When World Cup squads are announced every four years, certain countries always seem stacked in certain positions. Spain have a wealth of clever, creative midfielders. Argentina are absolutely stacked with world-class forwards. Talented defenders are as prevalent in Italy as fine wine.
And then there is Germany, who have so many talented players across the roster, trying to name a starting 11 for the team is like trying to fill your cart as a contestant on the old show, Supermarket Sweep.
Inevitably, you're going to have to leave a few appealing things out of your cart.
On Monday it was confirmed that Shkodran Mustafi, Marcel Schmelzer and Kevin Volland were the three unlucky individuals to be left at home, per the official DFB website.
With the 23-man squad now announced, let's attempt to project how the starting 11 will shake out.
Here is Germany's 23-man starting roster:
|GK||Manuel Neuer||Bayern Munich|
|DEF||Jerome Boateng||Bayern Munich|
|DEF||Philipp Lahm||Bayern Munich|
|MID||Mario Gotze||Bayern Munich|
|MID||Christoph Kramer||Borussia Monchengladbach|
|MID||Sami Khedira||Real Madrid|
|MID||Toni Kroos||Bayern Munich|
|MID||Bastian Schweinsteiger||Bayern Munich|
|ATT||Thomas Muller||Bayern Munich|
And here are projections for the starting lineup:
When Joachim Loew first picked the provisional squad, he addressed the combination of youth and experience represented.
"When picking the squad it was important for us to have the right mix of experience and carefreeness and freshness," he told Reuters, via The Guardian. "Given the injuries and absences in the past few months it has not been an ideal situation for the national team. But we will rise to the challenges and we will find solutions and alternatives."
Germany have so much depth of talent, finding those solutions and alternatives likely wasn't quite as hard as Loew made it out to be. And Germany's actual starting 11 will be far more experienced than youthful.
But that doesn't mean there aren't major decisions to be made, including the most important one of all—where should he start Philipp Lahm?
If Sami Khedira is fit to play, his ability to bolster Germany's midfield pairs up nicely with Bastian Schweinsteiger's box-to-box abilities and playmaking capabilities. That pair would make Lahm a luxury in the midfield, not a necessity, especially when he represents a major upgrade at right-back over any other German options at the position.
The question marks surrounding Lahm are prevalent on this German team, where just about every position is up for grabs. Really, the only certainty seems to be that Manuel Neuer will be in goal and Lahm will be starting somewhere.
In central defence, three players—Per Mertesacker, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng—will be considered for two positions. It will be hard to keep Mertesacker out of the lineup after his wonderful season for Arsenal, and he will likely partner Hummels.
Of course, keeping Boateng on the bench will be a difficult decision to make, given his athleticism. Any combination of these three could start, and there would be little to no drop-off in quality depending on the choice.
On the left, the choice seems to be Borussia Dortmund's Erik Durm, who has battled injuries this season but has returned to fitness.
That leaves the attacking positions for Germany to solve and, boy, what a spoil of riches they have there.
Marco Reus has earned the right to start on the left wing for Germany. In 40 appearances for Borussia Dortmund this season, he scored 23 goals and added 17 assists. Raphael Honigstein of ESPN thinks he'll be the key man in Germany's attack:
The key player in terms of impact in the opposition half should be Reus. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder plays with a directness that is lacking in most of his equally gifted compatriots; his pace and eye for goals have made him undroppable. He's the one guaranteed starter in the crowded attacking department, but his exact position is yet to be determined.
Loew could field the 24-year-old in his customary club role on the left, but Reus is equally proficient in the central position behind a striker or even as deep-lying centre-forward himself.
If Germany are to succeed in Brazil, Reus will have to make the tournament his own, the way [Mesut] Ozil was able to do in 2010.
After that, it gets tricker.
Ozil is one of the finest playmakers in the world, and few play a prettier pass or have better vision. Ozil showed signs of wear and tear down the stretch in his first season with Arsenal, but there might not be a better facilitating No. 10 in the world when he is on his game. And he is almost always on his game for the German national team.
Still, Toni Kroos is also excellent in the role, and he is far more willing to take a shot from distance—or at all, really—than Ozil. A smart passer himself, Kroos brings a different element to the German attack, albeit a very good one.
On the right, Thomas Muller seems the logical choice. He'll likely be in the starting lineup somewhere, whether on the right or as the team's lone forward. He's simply too talented, too versatile and too energetic to keep on the bench.
And then there is the forward position. No one storyline dominated Germany after Loew named his provisional squad more than the exclusion of Mario Gomez, left out due to fitness concerns. That move seemed to suggest that Miroslav Klose would be the starting forward, but he's 35 years old and it remains uncertain if he could regularly give Germany a full 90 minutes.
That's why it wouldn't be surprising to see Mario Gotze slide into the centre-forward position in a false-nine role. It's a bit experimental for some German tastes, surely, but the versatility that selection would give Germany up front would make them incredibly difficult to deal with.
That's the main reason the combination of Reus, Ozil, Muller and Gotze is so appealing.
Reus can play both on the left and drift centrally. Ozil played in an Arsenal system that allowed the three players behind the striker the freedom to interchange and swap positions freely. Muller is best when given space to work, but he has the size, strength and clinical finishing to play as a striker. And Gotze can play any of the four positions and would likely drift into each one at various points in that game.
Imagine trying to track those four players around the pitch. Seems impossible, no?
Of course, Klose would give the team a target man in the box, so he'll surely make an impact at some point. And he always has goals in him at a World Cup. Always. So expect the Germans to try several combinations in Brazil.
That's the thing about this German side—there may be plenty of positions still up in the air, but the quality of the players able to slot into those positions is frightening. Once again, they'll be one of a handful of teams expected to win this tournament.
If Loew can find the right combinations, they'll do just that.