Germany under Joachim Loew have long had the benefit of developing their squad with few key players requiring replacement. Age and injury forced Michael Ballack out of the team in 2010, but the captain was immediately replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had recently converted from his position as a winger to central midfield.
Loew now faces a far more complicated task as Miroslav Klose approaches retirement. The 35-year-old is in the winter of his career and unlike Ballack before, there is no clear replacement for him. As such, the Lazio man has until now retained his starting role when fit despite experiencing a natural decline over the last few years.
With the 2014 World Cup still eight months away and Klose's decline accelerating, the big question in German football is how Loew will make plans for next summer's tournament in Brazil. Here's a round-up of Germany's striking options, their advantages and disadvantages, and the prospects they face moving forward.
The Champion: Miroslav Klose
Having scored 14 World Cup goals in his career, second only to Ronaldo, Miroslav Klose is a tried-and-true option for the position of central striker. The Lazio striker is the second-most-capped player in the history of German football and is level with Gerd Mueller's record of 68 goals for the Mannschaft.
The veteran Klose has long been a perfect fit for Joachim Loew's system: In addition to finishing, he presses well and can create chances both by passing and simply running to stretch defenses and open space for teammates.
Although an automatic first choice for most of his illustrious career, Klose is nearing his expiration date. He will turn 36 before the World Cup begins, and already the goals are beginning to dry up. He's only scored one goal for Germany this year, and his decreasing pace and increasing proneness to injury make him unreliable and a shadow of the player he once was.
Playing 90 or even 60 minutes every three days may be too much for Klose to handle in his old age; in all likelihood he will be used as a substitute.
As the saying goes, form is temporary, but class is permanent. If Klose conserves his strength and comes on for the final 15 minutes or so of any given game, Klose may then make his impression felt in the greatest way.
The Contender: Mario Gomez
"Between Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez there is now a competition among equals," Loew said in September of 2011. The trainer's admission that Gomez was on par with Germany's greatest striker since Juergen Klinsmann was a resounding vote of confidence in the then-Bayern forward. But things have changed since then.
Gomez went on to score 41 goals for Bayern before Euro 2012, but that would prove to be the peak of his career until now. The ex-Stuttgart striker scored three goals in the Euro group stage, but he failed to click with key playmaker Mesut Ozil and took heavy criticism from Mehmet Scholl for being too immobile.
He was consequently dropped from Loew's first XI and spent all of last season on the Bayern bench. Now a Fiorentina player, he is in the midst of a long-term absence following a knee injury.
Gomez is going through a difficult spell in his career. But at the same time, Klose is veritably ancient by now, and there are no other classic strikers available to Loew who have established themselves in the Champions League and played regularly for Germany.
Although Gomez may seem the only real option for a striker, he will need to be on his best form once he returns to action. Much can happen in the months leading up to the World Cup.
The Unwanted: Stefan Kiessling
Like it or not, the odds of Stefan Kiessling playing any role in the German national team under Joachim Loew are precisely zero. Even with Klose and Gomez unavailable for Germany's upcoming World Cup qualifiers, the trainer declined to select Kiessling.
The Kids: Kevin Volland and Pierre-Michel Lasogga
With five goals and three assists this season, Kevin Volland has picked up where he left off in 2012-13 and even taken the next step. The 21-year-old is perhaps the most similar player Loew has to Klose in terms of skill set: a good finisher with strong technical skill and excellent tactical positioning. Volland most commonly plays on the wing at Hoffenheim, but he has all the qualities a striker needs and can play anywhere in attack. For the time being, however, he remains only a Germany under-21 international.
Two seasons ago, Pierre-Michel Lasogga was Germany's brightest striking prospect. The Gladbeck native had had a breakthrough season with Hertha BSC in the 2. Bundesliga, and his classic poaching style was a rarity among a generation rich in attacking midfield talent but few classic strikers of considerable quality.
Lasogga suffered a huge setback at the end of the 2011-12 season as he tore his ACL, and only returned to action late last season. He has since been loaned to Hamburg, where, after missing the month of August with an ankle injury, he has really found his form. Lasogga was on target against Frankfurt two weeks ago and netted a hat-trick for HSV in Nuernberg last Sunday. There is still a long way to go for him to be truly in the running for a spot in Loew's Germany team, but Lasogga has plenty of talent and just might find his way to Brazil.
The one barrier that both Volland and Lasogga face is that neither has any experience in the Champions League or even the Europa League. Loew tends to only nominate players with international experience at club level which, barring an improbable January transfer, neither will have before next summer.
The Non-Striker Solutions: Max Kruse, Mario Goetze, Nicolai Mueller, Thomas Mueller and Julian Draxler
A few years ago it may have sounded blasphemous, but there is growing reason for Loew to use a system without a classic type of striker.
The trainer already has world-class attacking midfielders in the form of Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller and Marco Reus, all of whom are undroppable and the eldest of whom is still not yet 25. But that leaves Mario Goetze (touted by some as Germany's "talent of the century") and Julian Draxler (whose value according to Transfermarkt is the same as that of Goetze at the same age) on the bench.
At 21 and 20, respectively, both are still on the rise and may well exceed all of Germany's current starters in attacking midfield long before any of them begin to decline. And there are several other rising talents not far behind.
Although he has emphasized that it's not his intent to get rid of strikers, Loew has often spoken of using an unorthodox striker like Marco Reus, a plan with which Franz Beckenbauer has agreed. He used Goetze as his lone striker in a scoreless draw with the Netherlands last November and selected the ex-Dortmund star ahead of Gomez in two World Cup qualifiers with Kazakhstan in March.
Draxler is also familiar with the striker role, having played there for Schalke on occasion last season. Mueller, started as a striker in Bayern's last two matches, has adapted to the role quite well.
Also on the list are Max Kruse and Nicolai Mueller. Although he has played primarily on the right wing at Mainz, the latter is in excellent goal-scoring form this season and was twice capped over the summer, albeit for a combined 14 minutes.
Kruse is in better standing, having secured a permanent spot as Gladbach's main striker and scored and assisted five goals apiece in his first eight matches of the Bundesliga season. Although he has no Champions League or Europa League experience, Kruse (like Nicolai Mueller) was fortunate enough to be called up to a makeshift Germany squad for summer friendlies with Ecuador and the USA.
He took his chances with two goals and an assist, and has been selected again following his strong performances for Gladbach.
With a front four of capable finishers who can play anywhere in attack, Loew needs not to designate any particular striker: Any four of Ozil, Reus, the two Muellers, Goetze, Draxler and Kruse can play in attack, swapping positions.
It's a system that will require some time for players to adapt. And tactically, it makes the classic get-the-ball-wide-and-cross-to-the-big-guy strategy all but impossible. But if given time for players to adapt, it also means extremely direct, high-brow football in which the front four can dribble and quickly pass in any combination through defenses and towards goal.
With Klose and Gomez both injured for Germany's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Ireland and Sweden, Loew has no choice but to use an unorthodox striker. The result of his experiment may go a long way towards deciding whether he takes a bold step or plays it safe with Klose and Gomez in Brazil.
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