The best of German football from the Bundesliga and beyond
The next phase in German progression is in front of goal, says Stefan Bienkowski, with a very modern type of front-man
Evolution, rather than revolution, continues to be the word on everybody’s lips at the DFB this summer as Germany returns home to lick its wounds after a disappointing conclusion to Euro 2012.
Despite an impressive tournament performance from die Nationalelf, the fateful semi-final clash with Italy was enough to knock the wind from a nation that found itself believing its own hype.
The crushing defeat, as unexpected as it was thorough, was without a doubt the darkest 90 minutes of Joachim Low’s time as Bundestrainer and pointed out above all else that this Germany side were far from the finished article.
Manuek Neuer was impenetrable in goal; tournament-preceding fears about the defence were quickly laid to rest as Dortmund’s young Mats Hummels thrived in the middle of the park; and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil controlled and dominated one game to the next. Yet Joachim Low showed constant torment with his front men.
Starting the group games with Mario Gomez seemed a stroke of genius after three goals is as many matches, including an impressive brace against Holland. Then Miroslav Klose was picked for the quarter-final showdown against Greece, only for Low to switch back to the Bayern striker for the semi-final against Italy. Neither striker truly fits his team, and he knew it.
Klose and Gomez: Good, but not right?
Miroslav Klose, however grand his international record may be, is now 34 and will surely be out of the picture before Brazil 2014. Mario Gomez, of able body and mind, has a remarkable ability of turning one touch into a goal – yet his relationship with the national team, and Low, will always be an awkward bond due to what the side lack when he plays up front.
When facing goal, the towering Bayern striker can pick his spot and calmly slot home from any angle, as he did so well against an open and disorganised Dutch side this summer. But when asked to play with his back to goal – as is expected of any forward in Low's system – he becomes a lumbering obstacle for any German attack. Compared to Mesut Ozil or Mario Gotze, the small, technical midfielders that buzz around him so elegantly, Gomez looks slow, uncomfortable and outdated.
As Spain demonstrated so systematically in Kiev on Sunday, the notion of a 'true' No.9 is all but extinct in the modern game if a side is resolute on controlling the game and their opponent. If Germany are to finally make the step up and stake a claim to the best in the world again, they could do a lot worse than applying this theory to their own forward problems.
Fortunately for Germany, the solution to this riddle in front of goal lies closer than expected in the form of a small, blond-haired kid from the football-mad city of Dortmund. Marco Reus’ rise through the ranks of German football and fearless battle for the spotlight at this summer's European Championships are a testament to the hunger and skill that has made the forward the hottest property in Germany.
Whenever he came on at the Euros, Reus immediately fitted in with the forwards around him, as if he were a regular starter. A conventional one-two with Klose, a short intricate pass to Ozil, or a simple lay-off for Schweinsteiger; the 23-year-old forward seamlessly synchronised with the squad's style and mentality without hint of nerves or struggle. This was most apparent after his wonderful volley against Greece in the quarter-finals, only his eighth cap.
The future? Ozil and Reus celebrate that goal against Greece
At the Euros, Reus was generally regarded as a wide player – reasonably enough, considering Low was alternating between Gomez and Klose up front and usually brought on Reus to replace Thomas Muller on the right wing. However, Reus truly thrives in the middle of the park.
Quick, nimble and only ever content with the ball at his feet, Reus depicts a modern forward in all its glory. Whilst single-handedly dragging Borussia Moenchengladbach to fourth spot and Champions League qualification, he scored 18 goals and contributed nine assists in 32 appearances.
He was voted Bundesliga Young Player of the Year after a superb season persuaded Borussia Dortmund to pay €17.5m – for a kid who'd been on their books from the age of seven to 17, when they let him slip into the regional leagues. He battled back from there and is still hungry to improve.
Reus's 2011/12 clipreel (warning: awful soundtrack)
Although most likely to play off Dortmund’s more traditional frontman Robert Lewandowki, Reus will benefit from playing in Jurgen Klopp’s possession-based system – a set-up not unlike that of the national team – with fellow German protégés Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels.
With the ability to run past opponents, hold up the ball, or cut back and begin plays from scratch, the new Dortmund forward not only offers an alternative to the more conventional Mario Gomez, but an opportunity for Low to make a progressive move towards the final piece in the puzzle of his domineering Germany side.
On August 15th Germany face Argentina in a glamour friendly in Frankfurt before beginning their campaign for qualification towards Brazil 2014 – the 18th anniversary of the national team's last trophy. A new set of foes awaits Low’s side as they continue to evolve among an increasingly anxious search for international silverware.
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