Germany are the only team to have not conceded a goal in the European Championships and much of this is down to their defensive leader, Jerome Boateng. He has been the guiding light for this Germany side as his influence is not just limited to Germany’s defensive activity but the pace and directness with which he releases the ball, has helped Germany probe rigid, deep-lying defences. His game has come leaps and bounds under Pep Guardiola as he has undoubtedly been Germany’s best performer as his well-struck volley against Slovakia capped off four fine performances.
He utilised the technical facet of his game in Bayern Munich’s match against Borussia Dortmund in a 5-1 win as he pinged two magnificent long balls to Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski for their goals in the match. In the home match against Atletico Madrid in the second-leg of their Champions League tie, he found Muller with a delicate long ball. Guardiola used Boateng to unsettle deep-lying defences and as a de facto playmaker for high-pressing and counter-attacking teams. Joachim Loew who has always taken advantage of the tactical breakthroughs of the Catalan mastermind indulged Boateng to express himself with the ball at his feet.
In Germany’s opening game of the Euros, Boateng made an incredible goal-line clearance which not only showed his immense athleticism but a masterful reading of the game and an innate sense of danger. In that match, he played with Shodrakan Mustafi but since then he has been mostly deployed next to the returning Mats Hummels. Hummels who was returning from injury struggled in the last two games of the group stage as his first touch was erratic and he was too lethargic in bringing the ball out of the back. Against Poland, he lost the ball for a Polish break in which Germany were lucky not to concede. In the final group game against Northern Ireland, he made a few sloppy passes and lost the ball in areas which made the world champions vulnerable to counters.
In that final game against Northern Ireland, Boateng managed to pick out Muller yet again with a well-weighted long pass, proving that he could probably even find the long-legged attacker in the Bermuda triangle. He also spread the ball to Joshua Kimmich who drove the ball forward and played a ball inside to Mesut Ozil who guided a pass to Muller who failed to convert his chance. The pace and tempo with which he brings the ball out of the back is integral to a team which is missing the pace of Marco Reus or Miroslav Klose’s expertise in the box. Against Slovakia he converted a sublime volley, only to underline the fact that he has been Germany’s best performer in the tournament.
Germany will play an organised and well-drilled counter-attacking Italy side in their next match and the guile with which the ball comes out of the back will be pivotal in breaking down a rigid and adaptable low-block. Spain also struggled to contain the rapid Eder who will be partnering Graziano Pelle and Emanuele Giaccherini as the Bayern Munich’s defender’s pace and physically imposing stature will be vital in containing a lethal Italian front-line. It is ironic that a right-wing German politician said that Boateng wouldn’t be a good neighbour but Hummels and the rest of the German team have thrived off having him in their midst. The comment seems to have only brought out some inspired performances to leave that politician looking foolish.
At 27 years-old, the Berlin native seems to finding his peak and he will find some stability in his game as it seems that he could partnering Hummels for club and country for the next few years of his career. As a dominant figure for Bayern and Germany this season, he could be leading Germany to more success and will be influential in Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich team next season. One can see why the medical staff worked tirelessly to get him back on the pitch after he suffered a calf problem against Ireland and had to be substituted. Germany may not have the lethal presence of Klose up front but Boateng is part of a experienced and talented spine involving him, Khedira, Kroos and Ozil which have been disciplined and imperious.
Boateng is the perfect specimen of the modern day centre-back as he is physically imposing, quick on his feet while also being clever on the ball and in his positioning. He is the conductor stringing passes together and scheming to break down deep-lying defences from the other end of the pitch and his class has been on show throughout this tournament. Loew is finally piecing together a well-balanced side capable of going for the gold as Kimmich, Julian Draxler and Mario Gomez have all worked their way into the team but Boateng has been the constant.