From a cursory glance at the fixture list for this weekends European Championship qualifiers, newly crowned World Champions Germany playing at home to Scotland would appear to represent a near certain home win. The bookies certainly believe so, with Scotland as high as nineteen to one at certain outlets. However, with Germany in defensive disarray and Scotland having solidified under Gordon Strachan, this game will be tighter than many anticipate.
Germany were undoubtedly the best team in Brazil and deserved champions. They have an abundance of attacking midfield options and a largely young, energetic squad. In Reus, Gotze, Ozil, Schurrle and Muller the Germans possess some of the most exciting and effective footballers on the planet. However, defensively they have flattered to deceive for some time and last Wednesday’s friendly defeat against Argentina, during which they conceded four times, brutally exposed those shortcomings. What has caused this crisis?
First and foremost, Germany have lost Philip Lahm to retirement. His leadership, versatility and incredible consistency are attributes which will prove almost impossible to replace. Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker has also hung up his international boots after 104 caps. During the World Cup, Germany struggled to contain both Ghana and Algeria with Mertesacker in the team and his lack of pace was seen by many as an obstacle to German success. Indeed, when Hummels and Boateng were paired at centre back with Lahm at right back, and Schweinsteiger protecting the back four, Germany did look a more solid outfit. Yet it is likely that only two of that World Cup winning back five will start in Dortmund on Sunday night.
In the friendly against Argentina, Germany started with a back four of Grosskreutz, Ginter, Howedes and Durm. As a largely inexperienced and unfamiliar back four they struggled badly throughout the game. Against Scotland, Boateng is likely to return to the team but Hummels looks set to miss out once again through injury. With Schweinsteiger also ruled out, the German’s do not have a solid defensive base on which to rely and Scotland have an excellent opportunity to depart Germany with a positive result.
Scotland’s transformation and improvement since Strachan took over has been substantial. After Craig Levein’s negative, limp and uninspiring spell in charge of the national team, Strachan has installed a positive mentality and implemented a shape and style that opposition teams find difficult to beat.
Much has been made of Scotland’s recent form, with two draws and four wins from six games. It should be stressed that four of those games were friendlies but the four wins came away from home against Macedonia, Croatia, Poland and Norway. Whilst none of those teams has the same quality as Germany, they are all difficult places to go and get a result and the fact that three of the four victories were achieved without conceding a goal shows the defensive solidity that Scotland now possess. Scotland also welcome back captain and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher, who will provide a calm and measured presence in the centre of the park.
Lastly, Scotland have a striker who is in great form. The ability of Steven Naismith to cut it in the Premier League has been a talking point since the forward’s move from Rangers to Everton in 2012. He was largely utilised as a wide player or attacking midfielder by David Moyes, but since Roberto Martinez became his club manager, Naismith has proved a revelation up front. He finished last season strongly, and has three goals in three games this term, including strikes against Arsenal and Chelsea. Indeed, the latter have one of the best defensive units in European football and the comparative weakness of Germany’s defense should provide this intelligent player with plenty of optimism that he will have further opportunities to maintain his terrific start to the season.
This will be a tight game and with Germany struggling defensively Scotland will nick a goal. Final score 1-1.
Formation – 4-2-3-1
GK – M. Neur
RB – E. Durm CB – J. Boateng CB – M. Ginter. RB – B. Howedes
DMC – C. Kramer DMC – T. Kroos
AM – A. Schurrle AM- T. Muller AM- M. Reus
CF – M. Gomez
Formation – 4-5-1
GK – A. McGregor
RB – A. Hutton CB – G. Hanley CB – G. Greer LB – C. Forsyth
DMC – C. Mulgrew
CM – D. Fletcher CM – J. McArthur
RM – S. Maloney LM – I. Anya
CF – S. Naismith