina’s passes. Boateng stepped up too early on Mascherano’s through ball and both Boateng and Badstuber kept Sosa onside. All the while, their backline never looked comfortable in one-on-one situations. Löw is still very much seeking the fine balance between all their attacking talent and consistency in defense. And at the risk of beating a dead horse, Germany also failed to take advantage of all their corners and free kicks again but enough has been said on that topic.
One of the big problems in this match, and in past games, has been the team’s inability to recover the ball quickly and the defending off the ball. The early pressing is something that Löw said he wanted to improve following the EUROs and rightfully so. On the second goal, Germany were too passive and allowed Argentina to string together 15 passes before scoring. Khedira was the only German player putting pressure on the opponent in their half, the rest staying largely still while Argentina passed their way to a second goal. Bender lost his marker and let Messi get ahead of him and to the ball while the backline again failed to deal with a through ball.
Löw admitted after the match that the team made some tactical errors after the red card and needed to be more clever in that regard. He outlined the need to be more compact as a team and also and close the gaps that open up after they get forward in numbers. Perhaps the deficit played a psychological part as well because Germany allowed Argentina far too many goal scoring chances. The amount of scoring chances understandably increase being a player down but this is again a pattern in Germany’s performance regardless of the opposition and at the end of the day is an indicator of the team’s overall shape and performance.
Germany started really well though. They kept their play wide when necessary, away from Messi, and did well to cut out Argentina’s attacks through the middle. Reus, Bender and Khedira also did well to keep Argentina under pressure and as a result kept their brilliant playmaker out of the game for much of the first half. Reus again made a good case for a starting spot with a tireless display, equally effective at combining with those around him as he was at creating his own chances. Most importantly though is Germany’s reaction and character after going down a man, playing with great determination until the final whistle. Schürrle, Reus and Götze all had good combinations and moved around the field freely. Reus and Schürrle’s performances only reinforce the calls to transition Podolski out of the squad. Reus’ spell as the forward at the end of the game especially was also a positive and signals a viable alternative to Klose and Gomez.
It was one of the more forgettable performances under Löw but the fact that it was a friendly has to be taken into consideration, regardless of the outcome. Germany’s record in friendlies is hardly impressive to begin with and the next couple of months will be more important in terms of further integrating players like the Benders, Reus, Schürrle, Götze, etc. than it is about getting results. Earlier this week Löw took responsibility for the exit at the EUROs and understandably so because Germany are now approaching a critical point in their development as a team. The right steps have to be taken to ensure they overcome whatever went wrong in Poland and the Ukraine and more importantly, so they can optimize the development of their personnel.
Germany begin their World Cup qualifying campaign on September 7th against the Faroe Islands.
Header courtesy of welt.de
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