Blowouts are expected at the World Cup. Generally each group has one or more powerhouse teams and at least one minnow or weaker team. Looking at the first round of fixtures for the tournament, the Chile/Australia and Costa Rica/Uruguay matchups were probably the best bets for the title of “First Display of Utter Domination.” While both matches finished 3-1, neither was what one would call a legitimate thrashing.
The way Australia and Uruguay played surprised some, but the biggest surprise was the way Germany annihilated Portugal. Even before a foolish straight red by Pepe and injuries to key defender Fabio Coentrao and striker Hugo Almeida, it was clear that the Germans dominated the game. If there was ever a statement game to qualify a team as early favorites, this was it for Die Mannschaft.
But it was how the German team dominated the game with the personnel they used that was impressive. Something the Americans should be wary of when they face the Germans.
Coach Jogi Low made a few interesting tactical choices that could have been questioned if the Germans struggled or lost the game. However, the decisions worked brilliantly as Jurgen Klinsmann’s former protege held Cristiano Ronaldo and company in check.
The first of the moves was to sit legendary striker Miroslav Klose and employ a “false nine.” Already under controversy for bringing Klose as his only true striker, the move to start Thomas Mueller up front could have backfired, especially against a dangerous Portuguese side.
Mueller responded. The Bayern Munich man scored a hat trick, including an expertly taken penalty. Not only did Mueller score, but the way that he, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze interchanged positions caused defensive problems for the Portuguese.
The other move made by Low was to keep Philipp Lahm as a holding midfielder in a 4-3-3 setup. While playing the captain in midfield wasn’t too shocking, given Bastian Schweinsteiger’s injury concerns, it was shocking not to play him at his old right-back spot given the fact that the right side of the German defense had to deal with Ronaldo running at them.
The other shocking change was who Low chose to use at right-back: classically trained center-back Jerome Boateng. Boateng was one of two normal center-backs, the other being Benedikt Howedes, deployed in the two wide roles on defense. Two wide roles that, for the most part, had to keep Ronaldo and Nani in check. One of the only knocks on the Germans is the fact that their central defenders aren’t the fastest in the world. Meaning, they could be troubled by quick strikers.
So, what did Low do? He played four of them instead of the generally acceptable two. The other thing to remember is that center-backs tend to be the lesser players in terms of offense across the back line. That role belongs to the outside-backs and wing-backs, who integrate themselves into the attack and send crosses into the box from the flanks.
The fact that Germany was able to destroy the Portuguese so easily without a true striker, and with two center-backs masquerading as outside-backs sending crosses into the box, only speaks to their superb quality—a quality that awaits the United States.
Regardless of how the USMNT’s duel with Portugal turns out, the Germany game will be key for the Americans.
If the embarrassment of Portugal has taught us anything, it is that the Germans are tactically flexible and can beat teams and beat them by large margins, with multiple formations. Whether it is with a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, Germany has the personnel, Klose or no, to not just pull off the formation, but to be extremely successful and ruthless with it.
For the U.S. to have a chance against Germany, it’ll not only need Michael Bradley to have a better showing than he did against Ghana, but Klinsmann will also need his defenders to have the games of their careers.
All three American center-backs—Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and John Brooks—had strong games against Ghana, while outside-backs Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley were good, but not great. The Americans will need all this and more to beat their German counterparts. It’s no secret that both Johnson and Beasley are more comfortable attacking than defending, but both will have to be conservative in attacking, as one or two slip-ups could cost the U.S. the game.
Early on, Germany looks like the favorites in the tournament. Their superior squad and tactical flexibility make them a serious threat. The U.S. will have to be at the top of its game to get a result.