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.
Yesterday evening, Die Mannschaft stayed in their familiar 4-2-3-1 as they beat Hungary 3-0. Behind the aforementioned trio – Schweinsteiger wasn’t risked – were Toni Kroos and Khedira. While the latter thrived, oozing confidence, the former was outshone: the playmaking presence of Özil removing the lustre of his own.
For the second half, Trochowski showed versatility by slotting back into the midfield. This meant the formation became a 4-4-2; a shift occurring during a period of match-diluting substitutions.
Heiko Westermann is also capable of playing centre-midfield. The Schalke centre-back played left-back against the Hungarians, but is disciplined enough to take on a more advanced berth.
Alas, he too will now sit out the Finals! In the dying moments of the Ferenc-Puskas Stadion-hosted encounter, Westermann sustained a terminal foot injury. The big question now for Germany is whether they keep faith with the 4-2-3-1, teaming together Schweinsteiger and Khedira.
With his strikers all retaining fitness, Löw might opt to find Klose a partner up front. Cacau displayed pace, awareness and composure in scoring last night, and certainly did his own chances no harm.
In the event of Germany going 4-4-2, a diamond midfield with Schweinsteiger at the base and trequartista Özil at its point is the most likely use of the centre midfields available to the coach.