Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014: Is versatile Philipp Lahm the solution to Germany’s defensive frailties?

Lahm was shifted from defensive midfield to right-back during France win

Rio de Janeiro

As the German players came through the mixed zone of the Maracana on Friday, there was a renewed assurance to their demeanour. This was no longer the group so startled by Algeria in the second round, or the side that looked so much more fragile than the force of the past few years. It was a squad emboldened by what was an impressively controlled 1-0 win over France. There was a real sense of the team showing their true selves, finally coming into their own.

LIVE: The latest from Brazil vs Germany

Only one question dented the mood, and it partially stemmed from the single problem the Germans endured during the game.

What was the reason for the greater defensive solidity? Was it Jogi Löw finally removing Philipp Lahm from defensive midfield and restoring him to right-back? Somewhat understandably, all of the players talked generally about the overall strength of the team, with no one wanting to getting into any debates about the manager’s decisions.

Löw himself completely evaded the Lahm issue  when directly asked after the French win.

“Both teams focused on the defensive side,” the manager said. “Scoring opportunities were not there. Both teams had good tactical solutions defensively.”

The deepest question around Germany is whether that will be true for the rest of the tournament; whether they have finally found a solution to their own longer-term defensive issues.

 

It was that single problem in the quarter-final. As utterly composed as Germany were, and as much as Lahm’s positional switch made them look much less ragged, there were still conspicuous moments of blind panic any time France tried a simple ball over the top. One such effort almost let Karim Benzema in long before Mats Hummels’s goal, another forced a brilliant save from Manuel Neuer.

It reminded Löw and everyone else of the side’s big flaw. The movement of Lahm only made it a little less obvious. If every single team in the semi-finals has a major weakness, this is Germany’s.

Read more: France 0 Germany 1 match report
Hummels says German dream has become reality

The question is which one of those flaws will be caught first, but the Germans should perhaps have been caught out earlier in this World Cup. It is, in short, an utter fluke that they have only conceded three goals in five games.

The opening match against the Portuguese could have seen that doubled. Before Thomas Müller’s penalty completely rearranged the pattern of the game, Portugal were roaring through Germany at will. There were at least three early chances that should have been scored.

Ghana eventually took two of those opportunities in the next game, and the US were consistently capable of putting the Germans on the back foot. Even that 1-0 win saw one desperately panicked block from Lahm.

The warnings have been there for far longer. It was a porousness at the back that cost Germany against Italy in the Euro 2012 semi-final defeat, and they had a worse defensive record than any other European group winner in qualifying for this World Cup. The persistence of the problem has raised the deepest doubts about Löw’s managerial ability. Although he seems capable of putting together a genuinely sensational attack, it is often as if the defensive side is something of a blind spot.

For Löw’s part, there was progress against France, and solutions also presented themselves further up the pitch. There was the very space vacated by Lahm, with Bastien Schweinsteiger yesterday enthusing about the work done at centre-midfield, as he and Sami Khedira started there together for the first time in this tournament. That played a major part in the control Germany displayed, as they almost replicated Spain in finding security out of just keeping the ball. Löw’s side are only marginally behind Argentina in the possession stats out of the countries left.

“I think things worked well between Sami Khedira and myself,” Schweinsteiger said. “We didn’t leave any space for the opposition.”

The added positive for Germany in this game is that Brazil don’t seem to have the pace on the break to exploit any space that is left. In that regard, Neymar’s injury is even more important. He is one of the few Brazilian attackers with the fleetness that Germany are so susceptible to.

The hosts may have to find another way through.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor