Germany vs. Kazakhstan: Lessons Learned from Die Mannschaft's Win in Nurnberg
Germany won their second match against Kazakhstan in a span of four days on Tuesday, as they earned a 4-1 victory at the Frankenstadion in Nurnberg. The result left the Mannschaft eight points clear of Austria, Sweden and Ireland in Group C of UEFA's World Cup qualifiers.
Marco Reus opened the scoring on 23 minutes, and Mario Gotze added a second four minutes later. In the 31st minute, Ilkay Gundogan made it 3-0, and the DFB team entered half-time in full control.
Heinrich Schmidtgal capitalized on an error from Manuel Neuer as he scored at the start of the second half. However, the Furth man's strike would prove to be a mere consolation goal. Reus sealed Germany's victory at the death, adding a fourth.
Tuesday's fixture may have been a mismatch in terms of quality, but Joachim Low's tactical and personal selection, coupled with events on the field, meant that there were some very interesting talking points to take from the game. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a full analysis.
Toni Kroos' International Future Is Uncertain
There is no questioning that Toni Kroos is an excellent footballer who would start for nearly any national team. The 23-year-old has phenomenal delivery, especially shooting and passing over long distances. And yet, it's becoming increasingly questionable exactly where he could fit into the Germany team even as a second choice.
One great problem Kroos faces is tactical. The player, who missed Germany's recent qualifiers due to a minor knock, would be ideal as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation, but none of the three central positions in the 4-2-3-1 that Germany coach Joachim Low uses suits him.
Kroos lacks the physical strength and defensive qualities required to play in defensive midfield; Louis van Gaal's failed experiment at Bayern with him and Bastian Schweinsteiger as holding partners is a perfect example.
The ex-Hansa Rostock man has made a name for himself as a central playmaker at Bayern, but competition in the national team is greater in that position.
Until this year, Kroos was always the man to replace Bastian Schweinsteiger as a holding midfielder in Joachim Low's team. The trainer highly rated the former Leverkusen loanee and even started him in place of Sami Khedira in some experiments.
Khedira has since nailed down a permanent role; his muscle in midfield has greatly benefited the German team in terms of balance. And Ilkay Gundogan, who plays in a holding midfield role at Dortmund and has been superb for Germany in 2013, now seems to have displaced Kroos for the role of vice-Schweinsteiger.
In the central playmaking role, Mesut Ozil is first choice. Behind him is the increasingly brilliant Mario Gotze, who, despite playing in a forward role as of late, is naturally a playmaker and could drop back. If Ozil is off and Gotze plays as the No. 10, Marco Reus can move into the central striker role as Andre Schurrle, Lukas Podolski or Julian Draxler is brought on to play on the left wing. Another option is to keep Reus on the wing and use Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez in the center of attack.
It would be foolish to write off Kroos this early in his career, but the Bayern man faces an increasingly difficult struggle as he looks to reclaim a role in the German national team. He will have to adapt his game and develop himself further if he is to earn more minutes for Low's team. Right now, he just doesn't offer enough.
Champions League Has Solidifed Dortmund Stars as International-Class
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Tuesday's match was settled by half-time, as Germany went into the break with a 3-0 lead. Looking at the scorers, one might have mistaken the match for a Dortmund Bundesliga fixture: Marco Reus opened the scoring, and Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan followed up with a strike apiece. At the end of a frustrating second half that saw numerous good chances either saved or rebound off the woodwork, Reus added a fourth as the DFB team won 4-1.
Four Dortmund players (the aforementioned scorers, plus Marcel Schmelzer) started Tuesday's match, as many as represented Bayern. In the past, Bayern have carried the national team; consistency and experience at a high level have made them comfortably better choices than any others.
However, the BVB contingent greatly impressed on Tuesday: They all looked comfortable and carried the team in attack. In addition to the goals, they accounted for three of the six shots that struck the woodwork.
Gotze and Reus combined with Mesut Ozil for some stunning passing sequences; the ex-Gladbach man's two goals were key to securing the result, while the 20-year-old Gotze looked strong for a second consecutive game in the role of central striker.
Gundogan was phenomenal in the role typically occupied by the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger and added another dimension in the attacking third. He dictated the flow of play in midfield (his 143 touches and 115 completed passes led all players), but also scored and assisted a goal apiece and struck the woodwork twice.
In defense, Marcel Schmelzer had another strong performance on the left flank; until a young prospect emerges who can play the role, it seems the left-back position is apparently his.
A year ago, Dortmund's players struggled to fit into the German squad. But training in Joachim Low's system and experience in the Champions League have made them reliable, solid international players. Reus, Gotze, Gundogan, Schmelzer and Mats Hummels are becoming every bit as important to the German national team as Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Holger Badstuber.
Size Only Matters in the Box If You Play the Ball in the Air
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After using Mario Gotze as the attacking focal point of his squad on Friday, Joachim Low was asked at a press conference whether he intended to always play without a striker. The coach replied (via Bundesliga.com): "There will always be a need for a striker. It’s entirely not the case that I’m abolishing the use of strikers in this team."
Some may have interpreted Low's statement as a renouncement of his plan to use Gotze in the center of attack once more. But instead, Low dismissed the role as being that of a "false" striker. Gotze was a real striker in both matches against Kazakhstan, just a different type from the classic No. 9.
Gotze scored in both matches against Kazakhstan, each being typical of a poacher. In the first, he was in the right place at the right time to fire home from a loose ball. On Tuesday, he toe-poked home a cross after Philipp Lahm tore through the Kazakh defense. Both goals would have been typical of Mario Gomez.
At 5'9", Gotze is a rather small center forward, and he is of course poor in the air. But what he lacks in heading ability, he makes up for in technique, creativity, quickness and agility. He could have scored several more goals on Tuesday—now all he needs to do is work on his finishing.
Manuel Neuer Has Declined Since Leaving Schalke
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These days, Manuel Neuer rarely has much work to do. The goalkeeper has Europe's most successful defense in front of him at club level; Bayern Munich have conceded just 11 times in the Bundesliga this season. A year ago, the Bavarians allowed just 22 goals, one more than the league's record.
It's very difficult for a player to remain focused when he has so little work to do, and Neuer has certainly shown lapses in concentration—sometimes even boredom—since moving to Bayern in the summer of 2011.
On Tuesday, the goalkeeper tried to be a bit too cheeky inside his own box: He received a pass and, instead of clearing immediately, tried to dribble between two opposing players. A heavy touch saw him concede possession, and Heinrich Schmidtgal fired home a consolation goal for Kazakhstan.
Neuer's error on Tuesday was no anomaly. In a recent Champions League match against Arsenal, he came off his line and was caught nowhere near the ball, allowing the weakest of headers to sail into the net. Last season, a pair of silly errors cost Bayern dearly against Gladbach, who beat them twice in the Bundesliga.
The class of a player is determined by more than just his greatest mistake, but Neuer clearly is having focus problems that are affecting his game. Before he left Schalke, he had a woeful defense ahead of him but thrived under pressure.
Neuer's masterclass against Manchester United in 2011 was hailed by Sir Alex Ferguson as "The best [Ferguson has] ever seen" (per The Week). Later that year, Gianluigi Buffon openly admitted Neuer was the world's best goalkeeper. It's been quite some time since Neuer has earned such praise, and for good reason: He's no longer the world's best goalkeeper.