The Die Mannschaft were pushed to the limits by Algeria, and their defensive frailties showed that they need a massive improvement against France in the quarter finals..
By Shikharr Chandra
What was supposed to be one of the most one-sided games in the round of 16 ended as one of the most enthralling and cagey affairs of the tournament. Algeria, the minnows of the World Cup surprised many with their impressive group stage performances but against Germany, not many gave them a chance considering the star studded line-up coach Joachim Low had at his disposal.
But this World Cup, time and time again has sprung surprises and although Algeria failed to get the better of their opponents, what they did do though was expose this German side in more than one way and leave the Die Mannschaft to reflect on their mistakes.
Per Mertesacker after the game said "Don't analyze this". The center back was amongst many in that German camp relieved to get the win in extra time after being repeatedly exposed by the Algerian attack over the course of the game.
Coach Low was without Matts Hummels in the side and opted for Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes and Shkodran Mustafi alongside Mertesacker, but the Algerians had little trouble in exposing the German back line during the game.
Low had ordered his players to maintain a high-line, a rather baffling decision considering the lack of pace offered by the two center backs. That eventually played a major part in Algeria's dominance in the first half. The African side utilized their pace to attack their opponents.
The German defense though had Manuel Neuer to thank for saving them on countless occasions as the Bayern Munich goalkeeper played the role of a goalkeeper cum sweeper, often leaving his penalty area and running towards the left flank, right flank and through the center as well.
“Neuer played an extraordinary game,” Löw said. “He didn’t have to make saves on his line but he participated in the game. With all those long passes from Algeria, he saved us very often. He played as a libero. He delivered for us.”
While Low opted to look at the brighter side of Neuer's game, it highlighted the fact that his tactics were not up to the mark. Full-back Howedes was exposed several times by Islam Slimani, forcing Neuer to intervene. Time and time again, the full-backs disappointed which makes you wonder why Low didn't put Lahm in the defense and go with Sami Khedira in the midfield.
Both Howedes and Mustafi offered little in the attacking half as they hardly made any overlapping runs in order to support the wingers. Surely there must come a time when Low opts to use Kevin Grosskerutz and Erik Durm in that role who have proved their worth in the Bundesliga.
Lahm who has constantly impressed in his new role for the club never seemed to adjust to the pace of the game. For a side who have based their game around the 'tiki-taka' philosophy to a certain extent, they never really dictated the play from midfield and hardly threatened the Algerians in the first half.
It was not only the defense that did not live up to the expectations. Mario Gotze had a game to forget after being substituted at the end of the first period to be replaced by Chelsea's Andre Schurrle. Schurrle offered more directness in their German attack and it was his back heel finish in extra time that opened the scoring.
Thomas Muller looked like the only German attacker who made his presence felt throughout the game. Despite not adding to his impressive tally in the cup so far, the Bayern forward was ever-present in every German attack. Arsenal's record signing Mesut Ozil once again failed to live up to his high expectations and despite scoring the second goal, his overall contribution was not up to the level one would expect of him.
Low has an abundance of options in attack and it is hard to leave out some of those world class players but it is quite surprising how poorly he has utilized the wings in the tournament so far.
His three man midfield attack has seen the use of Gotze, Ozil and Toni Kroos who don’t use the width of the field that often, leaving the attack very narrow and thus exposing the full-backs on the counter attack.
Germany survived this test but it exposed numerous issues in their side, one which Low needs to find an answer to before their game against France in the quarter finals. The Les Blues have been in fine form in the tournament so far and won’t offer the Germans as many chances to stay in the game as the Algerians did.