How the Hummels hole nearly sank Germany



…Easily the most modern defender at Löw’s disposal, Hummels could probably try his hand at playing midfield for the right team. The Dortmund defender is comfortable on the ball, boasts an excellent eye for a long pass, and loves to bound forward whenever the opportunity arises. He started out as a striker in Bayern Munich’s youth academy. Sometimes, these traits can turn a defender into a liability, but Hummels is the perfect fit as part of Löw’s new, bulky back four comprising essentially a quartet of central defenders.

Under this unusual system, Hummels has disciplined support on his flank. Right-footed “left-back” Benedikt Höwedes is not much of an offensive weapon on the wing but can offer outstanding cover when Hummels goes rogue. Furthermore, Philipp Lahm’s right in front of Hummels in his new midfield home, often dropping back to play as a sort of “quarterback” – stood in between the center-backs, directing the build-up play early in Germany’s possessions. All of this gives Hummels license to roam if and when the mood takes him.

Hummels not just free to roam, he needs to

The problems arise when you take Hummels out. As he sat out with flu, Shkodran Mustafi stepped in at right-back, with Jerome Boateng moving across into Hummels’ central spot.

WM 2014 Achtelfinale Algerien DeutschlandNot only did Boateng struggle centrally, he was missed on the right

This left all of the early playmaking duties squarely on the shoulders of Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos; all victims of Algeria’s fierce pressing, unless they retreated into their own half. Germany lacked an outlet. Lahm is a metronomic passer, but not one to bomb the odd long ball behind the lines as Hummels can. On Monday, the captain often found himself with four options: Boateng, Mustafi, Höwedes and the sometimes cumbersome giant Per Mertesacker. Alternatively, Lahm could look up the pitch to Schweinsteiger or Kroos, but only if he was willing to pass to marked men.

At Bayern, this issue is moot, because Lahm usually has Rafinha and David Alaba roving down the wings: so the simple wide outlet pass is not just possible, it actually sets attacks in motion and creates space centrally.

Modern defender in the middle

…Assuming that Löw doesn’t believe Matthias Ginter to be ready for this role at the World Cup – tonight could have been a chance to play Ginter in the middle, keeping Boateng out right – Hummels really is the only German to fit this mould. He’s Germany’s answer to Thiago Silva, or indeed to Real Madrid youngster Raphael Varane of quarter-final opponents France.

With Marco Reus injured, just one Borussia Dortmund player regularly represents Germany in Brazil – but he’s the lynchpin in Löw’s oversized defense. Should the fresh fruit, fluids, vitamin C supplements, and bed-rest fail to prepare the 25-year-old for Friday’s game against France, Löw might be forced to change his Brazilian game-plan. Or he might need to borrow a (clean) handkerchief from his Dortmund defender.



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