Next year’s EURO hosts Poland played a scrappy 2-2 draw against Germany in preparation for next summer’s tournament. Löw’s men had to come from behind twice to earn the draw with Kroos scoring his first National Team goal from the penalty spot and Cacau equalizing with the last kick of the game. A Man of the Match performance from Arsenal goalkeeper Szczesney and a goal each from Dortmund players Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski rounded up a good performance from the Poles and highlighted some of Germany’s outstanding issues ahead of a tournament they are very much tipped to win.
With qualification ensured the friendly provided Joachim Löw with the perfect platform to experiment and get closer to finding the ideal formula for next summer. After their impressive win against Austria, Löw was afforded the luxury of resting certain key players with Schweinsteiger, Neuer and Özil all given the day off. Mertesacker made his return to the starting line up after an extended injury spell while Träsch again filled in at right back. Jerome Boateng was given the chance to prove himself at center back after having played out wide throughout his National Team career so far. Leverkusen captain Simon Rolfes anchored the midfield while Götze took up Özil’s playmaker position. Klose and Podolski remained in the starting line up to face their country of birth while Schürrle started in place of Müller on the right.
Löw continued with his new 4-1-4-1 variation, a line up that served him well so far against Brazil and Austria although its defensive qualities remain suspect. After unsuccessfully experimenting with a 4-4-2 as the primarily alternative to the 4-2-3-1 earlier this year this new formation appears a steady compromise of the available personnel without losing much of the firepower offered by his standard formation. Nevertheless, despite the inconsequential nature of the game and the fact that Germany are now unbeaten in 17 matches against Poland, it did underlined some of Germany’s continuing problems and serves as a valuable learning experience for Löw with less than a year until the tournament.
The game served up plenty of chances for both sides from the beginning. Germany’s revised formation upfront is even more attacking than its predecessor and with such an offensive philosophy they are always bound to create goal-scoring chances. Poland coach Smuda, on the other hand, had his side play more cautiously but encouraged quick transitions and direct forward passing when getting the ball. Not many teams will have more ball possession than Germany when facing them, so relentless pressing off the ball and fast counters with it is the best way to expose this German team, and Poland did that quite well throughout the match.
Germany had the first couple of chances though and characteristically started the match with a high intensity tempo. Klose, Rolfes and Lahm were all denied in the first ten minutes by the formidable Szczesney. Every time Germany came forward though they exposed space at the back and on 11 minutes Köln’s own Peszko nearly gave Poland the lead after being played through by Lewandowski, Wiese making the save. The early chance was a sign of things to come, namely, the irresponsible forward runs by Träsch and slow reactions by Mertesacker giving the Poles the most ideal opportunity to score. Just as Germany looked weak in defense, Poland were most vulnerable on their right side. Lahm and Podolski were continuously presented with the space and time to make runs down their left and past Wasilewski. Podolski scored on 24 minutes after being played through by Götze but was called offsides. It was not the first time that Podolski found himself in that position, being waved off by the ref several times throughout the match but his runs behind the backline were indicative of the freedom the player had down that side.
As dangerous as Poland seemed on the counter, they had to rely on their goalkeeper to bail out a seemingly nervous backline as Szczesney continued to deny Germany before half-time. Kroos and Klose both failed to take advantage on the half hour mark with their best chance coming two minutes before the break. Podolski was once again presented with ample space on the right, releasing a shot on goal that Szczesney blocked. The ball fell to the feet of Klose whose rebound was again blocked by the goalkeeper and then sent over the bar the third time around. Germany created the majority of the chances and would have been ahead had it not been for Szczesney’s heroics but they too were vulnerable on the break with Peszko constantly getting behind Träsch and Mertesacker failing to deal with Lewaondowski’s movement.
Löw brought on Schmelzer and Cacau for Lahm and Klose in the second half and Germany picked up where they left off with chances from both Kroos and Cacau just five minutes in. Then against the run of play but in alignment with Germany’s first half deficiencies, Poland took the lead on 55 minutes. Germany were again caught on the break. This time Blaszczykowski played through the oncoming Dudka past the statuesque Mertesacker and Rolfes into Germany’s box, Wiese having to come out and make the challenge. The referee let play continue and Lewandowski picked up the loose ball and gave his side the lead. Finally Germany’s loose defensive organization was punished and predictably so. Löw pulled Podolski and brought on Müller with Schürrle switching over to his more comfortable left. Müller instantly invigorated Germany and won his side a penalty after a great combination play down the right between him and Götze. It was the direct threat Germany had lacked down that side up to then and Kroos calmly converted to level the match.
With the trio of Schürrle, Müller and Götze on the pitch now at the same time and playing in their preferred positions Germany’s attacks looked more fluid and unpredictable. Löw called Götze over with 15 minutes remaining and gave him specific instructions. My guess would be that he told him to play closer to his two wide players. A minute later he laid the ball off to Schürrle whose curling shot forced yet another save from the busiest man on the pitch. A bit subdued before, Götze was now buzzing with Schürrle and Müller playing off him and Poland resorted to fouls to halt the playmaker. Glowacki was shown his second yellow on 81 minutes after taking down Götze, putting Germany in the ideal position to take the game and ending the game in dramatic fashion.
That drama could not have been scripted better by a professional screenwriter. Instead of capitalizing on their momentum, Germany conceded a penalty in the 90th minute. Boateng failed to track a long ball from the back and substitute Brozek was taken down by Wiese. Germany conceded on the break yet again with Blaszczykowski converting what surely looked like the match winner. It all looked over when with the last play of the match Müller picked up the ball and beat Wawrzyniak on the right to set up Cacau’s late equalizer. The blushes were spared.
This game was reminiscent of the Australia match, which Löw used as a template for experimentation. They lost that match so this can be seen as an improvement but similar issues remain. Löw took responsibility for the showing after the match, “It is also my responsibility when so many things do not function, especially when making so many changes.” He did however reinforce the value of a game like this, “Not everything must function perfectly in a test match…we created many chances in the first half…the fact that we came from behind twice shows me that we have other options.” Löw has done well to integrate many of Germany’s young players and their pool of depth has increased exponentially. To maintain their attacking potential amidst changes in personnel is a vital component for a side aiming to be the best in Europe and Germany have proven again that they can create chances and score goals on a consistent basis.
On one hand, Germany are unbeaten in six games and find no difficulties in scoring goals. They have lost only once in nine matches in 2011, that being the friendly against Australia in March. On the other, they have now conceded nine goals in those six matches, a worrying statistic. The constant changes to the backline have no doubt been part of this instability and the sooner Löw decides on a definitive center back pairing and right back the better off Germany will be defensively. It remains to be seen who the most ideal partner is for Hummels and who Löw will prefer on the right. Neither Träsch or Höwedes are natural right backs and while Andreas Beck is a viable options it appears as if Löw could favor Boateng there instead going forward.
Moreover, the 4-1-4-1 optimizes the plethora of attacking players Germany has as its’ disposal but it also leaves them short on the break, as evidenced numerous times against Brazil, Austria and Poland. Rolfes struggled by himself against Poland and Kroos’s role still does not seem clearly defined. With such a formation the first line of defense must be the attack and midfielders and thus it might also prove useful to utilize Schürrle from the start considering his defensive qualities. Löw has a lot to ponder but the team has progressed well since the World Cup and their options have now doubled. There are worse things than having too much talent to work with and if Löw puts the missing pieces together the “favorites” tag will not be far off.
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