Part 4 of 5: Options from the bench (Midfield and Attack)
Normally a double pivot consists of a destroyer and a “sitter” who is the more creative of the two. The perfect example of this was Mascherano and Alonso, when they were together at Liverpool. However, I wouldn’t call either Schweinsteiger of Khedira a destroyer at all, and they mainly compensate for a lack of a midfield hard-man by keeping possession of the ball. Spain and Barcelona have showed that with a player in this role (Busquets) who generally looks to play short passes to the fellow midfielders, there isn’t much need for someone to play the “Makelele” role. Anyway, looking to options outside of Schweinsteiger and Khedira, here are a few that could play the role.
Toni Kroos – It seems as if Kroos has been around for a long time now, so it is somewhat surprising to learn that he is only 21 years old. Towards the end of last season, and certainly at the beginning of the current one, Kroos has begun to show his true potential and has turned in some magnificent performances, usually playing in attacking midfield (centre of a 3 in 4-2-3-1) but occasionally in a double pivot. He has the ability to pick a pass, which is rivalled by perhaps only Mesut Ozil in the squad, and this makes him ideal for either the “No 10” or “regista” role. His average of 2.4 key passes per game is the best in the Bayern Munich squad and better than Mesut Ozil’s 1.8. However, I think his defensive work needs some improvement (1.9 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per game compared to Schweinsteiger’s 2.8 and 1.5 respectively) and this is why I think he would better be used as a replacement for Mesut Ozil further up the field.
Simon Rolfes – Leverkusen’s captain is more defensive-minded than Kroos and would be a decent replacement for Khedira, rather than Schweinsteiger. Also playing in a ‘double pivot,’ Rolfes is used to the system and the role in which he would be used for the national side, and therefore would need little adjustment tactically. Rolfes is very good in the air, which would come in handy against more direct sides, and his passing is good as well, mainly because he likes to keep it nice and simple.
Lars Bender – The more likely of the Bender twins to make it into the team (or even squad), Lars is the other half of Leverkusen’s ‘double pivot,’ however he has the ability to play either role, as he has shown this season in the Bundesliga and the Champions League. He is more adventurous than Rolfes with his passing and I believe his tackling is better too. In fact, Lars has made 3.5 tackles and 3.2 interceptions per game, more than any other Leverkusen player, and this clearly shows his defensive qualities. However with 2 assists from 15 key passes so far this season, he is no slouch further up the field and for this reason I think he will be the number one replacement for either Khedira or Schweinsteiger.
Sven Bender – Despite getting 3 assists from just 8 key passes so far this season, Sven is, in my opinion, the more defensively minded of the twins. The ability to tackle and intercept are key for any half-decent holding midfielder, and Sven possesses these two in abundance. I hope Sami Khedira is looking over his shoulder because there are certainly lots of people pushing for his place right now.
Lewis Holtby – Holtby played primarily as a No 10 for Mainz last season and has for Schalke on occasion this season, however he has put in some solid performances in defensive midfield for “Die Königsblauen.” In this role he has shown off a defensive side to his game that nobody really saw while he was at Mainz, however he is also the third top scorer for his side and loves to get forward too. Holtby’s tackling and interception skills have improved significantly this season, while his dribbling is a quality we saw last year as well. Often paired with the centre-back cum midfield destroyer Kyriakos Papadopoulos, the pair provide a solid shield in front of the back four and the manager Huub Stevens likes both of them to defend as much as possible.
Mario Goetze – Supposedly the subject of a €35m bid from Arsenal over the summer, Goetze is one of the most sought-after players on the planet. His performances on the right or in the centre have attracted scouts from the top European clubs and I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved on from Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season. Goetze’s dribbling skills are second to none in the squad, and his ability to go past a man with ease is innate. However he can certainly spot a pass too, evidenced by his four assists so far this season, and his crossing is certainly handy when Klose or Gomez is up front. Finally, a very underrated aspect of the teenager’s game is his defensive contribution, which is vital in a high-intensity game favoured by Jurgen Klopp. In that respect he is more hard-working and arguably better than Ozil. Low tried to use the two in tandem against Ukraine in a 3-4-2-1 system that wasn’t very successful, so it’s more likely we’ll see him from the bench next summer.
Marco Reus – Undoubtedly the star of the Moenchengladbach side, Reus has been the best player of this year’s Bundesliga. 10 goals in 14 games prove his finishing ability, while 37 key passes already without an assist probably show the deficiencies of his team-mates more than anything else. Finishing and dribbling are without doubt Reus’ two best characteristics, which is why I’ve mentioned him as a candidate for a wider role or even for a striker. Head over to Bundesliga Fanatic for this far more in-depth piece about Reus. MirrorFootball also published this piece about the talented youngster.
Toni Kroos (see above)
Andre Schurrle – One of Holtby’s team-mates at Mainz last season, Schurrle hasn’t been a regular for Leverkusen since the switch, and will need to put in some more consistent performances in order to gain a starting berth. Despite being a left-footer playing on the left, Schurrle loves to come inside and use his long-range shooting ability to good effect. A fairly similar player to Thomas Muller (except on the other side and other foot), Schurrle’s dribbling stands out amongst a vast array of qualities that will see him travel to EURO 2012.
Marco Reus (see above)
Kevin Grosskreutz – A far less flashy player than club-mate Goetze, Grosskreutz is renowned for his stelling defensive work on the wing and his almost infinite stamina. Playing as an ‘inverted winger’ on the left, Grosskreutz tends to stay further back and further inside than his compatriot on the other wing and his performances have been very underrated. Crossing is not a strong point and perhaps he would be better used on the right, otherwise there would be two ‘inverted wingers,’ which leads to a lack of width up front.
Mario Gomez – Despite scoring 21 goals in 50 games for Germany, Gomez has never been very popular in the national set-up, perhaps due to his perceived lack of mobility and movement. However, for Bayern Munich, he has been firing on all cylinders, getting 13 goals in 13 games in the Bundesliga. The focal point of the Munich attack, I can’t see any reason why Gomez couldn’t be an excellent challenger for Klose’s place in the team, and by next summer, he could even have supplanted his former club-mate in the national side. Good in the air and possessing a top-class finishing ability, Gomez is a great example of a No 9, but he might need to improve his all-round game (eg. getting more involved in build-up play) to convince the critics.
Marco Reus (see above)
Thomas Mueller (see part 1)
Midfield is without doubt the most competitive, with many talented youngsters challenging the starters for their places. Joachim Loew will probably try most of these players out before next summer, and players like Goetze have already made a significant impact on the world stage. Overall, the world-class squad will certainly challenge for the title, and they have many players who can come in and perform when needed.