The DFB team still has a major defensive problem under Hansi Flick. In Malick Thiaw, a young centre-back could now be given the chance to be part of the solution. The 21-year-old from AC Milan offers a player profile that the national coach should like.
Hansi Flick has now sat on the sidelines 19 times as coach of the DFB. His team conceded 17 goals. 15 of them in the past eleven games. Only against Oman did the Germans manage not to concede a goal. Around a year before the European Championships in their own country, the national coach certainly has numerous problems to solve, but one thing is quite obvious: the defense is shaking too much.
For years, Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels shaped the German central defense together. Both are no longer an option for the future. Niklas Süle, Nico Schlotterbeck, Antonio Rüdiger – Flick has numerous alternatives. But none of them have been able to convince, or at least not consistently enough.
And so opportunities arise. Young players, many of whom aren’t really on the radar at the moment, will be given their chance to do better. One of them is Malick Thiaw. The 21-year-old has become firmly entrenched in AC Milan’s central defense in recent weeks.
According to rumors, he should be called up by Flick for the first time in the upcoming international break. The DFB squad for the friendlies in Peru (March 25) and Belgium (March 28) will be announced on Friday – Thiaw can prove himself one last time on Monday against US Salernitana (8:45 p.m. in the live ticker). That’s why he could become an important piece of the puzzle for the national coach, despite well-known competition.
DFB-Team: The defensive problems in the analysis
Flick’s game idea certainly has many components, but one thing stands out: speed. With the ball, but also against the ball, players have to switch and switch quickly. Ideally, you need to be quick on your feet, but also quick in your head. At times, the 58-year-old was able to implement his philosophy almost perfectly with FC Bayern. There he had the players capable of playing such dynamic and relentlessly attacking football without paying too much in defence.
Because his football is designed to put the opponent under pressure. With the ball through a very high alignment, against the ball with aggressive counter-pressing. However, if this is undermined, as was shown above all by the World Cup in Qatar, the holes behind it are huge – and so a lot is coming up, especially for the remaining defense.
Süle, Schlotterbeck and Rüdiger are all not slow and have already gained experience at the highest level. In the national team, however, none of them were flawless. Schlotterbeck, in particular, sometimes acts too hectic, almost too emotionally, and repeatedly tears holes in the chain. He has a hard time keeping the line.
Süle and Rüdiger should be more stable, but also showed themselves to be overwhelmed several times when they had to make decisions when they were equal or outnumbered. The positional play of the two was often not good enough, their defensive behavior sometimes too timid. Flick has been criticized several times for his offensive approach because he doesn’t have the players for it at the DFB.
DFB-Team: Can Malick Thiaw be part of the solution?
This is where Thiaw might come in. Because the native of Düsseldorf has some strengths that could stabilize the defensive game of the Germans, at least on paper. Because perhaps its greatest quality lies in anticipation. Thiaw is great at reading a game because he has a good understanding of the game and at the same time almost never loses track.
Who’s on the ball? What players are nearby? What options does this offer? Central defenders usually have to answer these and a few more questions in fractions of a second by acting intuitively. Does it make sense to defend in front or should the attack be slowed down by clever dropping? Thiaw has a remarkable consistency in his decisions for his age.
He is also a very courageous defender – similar to Schlotterbeck, only more careful. 2.32 of his 2.68 ground tackles per 90 minutes are successful, an impressive 86.5 percent rate. For Flick, however, it should be particularly relevant that the former Schalke player is very fast despite his height of 1.94 meters.
In combination with his game intelligence, he could be of great help to the DFB team by closing one of the two half-spaces in the remaining defense and intercepting counterattacks there.
DFB team: Where Malick Thiaw still needs to improve
Especially with young players, the big question will be whether a young player is able to transfer his existing skills to a higher level. At Milan he managed to do that in the last few weeks. The main reason why the DFB is a different house number is that the team is less well-coordinated and the defensive system is even more demanding.
Because in order to meet the demands placed on a central defender in the flick system, you have to be among the best. This also includes working with the ball, where sometimes large distances have to be played. So far, the build-up game is not one of Thiaw’s strongest points, although he has indicated potential for development in the past.
Only 4.2 percent of his passes create a space gain of almost ten meters in the direction of the opposing goal. Schlotterbeck (8.5%) and Süle (7.4%) are significantly more progressive in terms of build-up play, while Rüdiger (3.7%), a central defender, mainly plays safety passes. This is where Thiaw would have to make the biggest leap in development to get it permanently under Flick.
If he can do that, however, he has a promising profile for the national team and for the offensive system that Flick prefers. One that Süle, Schlotterbeck and Rüdiger do not offer in this form.
Malick Thiaw: performance data at Milan
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