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A historic tactical step

Dave RaishMarch 24, 2013

Germany have grabbed the attention of pundits with Joachim Löw fielding a striker-less lineup against Kazakhstan. After a decisive 3-0 win the question is, have Germany found their formation for the future?

Germany's Mario Goetze (R) vies for the ball with Kazakhstan's Heinrich Schmidtgal (C) and Alexandr Kirov during the FIFA World Cup 2014 qualification group C soccer match between Kazakhstan and Germany at Astana Arena in Astana, Kazakhstan, 22 March 2013. Photo: Fredrik von Erichsen/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Playing without a true forward was something Germany had experimented with before, though never for 90 minutes in a World Cup qualifier. But with Mirsolav Klose and Mario Gomez injured (and Coach Joachim Löw's decision to ignore Bayer Leverkusen's Steffan Kiessling), Friday night against Kazakhstan was the perfect opportunity to try something new.

Striker-less, Löw started Mario Götze up front in what is often referred to as the "false nine" role, with the attacking midfield three of Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Julian Draxler just behind him.

Football's in-vogue formation

The false nine formation has been around for some time, but gained widespread notoriety after Vicente del Bosque used it during Spain's successful run to the Euro 2012 title. In the final against Italy, del Bosque left traditional strikers like Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente on the bench and started midfielder Cesc Fabregas in the false nine role on the way to a dominant 4-0 victory.

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 10: Cesc Fabregas of Spain celebrates scoring their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Spain and Italy at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Fabregas helped Spain to Euro 2012 victory as a false nineImage: Getty Images

More and more teams around Europe are using the false nine formation. At the club level, Barcelona's Lionel Messi has become the poster boy for the position. The Argentine striker will often drop deeper into the midfield and use his excellent passing repertoire to find teammates like Pedro or Alexis Sanchez, who are cutting in from the wing.

Several sides in the Bundesliga have at times experimented with the role in some form, including Borussia Dortmund. While Robert Lewandowski is indisputably a true striker, his ability to drop deep and find attacking midfielders like Reus and Götze is one of the reasons Dortmund's varied attack is so feared. That ability to link with his midfielders is also reportedly a big reason Bayern Munich are looking to sign the Polish forward as a replacement for the much more one-dimensional Gomez.

Rating Kazakhstan

By most accounts, Germany did quite well against Kazakhstan considering they were venturing into uncharted territory. Although Götze started the match as the Germans' forward-most player, by virtue of the new formation he was behind the attack on the buildup to all three goals.

It was that deep position that allowed him to get on the end of Germany's second goal when the ball popped out towards the top of the box. On the third goal, Götze moved outside the area to send a pass in to Özil, who crossed to Müller to finish off the match. 

GettyImages 164296314 ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN - MARCH 22: Thomas Mueller (C) of Germany celebrates scoring the 4th team goal with his team mates Mesut Oezil (L) and Mario Goetze (R) during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier group C match between Kazakhstan and Germany at Astana Arena on March 22, 2013 in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Özil, Müller and Götze combined to score Germany's third against KazakhstanImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Götze, Özil and Müller (as well as Andre Schürrle, who came off the bench Friday) are all dynamic players who have the ability to move seamlessly around the pitch and occupy a number of different spaces. Those attributes are essential to successfully implement the false nine system, as Spain's Fabregas, Andreas Iniesta and David Silva proved during the Euros. 

When Marco Reus and Toni Kroos are added to the mix for Germany, Löw's options and variability in attacking third will only be boosted

The way of the future?

Many supporters will no doubt be calling for Germany to adopt this new formation full-time in future. It allows Löw to field popular young players like Götze, Reus and Schürrle simultaneously alongside Özil and Müller.

More than that, it means Gomez would be benched, something a loud contingent of Germany fans have been lobbying in favor of for quite some time. Despite his incredible efficiency - three goals from his first 22 seconds of possession at Euro 2012 - some critics don't believe Gomez does enough by just scoring goals.

Germany's Mario Gomez celebrates after scoring against Israel during their friendly soccer match in Leipzig May 31, 2012. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)
Could Germany's new formation push Gomez out of the Germany squad?Image: Reuters

It is difficult to see Germany's new formation becoming the norm for the remaining qualifying matches. Aside from a home fixture against Kazakhstan on Tuesday, Germany don't play another competitive match until September - and one would think barring the unforeseen one of Klose or Gomez will be on that roster. Löw is also a coach who sticks by his mainstays, and Klose and Gomez are certainly that.

Room for maneuver

What Germany's upcoming games do provide, though, is more room to experiment. After the Kazakhstan qualifier, the Germans have three summer friendlies against Ecuador, the United States and Paraguay.

Löw and his players have not said the false-nine formation is the way of the future for Germany, but they understand that, as Bastian Schweinsteiger put it, "it has advantages and disadvantages."

Götze called the system an "option to vary" the team.

"It makes us unpredictable," he said.

That unpredictability might be just what Germany need to regain their status as Europe's most dominant team. Most importantly it could give them the tactical repertoire to rival Spain, who have eliminated them from two of the last three major tournaments.