September 26, 2017

Switzerland 5 – 3 Germany – Goal fest shows work left to be done for Löw

Germany lost against Switzerland for the first time in 56 years in one of two preparation matches ahead of the upcoming EUROs. A hattrick of goals and assists from Bundesliga players Eren Derdiyok and Tranquilo Barnetta, and two from Lichtsteiner and Mehmedi topped off the biggest defeat yet for Germany under Joachim Löw. Germany’s goals came thanks to Hummels, Schürrle and Reus but theirs were mere consolation goals in a performance littered with defensive errors and erroneous play, highlighting the much needed work that still needs to be done before the tournament.

Lineups and Formations

With the Bayern München contingent yet to join the training camp, Löw fielded a somewhat experimental and makeshift lineup, handing Marc-Andre ter Stegen his international debut and starting Götze and Özil together for the first time. The inclusion of both playmakers meant a deviation from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1, both playing a central yet mobile and interchangeable role. Mertesacker and Klose, both trying to regain fitness, were given a start as well with Schürrle starting on the right for the first time.

Even thought it was a friendly it was interesting to see how Löw’s ad-hoc team performed against a Swiss team coached by a man all too familiar with German football. Hitzfeld’s formation was a bit harder to identify. In attack it was clearly a 4-2-3-1 but the two wide men, Barnetta and Mehmedi, along with future Borussia Mönchengladbach player Xhaka often dropped into a 5 man midfield. That tactical nuance proved vital in their win.

The Match

Germany started a lot more positively than they finished and showed some neat combination play on the right between Özil, Götze and Schürrle, particularly in tight spaces. It was a promising sign that both Özil and Götze could indeed play together. Of the two, Götze was tasked with more of the defensive duties, especially in Schweinsteiger’s absence, but his tendency to drift forward and out right along with the fact that he is still recovering from an injury that kept him out for half the season had detrimental effects on the rest of the team. Khedira was on his own for much of the first half and was quite easily overwhelmed by a compact and well coordinated Swiss midfield. The Swiss improved especially the more Inler and Fernandez imposed themselves on the match, the two won a combined 28 duels in the match, more than any other players on the pitch.

Switzerland’s’ strength in midfield was mirrored by Germany’s weakness at the back, one quite obviously affecting the other. Because Germany’s attacking game was seemingly stuck, all the impetus fell to the Swiss who had an easy time against a discombobulated and indecisive German defense. Höwedes, naturally a center back, struggled against Barnetta in the first half while Schmelzer’s touch and positioning often let him down on the left. Mertesacker, who in all fairness is still recovering from a long term injury, had one of his worst outings in a Germany kit.
Their first goal came after Fernandez dispossessed Götze, gave it to Barnetta who stormed forward and played a ball between Mertesacker and Höwedes to an open Derdiyok. Their second came under similar circumstances. Barnetta again picked out Derdiyok who beat both Schmelzer and Mertesacker in the air to double the lead. Hummels pulled one back before the break after Özil’s free kick but it was not enough to mask a questionable performance, both uninspired and full of unnecessary errors.

Challenges won by both sides

The second half was much of the same. Switzerland won a free kick five minutes into the half and Barnetta’s delivery was once again met by Derdiyok, who beat Mertesacker all too easily to round off a superb hattrick. It was the first time since Michael Owen in 2001 that a player scored three against Germany. Löw meanwhile brought on Gündogan and Reus for Khedira and Özil at half time. The move added some stability in midfield thanks to Gündogan’s retention game and Reus’ dynamism but the backline still lacked concentration or the requisite discipline to balance their talented attack. Höwedes’ performance improved, the Schalke player getting forward more and thereby limiting Barnetta’s influence, something that needed to be done earlier. The visitors again pulled a goal back but this one down more to individual skill than competent teamwork. Schürrle took advantage of a failed clearance and released a powerful shot with an unpredictable swerve that beat Benaglio.

In Germany’s haste to equalize they inadvertently opened themselves up more. Their play was often rushed and their passes misplaced (54 total mispasses at the end). Switzerland just had to bide their time, wait for German defenders to be out of position and pick their pass. Inler did just that in the 67th minute when he picked out Lichtsteiner with a beautiful lob, the Juventus right back rose between Ter Stegen and Schmelzer to head it in the net. Germany were caught too easily yet again. Germany again pulled a goal back after the energetic Draxler, who had come on for Podolski, cut inside from the left and released a shot which Reus capitalized on for his first international goal after a rebound.

For all of Germany’s attacking talent, it was just not enough to compensate for a poor defensive display. Not only were Germany beaten easily in the air in open play, they also struggled to defend set pieces. Switzerland took a well executed free kick in the 77th minute which Germany failed to clear. Instead, Mehmedi scored Switzerland’s fifth. In the end it was a well deserved win for a more organized and purposeful Switzerland. Hitzfeld’s team was stronger in their duels (winning 59% of all challenges in the first half) and switched tempos effectively, knowing when to sit back and attack.

Passing statistics

Final Verdict

In contrast to Switzerland’s performance, Germany were poor in almost all areas of the pitch and most notably in defense. The build up out of the back was particularly poor, Mertesacker and Hummels not having much of an outlet in midfield and two fullbacks who were unsure of themselves, leading to several turnovers (23 giveaways from the starting backline by the end of the match). Moreover, defensive support was lacking, particularly on Schmelzer’s side from Podolski, as well as in the center of the pitch where Khedira was often left hung out to dry. It was also the worst possible debut imaginable for Ter Stegen, the last goalkeeper to concede more than 3 goals in his first match was Heinrich Kwiatkowski against Hungary in the 1954 World Cup.

Germany’s defense has been a problem area for several years now, something that Löw will have to address and continue to work on if they are to have a realistic shot at winning the EUROs this summer. The lack of preparation time is not helpful though. Löw has yet to decide on his first choice backline and has one more game to iron out the kinks, that being the upcoming friendly against Israel on Thursday.

The Swiss won’t be at the EUROs this summer but have a very young talented squad that is continually improving. Under Hitzfeld, they have now beaten both Spain and Germany and got draws against Italy and the Netherlands, a promising sign ahead of the World Cup qualifiers beginning later this year.

Reactions

Ottmar Hitzfeld: “We were lucky to have withstood the first quarter of an hour because Germany were fantastic in that spell.  I don’t think that Jogi Löw will be so attack minded at the EUROs.  But there has to be some experimentation, to try something different. I am confident that Germany will have a good showing at the EUROs.  The Bayern players will regain form in time for the tournament as well.  Sometimes you fall down but in that case you just have to get up again.”

Joachim Löw: “One cannot be satisfied with this result. After the intense training I knew that we wouldn’t have fresh legs.  There were many mistakes. We now have two weeks to work at it.  The reaction will be much better, of that I am sure. So much happened in this match that I need to regroup now.  The team never played together in this formation and the things they did wrong as a team, we simply have to work at.  Marc-Andre ter Stegen shouldn’t keep his head down after this.”

Miroslav Klose: ” Such a performance cannot be explained.  We should not look for excuses though.  This is purely down to mentality.  We just weren’t in it as a team.  Our legs were heavy, the weather was hot. Something like that must be overcome.  We didn’t manage to keep the Swiss under pressure.  Personally I didn’t have any trouble running.”

Julian Draxler: “Naturally I expected something different.  I don’t think anyone expected that we would concede five goals.  But we can’t give up now and have to believe in our own abilities.”

Per Mertesacker: ” One has to keep working harder at things otherwise we won’t do well at the EUROs, but I am optimistic.  There is still room for improvement with my fitness.  This was a very valuable learning experience, you could see that some things didn’t work.  The whole team had big problems but fortunately we  have a little more time to work on things.”

Mats Hummels: “Very few things worked defensively.  The game was filled with uncertainty.  One could see that the inexperience and lack of match practice in this team but things like this happen.  Better now than on June 9th though against Portugal.  I could certainly have done better on the first goal.”
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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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