Is the False 9 and the Strikerless Formation the Future of the German National Team?

World Cup qualifying resumes for Germany this week with back to back fixtures against Kazakhstan.  Alongside resuming their journey to Brazil, the next couple of games may also signal a significant tactical shift in the team’s development.  For the first time in over a 100 years, Germany could line up without a recognized striker in a competitive game.

For well over a year now the debate over whether the German national team should switch systems and move into the direction of the strikerless formation ala Spain has been bandied around the media and circles of avid supporters.  Spain’s success at the EUROs last year, along with Barcelona’s continued success at club level, combined with Germany’s second exit at the semi finals of a major international tournament in four years only fueled the discussion.

The increasing pressure and a seeming need to at least a try another direction may finally culminate in Germany’s first competitive match without a true out and out striker.  Leading up to the Kazakhstan games, national team coach Joachim Löw was very vocal about seriously considering the change, “I’ve been considering the idea for a while.” The first dabbling in a strikerless formation came in a friendly against the Netherlands last year and again in their 2-1 win against France in a friendly last month.  Those were both friendlies though and whenever the issue came up Löw seemed to tiptoe around it.

External trends in the game coupled with a plethora of talented and versatile attackers are making a strong case for the switch in tactics, however.  Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze was used up top against the Netherlands and Mesut Özil played up front by himself for a large portion of the France game in February, and in Marco Reus, Thomas Müller and Özil, Löw has several options that could easily occupy the role.  With a recognized striker like veteran Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez on the pitch, players like Götze and Reus have often found themselves on the fringes unable to contribute optimally.

The move would theoretically give the team a new degree of unpredictability and chemistry and optimize the many attacking options and outlets on the squad. “The idea is to have different players go up front who of course have to look to finish and be threats in front of goal,” said Löw in the press conference on Thursday.  While the Netherlands game at the end of last year did not make a great case for the formation, the France result was a much more positive indicator of what the change can offer.

In that game, Mario Gomez started the game and Germany struggled to really play at their best.  It was not until Gomez came off around the hour mark and Özil pushed forward that Germany really started to click.  Sure enough, they came from behind and recorded their first win against France in over 26 years. The team’s link-up improved and the players found each other quicker and more effectively in the build up.

“In the first half we lacked the final pass in attack.  Later, the French lost their organization defensively.  We always built our attacks outside the box,” Löw said satisfyingly after the game.  It wasn’t the first time that the team’s performance improved when the recognized striker came off and the shape became more organic and amorphous.  In the team’s friendly against Argentina last year the same pattern was obvious when Klose came off and Reus played a central role for the remainder of the game.

More and more the discussion seems to be shifting away from, “Klose or Gomez?” to “Who will be Germany’s False 9?” The change in narrative is not definitive though, nor does it suggest a complete and final departure from the norm.  Rather, it is an expansion in options.  Like Vicente Del Bosque’s decision to switch to the strikerless formation going into the EUROs, Löw and Germany too would benefit from tactical variety and the ability to switch things up when necessary.

“It is not that I want to get rid of strikers.  I merely said that it is good if your opponent does not have to always prepare against just one type of player.  Obviously we are happy to have strikers like Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose in the team,” Löw clarified in front of reporters at the press conference.  Indeed, Gomez and Klose still have significant roles to play for Germany but the nature of international football, and its fleeting and inconsistent schedule, demands a degree of foresight.  In this case that means experimenting and progressing with a strikerless formation.

The tactical direction of the team seems more obvious than it was a year ago, and it is a welcome decision that will undoubtedly benefit the team in the long run.  The only question that remains is who that player will be.  Mario Götze has played it with the national team and for his club this season so he would be a clear frontrunner but Müller and Reus’ goal instincts are as good as many strikers.  Müller meanwhile may be the best choice of the bunch because there are few more unpredictable players out there than the Bayern attacker.

Either way, the next couple of games should be very revealing as far as the direction of the national team is concerned.  And with the World Cup a little over a year away, time is running out for Löw to get creative and expand on the team’s game plan.  If a strikerless formation can mean the difference between reaching and winning a final and another semi-final exit, it’s time well spent.

Header courtesy of (c) DAPD

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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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