Following Germany's humbling 2-2 draw with Ghana on Saturday night in the second round of Group G clashes, Joachim Low will undoubtedly be forced to go back to the drawing board to ensure qualification from this perceived group of death.
In a World Cup that has seen defensive stability thrown out the window in favour of attacking flair, Germany have found their own back line in desperate need of a revamp. No specific area more so than left-back, which has until now been occupied by central defender Benedikt Howedes.
Low's decision to play Howedes as a left-back obviously stems from a problem within this squad that the Bundestrainer clearly feels he has no legitimate solution for. Germany don't have a quality left-back and so Howedes seems to be the next best solution.
Yet this tactic met its match on Saturday when Ghana showed up and comprehensively brought any German hopes of a flawless group stage campaign crashing back down to the ground. Among many revelations one stood out ever so clear: Howedes is Germany's weakest link and under the most pressure following this match.
Against the expertise of the Black Stars' Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan, Howedes struggled for not only pace but any sense of defensive awareness throughout much of the game. Looking at the graphic above from Squawka, we see Ghana's key chances throughout the match and just how focused almost of them are around Germany's left-back position.
Ghana coach Akwasi Appiah has proved to be quite an astute manager throughout his three years in the national-team setup and would have undoubtedly demanded that his side focused down the right wing and put as much pressure on Howedes as possible.
Such a tactic came to fruition in the 54th minute of the game, when Ghana right-back Harrison Afful crossed a deep ball into the German box for Andre Ayew to power home with a fantastic header. Who had been tasked with closing the cross down? None other than our poor makeshift left-back.
If we take a look at the goal again, one thing that comes across quite clearly—aside from Ayew's incredible header—is Howedes' reluctance to close the ball down properly. Unlike a natural full-back, who would instinctively close the opposing player down with a little tenacity, the German defender simply lines up and jumps as if standing in a wall for a free-kick.
That's not the kind of defending you'd expect from a side with high hopes in this competition.
Of course it isn't just defensive frailties that have damaged Howedes' reputation throughout this World Cup; his attacking contributions haven't been so great either.
Although the Schalke central defender has clearly been deployed to sit in at left-back and ensure that the defensive line keeps its structure, even Low must be beginning to get a little annoyed at how little he does in the opponent's half.
If we take a look at the Squawka graphic above, which shows the passes of both Howedes and his opposite number, Ghana right-back Afful, throughout the game, we can see just how little the German defender does in attack compared to an offensive full-back.
Although Afful may have lost the ball more often in the German half than Howedes did in the Ghanaian half, his desire to get forward and make the more dangerous passes did eventually pay off.
As we can see from Afful's passing, he did manage to get to the German by-line on a number of occasions and make successful passes into the opposing team's box. Our unfortunate Germany left-back managed it just once.
Howedes' unfamiliarity is also notable when we take a look at Germany's passing stats on Saturday, which again show the Schalke player's inability to keep up with his teammates.
As the table above shows, of the passing accuracy of each German defender throughout the match from WhoScored.com, the likes of Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker kept a reasonably impressive record with 86 percent and 97 percent respectively. Yet Howedes finished bottom of the list with a rather abject record of just 81 percent.
What's perhaps most interesting about this is the fact that players such as Jerome Boateng and Shkodran Mustafi, who were also asked to play out of position, managed to do much better than Howedes. While Philipp Lahm—who actually had a rather poor game—was also capable of doing much better than the makeshift left-back.
Another stat that may bother Low is that Howedes actually only attempted 36 passes throughout the entire 90 minutes against Ghana. An incredible 33 less than Hummels and just nine more than Mustafi, who played just one half of the game.
From that alone we can deduce that not only is Howedes failing to take chances in the final third for Germany, but he's actually very rarely getting used by the team at all.
Germany go into their final game against the United States on Thursday needing just one point to qualify for the next round of the World Cup. Yet if Low is serious about making a real dent in this year's competition, he may have to consider other options than Howedes at left-back.
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