Yakin should strengthen Xhaka instead of weakening it

The Swiss national football team made a miserable impression at the 0:4 in Lisbon. Murat Yakin is facing serious difficulties sooner than expected – and challenges on several fronts.

0: 4 in Portugal – Switzerland has not lost so much in 14 years.

Laurent Gillieron / Keystone

Perhaps at some point people will say that on June 5th in Lisbon, the Swiss national team realized what the 2022 World Cup was all about. The selection lost 4-0 to Portugal on Sunday evening in a Nations League game in which they were not downgraded even further thanks to the generous hosts in the end. Switzerland has rarely been shown like this, the national team last lost 14 years ago in a friendly against Germany by four goals (also 0:4).

After four international matches, the ambitious team is still waiting for their first win of the year. The performance in Lisbon was unsatisfactory in every respect. The Swiss lacked stability and enthusiasm, a plan and the mentality to defend themselves against a superior opponent. They were repeatedly surprised by the rapid changeover game of the Portuguese, defended carelessly and were overwhelmed against one of the World Cup favorites.

The lack of squad width as a problem

The Swiss see themselves on an equal footing with the world’s best teams. After a successful start under national coach Murat Yakin last autumn, there is now great frustration. Yakin should give food for thought as to how his team presented themselves during the debacle in Lisbon. He should have recognized by Sunday at the latest that Switzerland lacks the necessary squad width to be competitive at the highest level if several regular players are missing or rested. Of the starting line-up against Portugal, the only undisputed regulars are Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and possibly Ricardo Rodriguez.

If, for example, the central defenders Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi are injured, as on Sunday, the loss of quality is striking. Fabian Schär and especially Fabian Frei lack speed, right-back Kevin Mbabu remains a security risk. In midfield, the Swiss went down against a robust opponent. And on the offensive only Shaqiri as well as Breel Embolo and Noah Okafor meet higher standards. The comparison with the Portuguese, who could have two teams at the absolute top level, was sobering for the Swiss.

The national coach is not in the best shape in 2022 either. Last year, Murat Yakin succeeded in almost everything he tackled. He surprisingly deployed Fabian Frei in midfield against Italy and was praised for his tactical instincts. Recently, Yakin has attracted attention primarily with strange decisions.

So he put the central builder Djibril Sow on the right side at 1: 2 on Thursday in the Czech Republic. On Sunday in Portugal, for example, he replaced Ruben Vargas, who had injured himself while warming up, on the left wing with defensive player Jordan Lotomba. And so, with his tactical experiment against the Czech Republic, he fueled a debate that he must end as soon as possible. Because Yakin has destabilized the Captain Xhaka.

Yakin lacks flair when dealing with Xhaka

The coach still hasn’t managed to integrate Xhaka. This was missing in the fall due to Corona and injuries. The confident midfielder will be back in 2022, but he hasn’t impressed so far. Ironically, Yakin, once a leader as a footballer with the claim to play a special role, lacks intuition when dealing with Xhaka. When the coach says there is no hierarchy in central midfield for him, it must sound like a humiliation for the proud Xhaka. Under Yakin’s predecessor, Vladimir Petkovic, he was the dominant, central figure in the Swiss game for years.

And because Xhaka sometimes reacts very emotionally, a tricky situation has arisen. The captain said after the game in Portugal that Yakin was the boss. And he said he was misunderstood after the defeat in the Czech Republic when he said: “The coaches who know me and know what my position is, let me play deeper.” In the 4-4-2 system tried out by Yakin, Xhaka had to take on an unusually offensive role in which he didn’t feel comfortable. One could only understand his statement as a criticism of the national coach.

Murat Yakin is suddenly challenged on different fronts. He’s well advised to bolster his Captain – even if Xhaka doesn’t perfectly match his ideas of attacking vertically and quickly and dynamically. Because a Swiss team without Xhaka is currently difficult to imagine. And when Yakin says there’s just a little bit of a lack of luck, that’s an euphemism of the facts. Especially since he benefited from the fact that the Italian Jorginho missed a penalty in both World Cup qualifiers against Switzerland in his brilliant debut. Swiss happiness is fragile.

The mood has changed

There is still no reason to panic for Murat Yakin and the national team. But the mood has changed, and not only Xhaka reacted irritably and snotty to questions from the media. That doesn’t have to be a bad sign, because it was the captain who played his best international matches when the Swiss were stuck in a wagon camp mentality. The two Nations League home games this week in Geneva, on Thursday against Spain and on Sunday against Portugal, will unexpectedly be a character test for the Swiss.

Judging by the performance in Lisbon, it takes a lot of imagination to believe that Switzerland will be able to keep up with the strongest nations at the World Cup at the end of the year. On the other hand, it was not even twelve months ago that the national team managed to demonstrate strength and unity after a heavy defeat and devastating criticism. A few days after the painful 3-0 defeat against Italy in the preliminary round of the European Championship came the magnificent victory in the round of 16 against world champions France.

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