Part 3 of 5: Options from the bench – (Goalkeepers and Defence)
Options from the bench
As goalkeepers are only really subsituted in the case of an injury, I will look at the back-up options should anything happen to first-choice keeper Manuel Neuer.
René Adler – The Bayer Leverkusen keeper is currently considered second choice to Neuer and is only 26 years old himself, perhaps showing that keepers are maturing ever earlier in their careers nowadays. Unfortunately the native of Leipzig has been very unlucky with injuries in the past and has not played a single game yet this season after injuring his knee in a pre-season game against Red Bull Salzburg. Adler had established himself as Germany’s number one before the World Cup in 2010 but a rib injury forced him to miss out and Neuer took his chance with both hands. Adler’s main strengths are his excellent reflexes, his aerial ability and the presence he commands on the pitch. The German has been back in training since late October but it is unknown when he will make his return.
Ron-Robert Zieler – The former Manchester United youth-team player and current Hannover 96 stopper made his debut for Germany against Ukraine and was rather unfortunate to have conceded 3 goals, which were mostly due to poor defending. In that game, the 22-year-old pulled off a number of brilliant saves particularly in the second half and deserves credit for his performance. As recently as 2009 he was struggling to get into the Northampton Town side when on loan from the English Champions and he only made his club debut for Hannover earlier this year. Zieler is a great shot stopper, evidenced by his shot-to-saves ratio of 78% in the Bundesliga, better than anyone currently in the Premier League. He also has great concentration and his great reflexes allow him to save more close-range shots than most. The youngster is not perfect however, and should look to work on his distribution and saving long shots in order to improve as a keeper. Zieler is expected to be third choice for Euro 2012, unless he suffers a severe dip in form. Head over to Manutd24 blog for this great piece on the goalkeeping sensation.
In the full-back areas, Joachim Löw has many alternatives to the current starters Philip Lahm and Jerome Boateng, although it is unlikely the former will be replaced as he is the captain of the team.
Benedikt Höwedes – Like Boateng, Höwedes is naturally a centre-back but has the quality and the attributes to play on the right side of defence as well. The young Schalke youth product provides a greater crossing ability than his team-mate and has the advantage of (when fit) playing every single game for his club, of which the same cannot be said for Boateng. According to the statistics, Höwedes would provide a more solid defensive presence but would not be as adventurous when attacking. As well as his excellent crossing, Höwedes’s anticipation allows to make several interceptions per match, and this would be useful no doubt against the better sides in the competition. Strength and speed are two of his best attributes and his aerial ability means he would not be your typical marauding right-back. As for his weaknesses, the defender needs to improve his concentration (a vital quality for a defender) and perhaps his ball retention. Höwedes’ versatility means that he will probably play a big role in Germany’s Euro 2012 campaign.
Christian Träsch – The 24-year-old is a very difficult player to analyse, simply due to the number of different positions he has played in. He usually appears as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2 system for Wolfsburg, but has been mainly fielded as a right-back for his country. Träsch is no doubt third-choice but his versatility could mean he gets to play more games than you might expect. A very good dribbler, evidenced by his 1.9 successful dribbles per game, Träsch provides a mix of the styles of Höwedes and Boateng. Like the Schalke defender, he is a good crosser of the ball, although with Germany’s system and style of play, this is not necessarily vital. Träsch also packs a good long shot, unlike the other two options, and his interception skills are naturally good, considering he is a defensive midfielder. 3 assists to his name so far this season show that the midfielder’s passing is one of his strengths too. Tackling is not his greatest strength, shown by his 2.9 tackles and 1.1 fouls per match, but this will improve with time. He could be at a disadvantage, in that he doesn’t play regularly, if at all, at right-back for his club, so would be rusty if called upon in a high-pressure situation.
Marcel Schmelzer – A running machine, Schmelzer played every single minute of Borussia Dortmund’s league-winning campaign last year. However, owing to injuries, he has been unable to repeat that this year, and his performances haven’t quite reached the heights of last season as of yet. He is able to get forward at will for his club side, with a double pivot giving enough protection for him to do so.
Dennis Aogo – Aogo currently plays for Hamburg, who have suffered a terrible start to their season, winning just three of their first thirteen games in the league. As a result, Aogo has not enjoyed a particularly successful season thus far, and there is for improvement. Aogo has made the second most key passes a game for Hamburg, behind Gokhan Tore, showing his ability to get forward and deliver. Despite this, he has just one assist to his name so far, although perhaps this is more down to strikers like Marcus Berg and Jose Paolo Guerrero wasting good opportunities. A strong passer of the ball, Aogo is also rarely dispossessed, a vital characteristic for a defender.
Per Mertesacker – As you would expect from a man of his height (6ft 5in), Mertesacker is very strong in the air and rarely loses an aerial duel. The Gmerna also possesses great awareness and aniticipation skills, which often allow him to be in the right place at the right time. On the other hand, Mertesacker suffers from alack of speed and athleticism, which has been shown up in a few games for Arsenal this season (mainly because of their high line, which leaves space in behind). Despite having an injury-free campaign so far, he is known to be somewhat injury-prone and this could hinder him in the future. It is, I agree, pretty unfair to call a man of 79 international caps a back-up, but on current form I think Loew will go with Badstuber and Hummels in the centre of defence. Wikipedia sum up Mertesacker’s style of play, when they say,
At 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in), Mertesacker is commanding in the air but he is also sound in defending on the ground.He often uses his strength to shrug opponents off the ball and his standing tackle ability to win balls. He rarely slides or makes dirty tackles. Question marks have been raised about his speedand he had been badly exposed in a friendly against Poland.He compensates his speed for his excellent positional play. Despite his height he is regarded as a clean player as he is rarely booked.Due to his height and strength, Mertesacker is also a scoring threat in set-pieces.
Also known for his durability Metesacker played whole 90 minutes in Germany’s all seven games at the 2010 FIFA world cup in South Africa.
Despite often being criticized for being not vocal, he is a good defensive organizer. Mertesacker is also a neat distributer of the ball. He averaged 46.3 passes per game in 2010-2011 season, the third highest in the Bremen squad, and the second highest pass success rate, with 82%. Often Mertesacker is paired with a more mobile and faster defender who can track-back in counter attack situation like Mats Hummels, Arne Friedrich and more recently Laurent Koscielny, though he had successfully formed one of the best defensive pairing in Bundesliga with the equally sized Naldo during his time at Werder Bremen.
Arne Friedrich – For a versatile and solid defender with 82 international caps, it is surprising to learn that Friedrich is currently a free agent. He is only 32 years old, and I believe he could provide valuable nous and experience to even the best defences in Europe, even though he has had a long history with injuries. Friedrich provides the ideal foil for someone like Mertesacker, due to his relative pace and ability to cover. It remains to be seen whether Friedrich will keep his place in the squad due to his current status, but his hopes look rather slim.
Other options – Benedikt Höwedes (mentioned above) and Jerome Boateng (mentioned in Part 1) are both natural centre-backs and either would be a good option should there be any injuries to the other centre-backs. Heiko Westermann, of Hamburg, is another good option who has experience and could slot in with ease.
Germany have many different options in their defensive positions, and most of them are in their early-to-late twenties, meaning they have plenty of time to develop and have yet to reach their peak. Strength in depth is key to success in month-long tournaments and it is clear that Germany possess it in abundance.