November 24, 2017

Sweden 0 – 0 Germany – Experimentation yields underwhelming yet productive stalemate

Not too long after the World Cup Germany’s head coach Joachim Loew announced that the friendly against Sweden would be used as a testing ground for new players.  A week prior to the match he confirmed that the Borrusia Dortmund quartet Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer, Mario Goetze and Kevin Grosskreutz would get a chance along with the impressive Mainz duo Lewis Holtby and Andre Schuerrle.  Mainz and Dortmund have easily been the two most impressive clubs in the short Bundesliga season so far so including its best German players was a logical step.  It also allowed Loew to rest key players like Lahm, Mertesacker, Podolski, Oezil and Klose.  As a whole, nine changes were made from the eleven that started in South Africa this summer with only the midfield tandem of Khedira and Schweinsteiger remaining in place.   The question became how those new faces would be integrated and how the overhaul would affect the team’s overall performance.

Youth and inexperience sets the tone

With so many changes it was always going to be difficult for Germany to replicate the fluidity and chemistry on display this summer.  Loew lined up with the well-established 4-2-3-1 with Holtby stepping into Oezil’s role, a role that has since his debut become crucial to the team’s function and style.  From the start, Holtby seemed a little overwhelmed by what was asked of him.  The fact that the front four never played together did not help matters much either and that made it easy for Sweden to stifle much of what Germany threw at them.  Oezil dictates the tempo of a match with his instincts and vision so well that it creates a domino effect throughout the rest of the team and effectively makes everyone’s job much easier.  Without that cerebral functionality, Germany’s attacking game suffers.  It is no slight on Holtby or his talent as he did get more involved as the game progressed and worked hard for the team but simply a consequence of inexperience and circumstance.

Jerome Boateng, deputizing for the absent Lahm, was eager to get forward early on and provided much of Germany’s attacking impetus but as was the case throughout much of the game, the attack broke down in the final third as the final ball either failed to find its man or players misread each other.  Grosskreutz also failed to substitute for Mueller effectively and was more erratic than productive.   As a result Gomez was isolated and lacked the service and link up a striker his type needs to be effective.

Effective Swedish defense stifles German intent

Sweden was also very content to sit back and absorb whatever pressure Germany applied.  They too lined up with a 4-2-3-1 but its execution was more reactive than proactive.  The English journalist and tactics guru Jonathan Wilson recently wrote that formations are essentially neutral and its application is what ultimately differentiates from others like it on the pitch.

In this case Sweden pulled most of its men back into its own half to frustrate Germany’s natural gameplan, which is to constantly get forward and move the ball up as quickly as possible.  Sweden wanted to draw Germany out and pounce on any mistakes they made.  More than not, two or three Swedish players convened on one German player.  Doing so also plugged the channels Germany likes to exploit and left creative players like Holtby and Marin without tangible options.  As a whole, Sweden did well to stifle Germany’s passing game and effectively neutralize them despite being pinned back for most of the match.

Changes in the second half to little effect

Loew brought on Beck, Kroos, Traesch, Cacau, Schuerrle and Goetze in the second half but none of the changes mattered much as Sweden kept their shape well and defended with discipline while Germany ran into the same problems they faced in the first half.   Germany became more urgent towards the end of the match but the more eager they became the less refined their game was and sloppier their passing and touches.

Defensively, Germany’s backline had little to do over the course of the match and when challenged, Hummels and Westermann dealt formidably while the fullbacks never compromised their positions.

Success in spite of result

There are no definitive conclusions to be drawn from this match.  As a whole, it served its purpose in providing new faces with their first cap and a feel for the national side.  Loew was satisfied with the energetic performance of his young team and accepted that it was always going to be a matter of patience throughout the match.  Suffice to say, we will see many of these faces again soon, and rightfully so.

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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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