Who does Löw call on to replace Ballack?

Michael Ballack's injury

Michael Ballack's injury

News broke a fortnight ago that Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup. Rather than just being shorn of a key individual, one who possesses crucial experience and talent, Ballack’s absence is also a blow to the coaching staff’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Bastian Schweinsteiger would have been flanked by the Chelsea man in that ‘2’; the pair supporting a creative and nippy trio of Lukas Podolski, Piotr Trochowski, and Mesut Özil. Now, however, the 33-year-old’s absence leaves Germany shorn of a partner for the aforementioned Schweinsteiger in the wavebreaking/spraying/covering berths.

Ballack thrived in an insurance role during Chelsea’s recent FA Cup final win against Portsmouth. Shielding the centre-backs or slotting in at left-back when Ashley Cole surged, Ballack did his job with all the assurance and class you’d expect from a world class veteran.

Germany play equally surge-minded full-backs in Jerome Boateng and Phillipp Lahm, and Ballack would have provided ample cover for either of those two whenever they bombed upfield.

In the squad Löw and Bierhoff undoubtedly thought long and hard over, the former Fenerbahçe manager has included just two outright defensive midfield and centre midfield options – Sami Khedira and Christian Träsch, both of whom play for Stuttgart. Although creative, classy and highly competent, the 23-year-olds boast a mere two caps apiece.

But it now appears that Khedira is likely to get the shout if a 4-2-3-1 system is used because potential Schweinsteiger-partnering candidates in the preliminary list continue to suffer. With Simon Rolfes already ruled out due to ongoing injury woes, Träsch has now been sidelined for a short period of time: a nasty collision with an advertising hoard during a friendly game leaves him on his backside for at least a fortnight. Continue reading

How do you solve a problem like Diego?

Mr Del Neri

Gigi Del Neri

New Juventus coach Gigi Del Neri did an impeccable job with Sampdoria last season. The port city side finished 4th, claiming a Champions League berth at the expense of Del Neri’s new employers in the process.

Juventus’s woes stemmed from the fact that rookie coach Ciro Ferrara struggled tactically, and constant tinkering with his system cost Juve points and Ferrara his job.

Short-term replacement Alberto Zaccheroni also tried implementing too many formations after he came in, and after losing 15 times in a 38-game season, Juventus were lucky to eventually finish in 7th.

Sampdoria, meanwhile, found a system, stuck by it, and soared beyond their pre-season Europa League-spot target. Yet rather than enjoying the fruits of his labour with the 1990/91 Scudetto winners, Del Neri will lead Juventus’s revival.

The Bianconeri failed at incorporating central-playmaker Diego at the core of every system wheeled out last season. Worryingly for the €24.5m signing, Del Neri would have no room for him in his 4-2-2-2. So does this spell the end for the ex-Bremen man’s time at the club already? Continue reading

Will Steve McClaren resuscitate Wolfsburg?

England’s Wally With The Brolly left FC Twente at just the right moment. Having delivered the league title and a spot in the Champions League group stage, McClaren will forever hold a place in the club’s history.

But with the centre-forward bound for MLS, the left-winger returning to Chelsea after a loan spell, chief playmaker nearing retirement, and the right winger, left-sided centre-back, and left-back potentially lured elsewhere, the replication of last season’s feat looks very difficult.

FC Twente, 2009/10

McClaren’s Overijssel outfit operated in what was deemed 4-3-3. However, the actuality of the system altered from what was stated on the tin. Two hard-working shuttlers flanked a regista in the centre, and the inside-out wingers would drop back. On-ball, they’d always cut infield – Miroslav Stoch tending to shoot, and Bryan Ruiz making disguised through-balls.

Twente weren’t much fun to watch, however. They’d start play via very cynical, overdrawn melina. Then, one of Douglas or Dwight Tiendalli would carry the ball forward at pace. Alternatively, one of the showing widemen or Kenneth Perez would drop, collect, and instigate. McClaren stuck by this system with great rigidity, and it served him well.

The tools currently available at his new employers, VFL Wolfsburg, won’t allow him to employ a similar system. So does McClaren bring his tried and tested tactics across, or adjust to the formula currently in place at the 8th-placed Bundesliga finishers? Continue reading

Double or treble?

15/05/10 Werder Bremen-Bayern Munich, 0-4 Robben (35′), Olic (52′), Ribéry(63′), Schweinsteiger (83′)

South crushed north in Germany’s cup final, as Bayern Munich devoured the second slice of a potential treble cake! Although the scoreline indicates a commanding, one-sided affair, Hans-Jörg Butt capped his World Cup call-up by making some impressive stops.

Said international competition was clearly on the mind of several Bremen stars, compounded by a feeling of ‘job done’ having secured their place in next season’s Champions League. Six players handed Die Grün-Weißen jerseys had been named in various World Cup squads during the week, and a determination to avoid injury undoubtedly lingered in the minds of several players. Overlooked stars such as Naldo and Torsten Frings did little to change the minds of Dunga and Jogi Löw, however.

Although one expected Bayern to take their foot off the proverbial gas in this game (10 players in World Cup squads; Champions League final a mere 7 days away; league won on the preceding weekend), four goals from four supremely talented and presumably tired individuals put paid to forecasts of title-securing hangovers.

Thus, going into the European Cup final, Inter boss José Mourinho, who saw his side scrape the Scudetto courtesy of a 1-0 win over relegated Siena, may have been worried by the sight of FC Hollywood’s continuing momentum… Continue reading

Bundesliga round *35*

13/05/10 Nuremberg-Augsburg, 1-0 Christian Eigler (84′)
16/05/10 Augsburg-Nuremberg, 0-2 İlkay Gündogan (34′), Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (63′)

Nuremberg and Augsburg contested a Bavarian derby in a bid to earn the top tier’s only remaining spot, and unquestionably, last season’s 16th-placed Bundesliga finishers deserved their 3-0 aggregate win.

The two ties followed a similar pattern; even, full-blooded, and open. Yet crucially, Der Club’s class helped them penetrate at the crucial moments, and both games could easily have finished by the 2-0 goal margin; Albert Bunjaku had a penalty saved in the first leg.

Dieter Hecking’s maroon-shirted side played with greater fluidity, cohesion, variation, and potency, whereas Augsburg sent hoof after hoof for Jens Hegeler to flick on to the waspish Michael Thurk. The striker – 2. Bundesliga’s golden boot with 23 goals – fused exciting technique and constant running, with colleague-inflicted isolation.

Their tricky French winger Ibrahima Traoré, meanwhile, had an ongoing battle with Juri Judt, and the former prevailed via canny nutmegs and bursts of pace. But unfortunately for him, tactically-disciplined Nuremberg flooded back to defend his squares with a relish greater than Traoré’s teammates attacked the ball.

Nuremberg’s Choupo-Moting is brilliant at trapping in an instant, and bringing others into play, and this was crucial to his side coming through this tie. For his loan club (he’s owned by Hamburg), the Cameroon international complements the movement and vision of the mobile five-man midfield. And, whereas Augsburg’s rigid 4-2-3-1 restricted their full-backs, Hecking’s freer take on the system saw his full-backs fly down the flanks throughout the 180 minutes – outnumbering and getting in behind the 2. Bundesliga side in midfield even more.

Elsewhere, Hecking’s quarterbacks (Ottl, Gündoğan) were just as comfy in winning and spraying the ball as they were ghosting on to it: class, and thus money, always talk loudest.

Augsburg coach Jos Luhukay will therefore know that his side were always going to be second best, but if he can keep this unit together and help it gel, they’ll run the likes of Hertha BSC, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and Bochum close in the 2010/11 race for promotion.