5 Things Germany Coach Joachim Low Should Experiment with vs. Chile
Germany take on Chile in Stuttgart on Wednesday in what will be the first friendly match of the 2014 calendar year for both sides. The contestants will aim to test their sharpness as they prepare for this summer's World Cup.
Joachim Low has taken the chance to call up a quartet of previously uncapped players: Matthias Ginter, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Andre Hahn and Shkodran Mustafi. He also has recalled Kevin Grosskreutz after a lengthy absence from the national team.
With so many newcomers in his squad and no consequence for any result in the match, there is plenty of room for Low to experiment. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a look at five ways the Bundestrainer can and ought to experiment in the Chile match.
Try Lahm in Midfield, Grosskreutz at Right-Back
For much of his career, Philipp Lahm has been well-known as one of the world's best full-backs. Last season was the best of his career: The Bayern captain was outstanding individually and as a leader as the Bavarians won the treble. But this season, he has played almost exclusively in midfield. And as the World Cup approaches, Low would be wise to consider him in a holding role in a Germany side that has few alternatives.
Sami Khedira will not have played competitive football for half a year heading into the World Cup following surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament. Ilkay Gundogan's return date is still unknown; he's played just a handful of games since last May. Bastian Schweinsteiger has chronic ankle problems and has completed the full 90 minutes in just seven games this season. And although Toni Kroos is having a remarkable campaign, he has often proven a defensive liability for Germany. He's done much better this season with Lahm by his side.
Lahm has no peers at right-back, but that position is somewhat limited in terms of its influence over a game. He may not be the very best central midfielder in the game, but he is world-class in that position. And holding midfield is where Germany need such a level of quality and one that allows him to be a key figure over the course of 90 minutes; it would be almost a waste to see a player of Lahm's quality used as a part-time defender and auxiliary attacker.
Germany have little depth behind Lahm at right-back, with none of Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes and Lars Bender having won Low's favor. This may in part be due to the fact that none of the aforementioned has played right-back at club level for extended periods of time. But Kevin Grosskreutz has, at least this season. And to his credit, the converted midfielder has done quite well.
Grosskreutz is a tireless runner whose technique is underwhelming for an attacking player but acceptable for a defender. He has great pace and a sturdy build; his physical attributes have helped him develop his defensive game to the point that now he is a reliable player for Dortmund. By this point he's worth a try for Germany.
Use Ginter in Midfield
Although he's best known for his play at center-back, Matthias Ginter has often played in defensive midfield this season, the position he was trained to play in his youth. A 20-year-old with no Champions League experience is unlikely to start at the World Cup and is an especially improbable pick in central defense, but he could be useful in midfield.
One problem Low has had in the past is a lack of defensive quality in midfield. The presence of the extremely physical Khedira has always been important. In spite of his young age, Ginter is near-unbeatable in the air and tackles like a center-back. And he's not exactly poor on the ball either; in fact, he's played both in attacking midfield and as a striker during his still-young professional career.
With Khedira unlikely to be fully fit before the World Cup and the possibility of Lahm being needed at right-back (and not midfield) still open, Low would be wise to give Ginter a runout to test the waters. It would be a big step, but the Freiburg man to date in his career has always been well ahead of the curve.
Give Lasogga and Hahn a Chance
Despite all of Germany's seemingly endless talent in attacking midfield, one area where the Bundesliga's youth academies seems to be lacking is the production of strikers. Since Miroslav Klose emerged more than one-and-a-half decade ago, few reliable strikers have made their way into the Mannschaft for an extended period of time.
Heading into the World Cup, Germany will have a 36-year-old Klose and possibly Mario Gomez, who's missed almost the entire 2013-14 season due to a knee injury. Klose has scored just once for Germany since October of 2012. In his old age he's grown slower, and it's doubtful that he could at this point play every three days for a month as Germany aim to win their fourth World Cup. An in-form Gomez is a poor fit for Low's system and even was benched at Euro 2012 despite scoring a tournament-high three goals in the group stage.
Low has since turned to Mario Gotze and even Mesut Ozil to play the role of center forward, but ahead of the Chile match he's nominated a traditional striker in the form of Pierre-Michel Lasogga. The 22-year-old Hamburg man is one of the Bundesliga's most prolific scorers and has room to develop into a real star for Germany.
Hahn is a bit of an outsider and, as a winger, has enormous competition for even a spot on the Germany bench. But the Augsburg man has had a great season thus far and at 23 could yet make a big breakthrough. He's not exactly a teenage prodigy, but fans can recall that Marco Reus didn't make the leap to superstar status until he was approximately Hahn's age. In a friendly match with nothing on the line, perhaps it would be worthwhile to give Hahn a chance as well.
Try Mustafi at Center-Back
Few in Germany have ever seen Shkodran Mustafi play. The 21-year-old left Hamburg at the age of 17 to play for Everton and has since moved to Sampdoria. He never exactly was considered a crown jewel of the German academy system, but has had an excellent season in Italy and has accordingly been named to Low's team to face Chile.
Mustafi is not likely to play at the World Cup, but it would be in Low's interest to see a center-back of foreign training in action. Low has often been hesitant to call upon interior defenders outside the Bundesliga; Per Mertesacker is an exception due to his experience and Arsenal's playing style, but Robert Huth, for example, has for several years been out of contention for a spot in Low's squad.
Center-backs from Serie A (most notably Andrea Barzagli and Simon Kjaer) have often struggled to adapt to the playing style in Germany. But Mustafi grew up in Hamburg and has played in England and Italy. He's well-traveled and has a variety of influences that could make him a useful asset to Low's Germany team in the years to come.
Keep Practicing with the Unorthodox No. 9
Using a non-classic striker is not exactly new to Joachim Low, who first deployed Mario Gotze in the center forward position in 2012. It's a tactical selection that the Germany trainer has relied upon more and more as Klose has advanced in years and Gomez has fallen from grace.
Still, Gotze has not yet reached the point of being a regularly reliable striker. He's played in that position more this season at Bayern under Pep Guardiola, and perhaps with more training will be able to achieve more consistency. It's important not only for Gotze, but for the rest of the Germany team as the attacking midfielders learn how to interact with a non-target man in and around the box.
If the World Cup were to start today, Gotze would most likely start at striker at least as a matter of necessity. It therefore would be wise for the trainer to take the opportunity to test that tactic for the first 45-60 minutes of the Chile match.