Löw’s challenges in the coming months

In a way the end of the EUROs symbolized a new beginning for the German national team and coach Joachim Löw. With much of the young talent integrated it marks the start of a crucial phase in the development of the team. Despite the disappointment in Poland and the Ukraine the team was still undergoing its own transition and as the youngest team at the tournament it was still very much a learning experience, even if that has become a tired cliche in German football over the years.  More than ever before though, Löw is under pressure to fully realize the potential of all that talent and add the finishing touches on what most consider Germany’s most talented group of players in years. That is also why the coming months are going to be crucial as it may well shape the direction the team is headed in.

The striker dilemma continues

When we last left off we wondered which of Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez Löw should choose going into the EUROs.  As it turned out, the tournament did not yield much of an answer.  Löw initially decided for Gomez but waned in his conviction and questioned some of his decisions in the aftermath. With an aging Klose and a Gomez who, despite his fine goal scoring record, still leaves people wanting, the debate takes yet another turn with a tactical component precipitating the need to perhaps look outside the conventional wisdom.

When Löw announced his 22 player squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers German football publication kicker asked why Stefan Kiessling was again omitted.  With Mario Gomez still recovering from surgery surely there was room for the 28 year old striker whose record and form in the Rückrunde last year logically warranted at least a nomination.  Yet with Miroslav Klose Löw chose only one striker. Last year Kiessling was the fourth best German striker in the league after Gomez, Reus and Podolski and is closing in on the 100 goal mark in the Bundesliga along with 41 assists in his time with Nürnberg and Leverkusen. Furthermore, Kiessling is one of the most hard working strikers in the league with a tackling rate and record most central midfielders would be proud of.  On paper it would seem a good fit at the very least.

Kiessling was diplomatic when asked about yet another omission but did admit to never quite feeling the trust or confidence from Löw in the few times he was called up.  So is this conscious omission an indicator of what’s to come or is it simply a personal preference?  Löw called up only one striker for their friendly against Argentina too so it could point to a new direction for the team.  Already during the EUROs, Löw was asked about alternatives and utilizing some of his midfielders up front, an option that Löw has been somewhat reticent about but one which never fully ruled out.

The availability and versatility of players like Reus, Müller, Podolski and Schürrle gives Löw plenty of options to experiment should he be willing.  Klose will no doubt continue to be first choice in the absence of Gomez and will also start against the Faroe Islands but it should come as no surprise if either of those four players were swapped with the veteran at some point during their two qualifiers this coming week.  All four players have played up front for their clubs in the last couple of years and possess the qualities needed from a striker.  The Argentina game may have already hinted at such a switch when Klose came off in the second half and Reus slotted in up front.

A new direction?

This summer might not have been Germany’s most memorable but if the EUROs did prove one thing it is that the bravery of experimentation is often rewarded.  Löw’s choices in the semi final may have backfired but his departure in the Greece game yielded by far their most gratifying performance.  The decision to use players like Reus or Müller up front may just hint at a new direction altogether. Spain paved the way with Del Bosque’s strikerless formation this summer and as their and Barcelona’s success have proven, it creates trends and in football that means tactical patterns become widespread.  Del Bosque’s conviction in the face of criticism was justified in the end and it could very well influence Löw’s own departure from the norm.

To what extent that may be taken remains to be seen but Löw, and just about every other manager in German football, makes no secret about their admiration for the Spanish game and the standard they have set.  Above all else, it points to a distinct versatility and fluidity that Germany have lacked at times over the years and are still aiming to find.  The essence of conviction, the presence of a strong identity and distinct playing style regardless of the circumstance is something that develops over time but its also something that almost always characterizes a winning side.  The blueprint is there and unlike other international sides, Löw has the talent to execute it.

Stability at the back 

Löw announced he will shift Philipp Lahm to the right in the first four qualifiers and give Marcel Schmelzer an opportunity to prove himself on the left so as far as the fullbacks are concerned they are set for the foreseeable future.  He refused to announce who will start at center back though which leaves open to interpretation whether he might reintroduce Mertesacker into the starting eleven.  Löw’s inability to stick with a consistent backline was one of the big problems going into the EUROs and it is one of the most important things he needs to sort out going into the qualifiers.

During the group stage at the EUROs Löw took a much more defensive approach and rightfully so considering their opponents but the frailty of the team’s defenses inevitably showed in the knockout stage.  With a large talent pool Löw might be tempted to spread playing time more evenly but continuity breeds consistency and Germany’s defense have lacked that in spades for the best part of the last decade. Trusting in the young and inexperienced Badstuber and Hummels may be a gamble but its a temporary one that will have its payoff going into Brazil.  Similarly, giving Schmelzer an extended run at left back may be the key to solving Germany’s problems in the fullback position.

Such is the dilemma of having the depth Germany do at the moment and how Löw manages the expectations and desires of all his players is also going to be important going forward. Löw is very much at a crossroads.  If he comes up short again it could spell the end of his time in charge.  With the 2010 World Cup as the “new” Germany’s debut on the international stage and the EUROs this summer their great learning experience, Brazil presents the ideal platform to fully realize its potential and reclaim a long awaited international trophy.  But to get there Löw will have to get a lot of things right and it starts with the qualifiers, a formality in a way but a great challenge in many others.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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