Germany’s false nine

German football is going through a sea-change. Or so it seems. To a many casual observer, things of late aren’t being stereotypically German. The scenes vividly reflect and the sounds loudly echo, that from within the country there is a diversion from the roots, an anomaly to the eye. Not entirely though; there are no news of culture shocks, but there always remains that possessive corner in the German heads and hearts that yearns for more of the same. The ‘same’ of yore, of the good days, the German days.

Joachim Loew’s final choice of the German squad has been done. Loew is one of the bravest coaches around, and put up a 23-man contingent with only one forward included: Miroslav Klose. It is true that Klose’s record at FIFA World Cups is borderline phenomenal (he needs one more goal to equal ‘O Fenomeno’ Ronaldo’s 15 goals), but does it make enough sense to let a 35-year-old shoulder an entire nation’s goalscoring burden?

What has Loew done instead is selecting a raft of ‘false nines’. Andre Schuerrle, Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze and Julian Draxler can all play that role, but will they be effective goal threats? All four of them aren’t even half of what Klose was when he scored that hat-trick of headers against Saudi Arabia in Sapporo 12 years ago. Critics would suggest Loew has lost it before it has even started, but Brazil is no Europe and the case for Loew’s defense gets weaker with time.

Mario Goetze started up front in Germany’s last friendly against Cameroon at the tip of a 4-2-3-1. Apart from a plucky opening, Goetze provided little in the way of attacking threat. This is somewhat worrisome as Germany are thought of as contenders and potential champions. Mueller can play anywhere across the final third, but his best position as a second striker seems to be hampered by Mesut Oezil’s role on the pitch. Oezil plays in the hole, and his nonchalant approach to the game means that there is no other better position available for him. That means putting Mueller’s versatility to effect, stationing him on the right.

Loew’s options are surprisingly limited. He could either persist with the 4-2-3-1 or go for the 4-4-1-1. An alternative in the latter could be the ageless Lukas Podolski-Klose combination that has served the nation well for the past decade. But Podolski isn’t the most polished of finishers, and has regressed of late, making his selection ahead of a Schuerrle or a Goetze somewhat unfair.

Klose remains Loew’s most valuable card, the trump card, evident by his heels-cooling on the bench against Cameroon. Should he get injured, it would mean a disaster for Germany. So much rests on Klose, and Loew knows he could ill-afford to lose him. But he surely has alternatives in case of a Klose-calamity, and that for now seems to be the aptly named ‘false nine’.

The likes of Goetze and Schuerrle aren’t goalscorers by trade, and represent a significant gamble. There is a severe lack of goals if one cares to look beyond Klose and Podolski, and eking out goals from the other no9s would be equally important as cotton-wooling Klose. Joachim Loew’s chance at becoming the genius since Franz Beckenbauer of 1990 hinges on his false nines. Miroslav Klose is the vital cog, but the square pegs selected to fill his round hole are vital even. We would love Loew ‘the genius’, but only time is the matter before it all turns Loew ‘the crazy’, and we surely wouldn’t love it then.

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