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World Cup: Which strikers does Germany need in Qatar?

Jasmine Baba
October 31, 2022

With less than two weeks until Hansi Flick announces Germany's 2022 World Cup squad, one question remains: Which strikers should be on the plane to Qatar?

Thomas Müller, Niclas Füllkrug and Phillip Tietz
Can Thomas Müller, Niclas Füllkrug or Phillip Tietz solve Germany's number nine problem?

To understand the discussion around Germany's need for a number nine you have to go back to when Miroslav Klose retired.

Klose's profile fitted that of a poacher: a player who has a great sense of where the ball is going to end up in the penalty area for a goal-scoring chance, is clinical in front of goal, and a presence in the box.

But after Klose retired, players in this role in Germany weren't really developed anymore due to the way coaches like Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel used strikers in the Bundesliga at the time (around 2014). The knock-on effect of this approach was a change to the way youth players in forward roles were taught and what coaches were looking for.

Germany and the number 9

This has led to an influx of deep-running strikers who use speed, dribbling or running into the box to create a goal-scoring chance. Furthermore, unlike strikers like Klose, these new-age forwards collect the ball before facing the last line of the opposition defence. Examples of players like this are Timo Werner, Karim Adeyemi and, to an extent, Youssoufa Moukoko, Lukas Nmecha and Serge Gnabry.

Gnabry has played as Germany's number nine more than others, as he is efficient in tight spaces and is a dangerous attacking threat; however, he lacks the physical presence required and at times it feels like he is forced into the role.

While the ability of these players is beyond question, their profile is a problem for Germany.

When a strong team faces an opponent with less individual quality, it tends to be up against a lower-block defence. This offers the superior team less space to exploit and forces use of the ball during phases of possession rather than breaking from quick transitions.

While Thomas Müller is capable of leading the line, it's only in terms of pressing. His type of movement is completely different to what Flick needs to break down a defensive team while in possession. His roaming style forces him out of position as he drops onto the wings or in the half-spaces, and he also lacks the physicality to hold up play.

This is one of Germany's current problems, and while some of the names already mentioned will be in Germany's World Cup squad, there are plenty of other players who offer something different.

Breaking the mould

Niclas Füllkrug is the most obvious candidate. The 29-year-old has improved since Werder Bremen's return to the Bundesliga and this season he has led the league in scoring on more than one occasion.

Füllkrug's role can be best described as a roaming target-man who holds up play effectively in a possessional-based format. The Werder man is also technically gifted enough to drop in between the opponent's lines and create for himself and others. He offers a big box presence, specifically in aerial duels. His aerial threat is more effective than most and a third of his goals this season have come from headers.

It's telling that most of the forwards who have the qualities Germany lack play in the country's second division. Nevertheless, some of these players have made great strides in the last 18 months.

Phillip Tietz joined Darmstadt last season and has been one of their leading goal threats ever since. The 25-year-old offers a big box presence, is a clinical finisher and can deliver link-up play too. He also has a pressing side to his game, which is suited to Germany head coach Hansi Flick's style of play. All of this was best seen in Darmstadt's German Cup win against Borussia Mönchengladbach in October 2022.

Heidenheim's Tim Kleindienst is another really good link-up striker who, like Tietz, is effective in a possessional-based philosophy and is clinical despite having less quality positions to shoot from.

Paderborn's Felix Platte is a very direct and vertical striker with good awareness of when to arrive in the penalty area and again, like all good poachers, the 26-year-old is a very clinical finisher. Hamburg's Robert Glatzel also has a profile that fits, but is more wasteful in front of goal than others.

Time to go with the trend

With a host of big European clubs returning to a clinical out-and-out goalscorer as their striker — see Manchester City with Erling Haaland, Real Madrid with Karim Benzema and even Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting offering Bayern Munich a more sustainable Robert Lewandowski replacement — Germany might struggle at the World Cup again if they don't follow the trend.