Picking the Strongest Germany XI for the World Cup on Current Form
Germany will travel to the World Cup in Brazil this summer as one of the favorites to win the tournament. Joachim Low’s team will hope to win their first international trophy in almost two decades.
Having one of the most talented pool of players in the world at his disposal, Low will be under a lot of pressure to perform. But finding the right balance amidst such a large squad of talented players is easier said than done and success will depend on Low’s ability to pick the right team.
Leading up to their friendly against Chile, Low stressed the importance of good form before a tournament and said that historically all successful German teams at the World Cup always had their key players in their best form going into and during the tournament.
Low faces several challenges not only picking the right squad but a functional starting 11. More than ever before during his spell as national team manager, form will decide a player’s spot in Brazil.
So if the World Cup started tomorrow, what would Germany’s starting lineup look like? Using Low’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, let us take a look at Germany’s starters using Low’s criteria.
GK: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
The stereotype remains; Germany are spoiled for choice and have a wealth of talent as far as their goalkeepers are concerned. Still, there is no question that Manuel Neuer is and remains the national team’s undisputed No. 1.
Neuer is a key figure in what may very well be the greatest club side in German football history. He has played almost every single minute of Bayern Munich’s record-breaking season. Despite often being a mere spectator as his teammates dominate the opposition, he rarely ever puts a foot wrong when called upon.
The Bayern goalkeeper has the best shot-stopping percentage in the league. In fact, before the Schalke match this past weekend he saved 100 percent of shots in the second half of the season. Over the course of the season that number stands at an impressive 84.13 in the league.
Bayern’s defense is so impressive precisely because of the security Neuer provides. With him in goal, they have kept an incredible 23 clean sheets in all competitions so far. If Germany are to be successful at the World Cup they will need the personality and performance of Neuer.
RB: Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund)
Many will probably expect to see Philipp Lahm in this position, but his transformation into a central midfielder under Pep Guardiola, and the likelihood of Low continuing that with the national team, means the spot is very much up for grabs.
Luckily, Borussia Dortmund’s crowd favorite and most versatile player, Kevin Grosskreutz, has emerged as the prime candidate to fill that vacancy. The long-term absence to usual right-back Lukasz Piszczek meant Grosskreutz has played there for most of the season. And not only did he deputize admirably but he has been arguably the league’s best performer in that position.
The 25-year-old was also the hero in Dortmund’s last Champions League group stage game, his late winner meant Dortmund won the group and qualified for the knockout stages. The combination of his never-say-die attitude and tireless running is the ideal complement to Germany’s attacking style.
Most importantly, it could solve Germany’s decade-long problem of finding a suitable player for the ever-present and irreplaceable Lahm. With Lahm in midfield, Germany’s wide play would no longer be imbalanced and their play could improve as a result.
CB: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)
A team does not get to break record after record domestically and internationally without a rock-solid defense. Despite Bayern’s impeccable attacking play, the foundation of their success, this and last year, has been a reliable defense. At the heart of that has been Jerome Boateng.
In the last three seasons, Boateng has gone from being a makeshift defender to Germany’s best center-back and arguably the most important part of an historic defense at Bayern. The German giants set a record for goals conceded in the league last year (18) and are on course to beat that this season, having conceded just 10 so far.
Boateng’s athleticism and passing abilities are perfectly suited for Low’s open and fluid style of play and although he has been rotating defenders over the years to try and find the right combination, Boateng has almost always made the cut.
Regardless of who Boateng had next to him, he has always adjusted and performed well. No longer the erratic and tackle-happy defender of his younger days, his game is now refined, calculated and risk-free.
CB: Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
He may not be the fastest defender around but few center-backs read the game better than Per Mertesacker. After a drop-off in form and performance over the last couple of years Mertesacker is back to his best with Arsenal this season.
The veteran defender has been at the heart of one of the Premier League’s best defenses and formed a formidable partnership with Laurent Koscielny.
In fact, when the two start Arsenal rarely lose. And Low will be hoping for the same with Mertesacker and Boateng this summer, who has been his preferred pairing at the back recently.
More than anything, Mertesacker will bring experience and leadership to the table. The 29-year-old has already been part of two World Cup cycles and is just five games away from his 100th cap. With so many young players coming in and out of the team, Low relies on Mertesacker to be a leading voice on and off the field.
Mertesacker has benefited from Mats Hummels' injuries and dip in form, but he is playing arguably his best individual season since his days at Werder Bremen. His partnership with Boateng has also gotten significantly better. The belief is that with the two, Germany has finally found the right pair to stick with.
LB: Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund)
If one were to pick out Germany’s weak spot, the left-back position would be it. The reason Lahm has been switched between left-back and right-back so often over the years is precisely because of the significant drop in quality for any of the other alternatives.
The choices for this position are therefore limited to begin with. Low has tried several players there including Dennis Aogo, Marcell Jansen and even two center-backs in Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng, none of which were sustainable or reliable options.
Eventually, Marcel Schmelzer became the best option and will likely retain his place come Brazil. Schmelzer’s form has been up and down this season but he has been a reliable performer and team-mate.
In Schmelzer, Low may not have the best football player but someone who gets forward often, has a great work-rate and has built a good understanding with the players around him. He is no Lahm but with Schmelzer and Grosskreutz, Germany’s overall game will be a lot more balanced.
CM: Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
To those who have followed Philipp Lahm’s career it came as no surprise just how well he transitioned into his central midfield role. Even so, the level of performance and ability to raise his game to an even greater level has been revelatory.
So much so that Low is willing to now reconstruct his team around Lahm. He confirmed that Lahm will start in central midfield in their friendly against Chile and likely for the remainder of their test matches before Brazil.
Lahm has been arguably the best player in the Bundesliga this season and provides something that no current German player can—namely be the lone holder in a three-man midfield. Although Low prefers a 4-2-3-1 the tactical evolution of the team points to a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 hybrid.
His fine technique, great passing and composure on the ball make him an obvious choice in midfield and will only bolster the rest of the squad as he has at Bayern. If anyone will be the difference-maker for Germany in Brazil, it will be Lahm in his new midfield position.
CM: Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
Philipp Lahm aside, there is no better central midfielder in Germany right now than Toni Kroos. The Bayern playmaker is in the form of his life and has truly excelled under Pep Guardiola.
Notable German football publication Kicker currently ranks Kroos as the third best player in the Bundesliga. He has also arguably been Bayern’s best performer in the Champions League this season.
Kroos’ ability to play as the team’s No. 10 and in a deeper central midfield role make him extremely valuable to Low and Germany. He is undoubtedly the best shooter in the squad, and he has refined both his passing and his defensive work, the latter being a primary point of criticism in the past.
Although mired in a drawn-out contract negotiation with the club, there is no doubt about his inclusion in the squad for Brazil. The only question is how Low will accommodate Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Lahm when all three are fit and available.
RWF: Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich)
This is another no-brainer for Low. Even when out of form, Mueller will likely always have a spot in the starting lineup simply because he has proven to be such an invaluable member of the team over the years. Although his inclusion is easily justifiable by his incredible season so far.
Mueller is on course to have his most prolific season yet for Bayern. He has already scored 20 goals in all competitions for the club, his best still being 23 from last season. Like his legendary namesake Gerd, Thomas has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, and his awkward frame and movement can make him impossible to mark and predict by opponents.
Still just 24, Mueller is also one of the veterans of the team now and crucial to the off-pitch dynamics. You can put any players around Mueller and he will adjust and find ways to get the best out of them, which is also why he has been universally praised by all his coaches.
In Mueller, Low will also have an auxiliary striker out on the field, which is especially helpful in a one-striker formation. Mueller’s tendency to drift centrally and occupy the penalty area enables the team’s fluidity and unpredictability. Simply put, Mueller is a must for Germany.
CAM: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
Ozil has come under a fair amount of criticism this season. His high-profile move to Arsenal last summer came with big expectations, and the team’s drop in performance and results have often been interpreted as his inability to perform on big occasions.
Fortunately for Germany, that has been the exact opposite experience for Ozil. The 25-year-old remains Germany’s most important and influential player. Nearly every attack runs through him, he sees the ball more than any other player and that is why he will remain in the starting lineup regardless of how he may perform at club level.
Low has been very careful to build the team around Ozil since his debut five years ago and has carefully integrated other players so as not to disrupt Ozil as the central figure. That lack of systematic support is also why he may struggle sometimes at his club.
In many ways, Ozil is an exception to Low’s criteria but special players often necessitate special rules. He was Germany’s top scorer in World Cup qualifying and one of their best performers in the last two international tournaments. Either way, Ozil is here to stay.
LWF: Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund)
Another player whose national team stock has risen in the last two years is Marco Reus. The Dortmund attacker is one of the Bundesliga’s best performers this season and made the position on the left his own.
He has 13 goals and 16 assists in all competitions for Dortmund already this season and was one of Germany’s best performers in World Cup qualifying. At Dortmund, Reus has taken on a more creative role following Mario Goetze’s departure and has so far created more goalscoring chances than any other player in the Bundesliga.
Reus’ blistering speed and eye for goal make him the perfect complement to Ozil and Mueller. The three have formed an intuitive and organic chemistry that has taken Germany’s counter-attacking game and made it more unpredictable and lethal.
Like Mueller, Reus often drifts centrally to link up and make space for others, and his experience with Schmelzer at Dortmund should also help when the two start on the left for Germany this summer.
FW: Mario Goetze (Bayern Munich)
Low hinted at a striker-less system throughout qualifying. With Miroslav Klose’s best days behind him and Mario Gomez still recovering from a long-term injury, Goetze will likely be the lone man up top come the summer.
Since coming back from injury last October, Goetze has been nothing short of sensational for Bayern. He has scored 10 goals and assisted nine in that run, playing in a variety of positions. Just recently he has been filling in for the injured Franck Ribery on the left but has played as the lone striker and behind the striker as well.
That versatility and functionality makes Goetze the ideal candidate to play the so-called “False Nine” role. For a trained midfielder, Goetze’s finishing and nose for goal are impressive to say the least and at just 21 years of age, his potential is endless.
Just like 2010 was Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller’s World Cup, Brazil can be the tournament where Goetze establishes himself as one of the elite players in the game. If any player in this lineup fits Low’s criteria for improving form, it is Goetze. The best is yet to come from young Mario, and we may just see that in Brazil.