World champions Germany are in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 as we all know, but their quarter-final victory over Italy on penalties came at a cost.
The cost was the fact that Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira and Fiorentina striker Mario Gomez were both substituted with injuries.
Central midfielder Khedira is a doubt with a groin injury for Die Mannschaft’s semi-final clash with hosts France on Thursday night, but the bigger problem is that Gomez has been ruled out of the rest of the competition.
The only out-and-out striker in the squad
For all the quality in Joachim Low’s squad, Gomez is their only centre-forward. Germany have had a problem replacing veteran striker Miroslav Klose since the 2014 World Cup.
A dearth of real quality centre-forwards lead Low to play a striker-less formation for the first two games of Euro 2016, with Bayern Munich attacking midfielder Mario Gotze playing as a false number nine.
It did not take Sherlock Holmes to work out that the system was not going to yield great success for the Germans Larry Holmes could have worked that out.
Mario Gomez will be missed after stellar year
Low had brought Mario Gomez back into the squad at the end of last year and he scored his first international goal in four years against England in a friendly match. The striker was like the forgotten man of German football, having struggled for fitness and form in Italy with Fiorentina.
It was a gamble from Low, because he knew that his striking options were so limited and Gomez had hit form. The German boss could no longer ignore the big striker.
A loan move to Turkish side Besiktas last summer worked wonders for the striker’s confidence. The 30-year-old finished the season as the Turkish top-flight’s top scorer and helped his team to the Turkish title.
In France he scored in his first two starts and looked to be a contender for the golden boot, but fortune conspired against the striker in the Italy game as he limped off in the last 20 minutes. At the time it did not look good and the prognosis is that the striker will not be able to play again in France.
It is a huge blow for the striker who, although not the best technical player in the world became a good focal point for the team. He is unique in the German squad, as no other player can provide the physical presence he does.
A conundrum for Low
German boss Low has already stated that Gomez’s absence is a problem that he really needs to find a solution to. There are a few options available to Low.
He could go back to playing with the false number nine system with Gotze or maybe even Julian Draxler occupying the most advanced attacking position. However as previously stated the system failed to produce the desired results earlier in the competition.
The other attackers available to Low are former-Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski, who has been a goal scoring hero in the past for his country. Arguably his best performances were when he played in a wide attacking position.
There is also young highly-rated Schalke star Leroy Sane, who has had made just three appearances for the national side. The reported-Manchester City target is also more comfortable out wide or playing as an attacking midfielder.
The most obvious solution for Low is moving prolific Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller into the central striker’s role. Following the Poland game I wrote that I thought the Germans needed to change and play Muller in the central role.
Low decided to go with Gomez instead for the Northern Ireland game and it obviously proved to be a very good decision. Muller played up front when Gomez was substituted against Italy, but seems to be struggling for form in France.
His sheer presence on the pitch does always give his team a chance of a goal though. He is the sort of player that could disappear for most of the game and then pop-up with a crucial goal.
This problem will test Joachim Low’s managerial acumen and the 56-year-old, whose tactics have been questioned in his homeland, needs to come up with a solution quickly, as the spirits of hosts France are high and the world champions need to be ready for Didier Deschamps team, who are odds of 9/5 to defeat the world champions.
Can Joachim Low find a winning solution to Mario Gomez’s absence?