It is the Germans who always find a way to adapt to football revolution.
In the 1970’s, when Ajax Amsterdam and Holland developed total football, Bayern Munich and West Germany found a way to take it to the next level. In a team boasting Franz Beckenbauer, they had a complete footballer; a defender, a passer, a scorer. That carried onto the rest of the team, and Bayern Munich dominated club football while West Germany did the same on the international stage.
Something similar seems to be happening. While Barcelona and Spain have dominated via the development of tiki-taka, Bayern Munich and Germany have seemingly evolved it. By adding physique to the dimunitiveness of Spanish midfielders, and by creating pace where there was pause, they have moved on where Spain have come to be found out.
This does however produce a sword of both extremes — sharp on one end, blunt on the other.
As an advantage, Germany now possess one of the most technically gifted sides in the world. Their players are also universalists — meaning they can virtually play anywhere on the pitch. Phillip Lahm for example can play at left back, right back and as a holding midfielder.
The disadvantage comes in that as strong as it looks, it is difficult to predict what Germany’s strongest side really is. Even when that becomes possible, it produces another quandary, as football is an 11 aside game and much quality will be left on the bench.
That is Joachim Low’s headache. The German manager must find a perfect balance to his incredibly talented side. Granted, it is better to have this sort of managerial headache than to have one of less talented players.
Thus, what team starts the tournament is anybody’s guess.
Manuel Neuer is most certainly Germany’s number one, but who starts in front of him could be a myriad of players. Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker seem the best bet to partner in center back, but either Jerome Boateng or Benedikt Howedes can do the same.
Boateng and Howedes can also play in either of the full back positions, but if there are any specialists there, it is Kevin Grosskeutz at right back and Erik Durm at left back. These two however could be last resort options.
And yet, it should be mentioned that captain Lahm is Germany’s best full back — be it right or left. It has in previous tournaments caused a problem. When the best right back and left back is the same player, then confusion can reign as to where to play him.
This time though, there are good enough choices for a more viable decision to be made.
As per usual, Germany will in all likelihood play a 4-2-3-1. The task is coming up with the five comprising the midfield ‘2-3’.
At the back of it, injury to Ilkay Gundogan, and fitness issues to Bastian Schweinsteioger mean Lahm and Sami Khedira could start the tournament. However, Toni Kroos is another midfielder who could theoretically occupy either of those positions.
Kroos can also play as the attacking midfielder, joining the band of three just behind the striker. That band could consist of anyone from Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, to Andre Schurrle and Lukas Podolski. A huge miss though will be the injured Marco Reus.
The positioning of that band could be fluid, flowing as the game goes on. But an overdose of talent in that area could spill — and has affected — the forwards.
At Euro 2012, Low went with only two recognised strikers in his fianl 23 man squad but this time round, he has gone with only one. That one is Miroslav Klose. Tied on 14 World Cup goals with compatriot Gerd Muller, he needs only two goals to break Ronaldo (Luis Nazario)’s record of most World Cup goals.
He does have a habit of scoring more than one goal in Germany’s opening games of the World Cup. In 2002, he got a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia while in 2006 and 2010, he got a brace each against Costa Rica and Australia. Whether he will be given the chance to attempt to do the same against Portugal remains to be seen.
Germany’s talent in midfield means that Low may employ a false 9. Any of Gotze, Muller, Schurrle or even Ozil could play as the furthest forward player from the start, with Klose as back up should the goals from their high scoring midfielders not come.
It is however a complex jigsaw for Low to solve. Low’s tendency to overthink his tactics at times — as it was at Euro 2012 — could be a hindrance to Germany clinching the World Cup. If however he can balance out his top quality midfielders and find a the configuration that guarantees victory, then there is no reason why Germany’s versatility could not see them play — or even win — the final.