Mats Hummels eyes swift Germany recall, but is he the right fit vs. Poland?
PARIS -- The so-called Hosengate (Trousergate) was not the only bit of unwelcome publicity for manager Joachim Low after Germany's opening 2-0 win over Ukraine in the European Championship. As it turns out, national team sponsor Hugo Boss was also unhappy with the Bundestrainer, or more precisely, with his choice of attire for the match, a plain gray T-shirt. A spokesperson for the German designer told Business Insider that Low and assistant Thomas Schneider were supposed to don smart attire for the occasion, not the casual "travel outfit" that stadium visitors and TV viewers saw in Lille.
Will Low adhere to the dress code for Germany's night game vs. Poland in the French capital on Thursday? It's likely (the gray T-shirt wasn't too flattering in the humid conditions), even though the 56-year-old isn't really one for changing. In his four previous tournaments, he always picked starting teams for the second game that were identical with those from the opening fixtures. (Unfortunately, there aren't any readily available stats for his fashion choices on the bench.)
The past has told us that Low is loyal to his starting XI, but then again, he has never been forced into early reshuffles since his teams have always won their tournament openers. Thus, Mario Gomez will probably have to wait a bit longer for a chance to step back into the breach, and his rival for the centre-forward position, Mario Götze, can try to find some semblance of form once more. The performance of Götze, 24, was a major disappointment Sunday night.
The one change Low will be inclined to make, however, is to recall Mats Hummels in place of defender Shkodran Mustafi. who scored Germany's first goal against Ukraine. Hummels, who still plays for Borussia Dortmund but officially becomes a Bayern player next month, has pronounced himself ready to play after overcoming a hamstring tear he suffered in the DFB Pokal final against his future employers. Hummels, 27, made sure to tell reporters he was feeling fit after the Ukraine game. "It sounded a bit like a demand [to return]," according to Berliner Zeitung.
Hummels' recovery has taken less time than anticipated. On the other hand, his replacement (Mustafi) was described as "outstanding" by Low. Mustafi, 24, joked that he wasn't calculating the odds of his keeping his place ("I'm bad at maths") and there's no doubt that he would readily accept a demotion back to the bench. The more vocal, confident Hummels might not accept his noninvolvement quite as readily.
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Poland are Thursday's opponent at the Stade France, where Germany last appeared on the horrific evening of the Paris terror attacks in November. Poland pose a unique problem: They play with two mobile centre-forwards, Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax) and Robert Lewandowski (FC Bayern). Not the best game for a centre-back returning to fitness, perhaps, especially in this Germany team that's been built without the safety valve of a genuine holding midfielder in the centre.
"There's no categorical need to change the team, but I wouldn't say the same 11 always have to play," Low said in the prematch press conference, not committing himself either way.
If Hummels is fit enough after the final training session on Thursday morning, his inclusion would solve a couple of problems for Germany. First, Hummels would greatly increase the back four's pressing resistance. With two strikers, manager Adam Nawalka's Poland can attack defenders early, forcing the ball to go wide to the full-backs deep in Germany's half. While Jonas Hector and Benedikt Höwedes are solid enough, you wouldn't want to entrust them with your buildup play. Having the technically proficient Hummels alongside Jérôme Boateng would make it easier to play through that press, something Mustafi is less able to do.
More importantly, Hummels would bring width to a team that plays without genuine wingers. A centre-back bringing width? Yes. Hummels won't make any overlapping runs down the left-hand side, to be sure, but accurate long-range passing from the back to the wide areas is a key ploy for this Germany side, as the first game against Ukraine showed.
Both Thomas Müller and Julian Draxler were often stationed high and wide, so close to the touchline that the Dutch call such positioning "football of the white boots" (from the chalk). Neither offered enough pace to break through on their flanks, but as reference points, they stretched Ukraine's midfield simply by being there and getting the ball by way of some perfect Boateng passes. It was no coincidence that their opponents visibly tired after the break: Ukraine had spent a lot of energy shifting their lines from right to left and back again in the first half.
Poland's priority will be taking out Boateng as the deep-lying playmaker behind Germany's other playmaker, Toni Kroos; expect young Bartosz Kapustka to shadow the Real Madrid midfielder. Mustafi would in all likelihood be left alone, forced to move upfield with the ball until he runs out of space. With Hummels on the pitch, though, Germany's game has a third man who can be relied upon to play a decent ball from the defensive third.
For Low, the ability to play controlled attacking football from the back will presumably trump concerns over a lack of defensive sharpness, all things being equal. Whether he'll risk the ire of the national team's sponsors by dressing down again, though, is a bit harder to predict.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian. Twitter: @honigstein.