What can Joachim Löw learn from the international break? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.03.2019
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What can Joachim Löw learn from the international break?

The rebooted German national team achieved a statement result against the Netherlands, but also revealed weaknesses in both of their matches. What can head coach Joachim Löw take from the latest international break?

Strikers aren't always neccessary

Löw has long been seen as a rigid tactician, a state of mind helped by the players at his disposal over the years. But after another wasteful performance from Timo Werner against Serbia on Wednesday night, he decided to shake things up against the Netherlands on Sunday and play Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry (pictured, top), both naturally wingers, as a split front two.

It worked to devastating effect in the first half, with the propensity of both players to start their runs from deep and/or wide positions causing confusion in the Dutch defense and making even Virgil van Dijk look uncomfortable. While Leon Goretzka was the man tasked with splitting the two from midfield on Sunday, that's also a role that Mario Götze and Marco Reus could fill.

As has often been the case in recent years Germany have a lot more high class attacking midfielders than they do center forwards - a major downside to the country's otherwise much-vaunted academy system. But Sane and Gnabry can stretch defenses and their pace provides a genuine counterattcking threat, something Germany have often lacked and a potentially potent weapon against the better sides.

Kehrer doesn't look quite ready, Gündogan does

There's little doubting Thilo Kehrer's potential - few get a €40 million move to Paris-Saint Germain without  having something about them - but he's come up short on the big stage twice this month. His jittery start and poor backpass started the rot that eventually saw Manchester United knock PSG out of the Champions League and he also struggled at times on Wednesday.

Ryan Babel escpaes the attentions of Thilo Kehrer to test Manuel Neuer (picture-alliance/Ges/M.I. Güngör)

Ryan Babel escpaes the attentions of Thilo Kehrer to test Manuel Neuer

The right wing-back role hides Kehrer's propensity to switch off more than when he plays further infield but his lapses of concentration can still prove costly. When the Netherlands roared back into the game on Wednesday, clawing back a two-goal deficit after half time only to lose 3-2 in the last minute, a lot of attacks came down Kehrer's side - including the equalizer - but the 22-year-old failed to adapt to the danger.

Joshua Kimmich looks a more complete option in that position and, though he has his own defensive shortcomings, he's also one of the world's best crossers and exceptional on the ball. Moving Kimmich to right wing-back would also open up a central midfield spot for Ilkay Gündogan.

The former Borussia Dortmund man played well on Wednesday and wore the captain's armband but was dropped on Sunday. However, a brilliant piece of footwork under pressure and a perfectly judged through-ball to Marco Reus set up the late winner against the Netherlands. Gündogan is largely injury-free for the first time in a while and starting to hit the heights again at Manchester City. He can do the same for Germany.

Kroos still has a part to play

All three 2014 World Cup winners in Germany's current squad started against the Dutch, with Joachim Löw's 'new Germany' still relying on a few familiar faces, including the one in the dugout. While Manuel Neuer's place is under threat from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and his own poor season and Matthias Ginter feels like a permanent stopgap, Kroos was described by his national team coach as "indispensable" ahead of the the Netherlands game.

Toni Kroos is one of few survivors from the team that won the 2014 World Cup (imago)

Toni Kroos is one of few survivors from the team that won the 2014 World Cup

Despite a difficult campaign with Real Madrid, Kroos is still one of the best passers in world football and at 29, and with a game built on intelligence and playmaking rather than pace, seems to still have enough left in the tank. He controlled the tempo against the Dutch in the first half, bossing Frenkie de Jong, the young Ajax prodigy set for Barcelona, before fading a little with his team in the second. But the moment he took a difficult ball on his chest before setting Nico Schulz free to create Leroy Sane's opener was evidence of his enduring class.

Pace is non-negotiable

Of all the changes since the World Cup, the most critical - as simple as it sounds - has been an injection of pace. As well as Sané and Gnabry, Kehrer, Nico Schulz, Niklas Süle, Antonio Rüdiger and Leon Goretzka are all quicker than the players they've replaced, meaning Germany can now pose a serious threat on the counterattack in a way the World Cup side just couldn't. Methodical, possession-based play has given way to a quicker and less controlled style. It already looks more exciting, now it's a question of whether it can keep getting results.

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