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Leon and the Lothar factor

  • Two goals against Mexico
  • Running the channels like Matthaus
  • Picked out by Low for special praise

*By Steffen Potter with Germany

This is not the first time that Leon Goretzka has been compared with Lothar Matthaus. But during the 4-1 FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 semi-final win over Mexico, there were definite moments that reminded observers of the captain of the 1990 FIFA World Cup™-winning team.

Like Goretzka, Matthaus – now 56 – was a central midfielder who was defensively-minded from the outset as opposed to being a playmaker. And yet his boundless energy transformed him into one of the best players in the world.

These are exactly the qualities that make 22-year-old Goretzka, who plies his trade domestically for Schalke, stand out from the crowd. He can start off in defensive midfield, then accelerate past opponents in a couple of strides before hitting top speed and running into the channels, as he did for the goal that made it 2-0, latching onto a perfect pass from Timo Werner. 

The opening goal, that came just a few minutes earlier, followed a similar pattern. Germany attacked down the right flank, and initially there appeared no need for a central midfielder to get involved. But suddenly there was Goretzka, making a run from deep and giving winger Henrichs the opportunity to make a direct, inch-perfect pass to the edge of the box that saw the Germans take the lead.

“When you play with two defensive midfielders, the ball has to travel a bit further to get to the danger zone, but one of his main attributes is that he covers the necessary ground,” coach Joachim Low said of Goretzka after the match. “For the second goal, he came from a deep-lying midfield position, which made him difficult to defend against, and there he was to make the difference.”

Goretzka himself is not one to sing his own praises, but he is more than ready to stand up and be counted. “I’m not keen on saying that there is an age you have to be for certain things. You can take responsibility on board when you’re young,” he said – and he certainly demonstrates this belief out on the pitch. 

An English newspaper once said of Matthaus that it looked as if his body was made of steel – opponents simply bounced off this solid piece of German machinery. And if you look, you can see how Goretzka is cut from the same cloth – for example when he was a yard behind two Mexicans in a race for the ball, only to catch them up, part them effortlessly then leave them in his wake.

Matthaus himself can see the likeness. “Goretzka is a box-to-box player, has a good shot on him and is always there when you need him. He’s young, German and has potential to develop,” were the words he used to recommend the lad from Bochum to Bayern Munich back in March. “I was that kind of player too – I liked to help out in my own penalty area, win the ball back and take it forward.”

Matthaus bagged a brace in the opening match of Italy 1990, cementing his status as a truly world-class player. The 6’3 (1.91m) Goretzka is not there yet, but his two goals have certainly seen him leap to prominence on the global stage.

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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