Germany's Striker Dilemma and How to Solve It for the World Cup

Cristian NyariContributor IMay 29, 2014

Germany's head coach Joachim Loew, left, comforts Miroslav Klose during the FIFA World Cup 2014 qualification group C soccer match between Germany and Austria in Munich, southern Germany, on Friday, Sept.6, 2013. (AP Photo/ Kerstin Joensson)
Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

Other than the multiple injury worries, the other major question facing Germany going into the World Cup is whom they will select to play up front.

When Joachim Low announced his provisional roster earlier this month, one thing stood out more than any other: There was only one recognized striker in the 30-player group.

Mario Gomez was omitted because of the lack of match practice and injuries this season, while Stefan Kiessling was frozen out by Low long ago. 

The only striker included was Miroslav Klose. Thirty-five-year-old Miroslav Klose. The Miroslav Klose who will be 36 by the time Germany's opener against Portugal comes around.

Four years ago in South Africa, Germany traveled with four strikers: Klose, Gomez, Kiessling and Cacau. Four years before that, Jurgen Klinsmann selected five in Klose, Mike Hanke, Oliver Neuville, Gerald Asamoah and Lukas Podolski. Germany also took five strikers to Japan and South Korea in 2002.

That trend remained consistent going back in time and through Germany's World Cup squads. Suffice it to say, this year is a major deviation from the norm. Germany are producing a high number of versatile attacking midfielders but very few out-and-out strikers.

It is a shift that is symbolic both of the type of talents being produced and the team's tactical evolution. But it is also one that carries with it a number of concerns. 

Klose's age has slowed him down significantly, and there have been signs in the last couple of years that he may not be a reliable 90-minute player anymore.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

With the harsh climate in Brazil and the difficulty of Germany's group, there are worries over whether Klose would be the right player to start.

And if Klose can't start, or if Low plans on having him be an option off the bench, the question then becomes: Who starts up front?

There are five realistic options: Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Marco Reus and Kevin Volland. Low already declared that he prefers Podolski to play out wide.

All those five options have either played or are very capable of filling in up front. They all interpret the role differently, of course, being more mobile, technical options that are ideally meant to improve the team's overall combination play and attacking output.

But who will it be? 

The use of a false nine is a fairly new one for Low and Germany. Since the 2010 World Cup, Low has started only six matches without a true striker. Throughout he usually always preferred more traditional forwards like Gomez, Klose and most recently Max Kruse.

Of those six matches, four featured Gotze up front. The other two were Mesut Ozil and most recently Volland in their friendly against Poland.

While Schurrle, Reus and Muller have all featured up top in some combination or another, none ever started there. And that is probably telling of how Low views them or from where he wants them to start attacks.

The speed of Schurrle and Reus is probably best utilized starting attacks deeper, especially in Low's emphasized counter-attacking game. Muller's work rate makes him great cover for the full-back on the right, so Low will likely keep him out there. 

Volland may be the surprise pick to go to Brazil, but merely as a backup to Klose rather than a starter.

If there is one player that suits a system devoid of a traditional striker, it would be Mario Gotze.

Low's first experimentation with a false nine came at the end of 2012, when he used Gotze up front in a friendly against the Netherlands. With it being a friendly and teams wanting to avoid injuries, there was not a lot to take from the experiment.

Felice Calabro'/Associated Press

But Low began using Gotze more frequently up top, and he started three games there in 2013. He featured several more times off the bench and is probably the leading candidate to replace Klose at the World Cup.

Gotze's technical ability and willingness to take players on make him ideal in Germany's quick combination game. He has shown great chemistry with Ozil in the national team, with Muller at Bayern and with Reus in their time at Borussia Dortmund.

The 21-year-old attacker was also used in such a role by Pep Guardiola at Bayern this season, both in the Bundesliga and the Champions League. 

Gotze's versatility makes him useful in multiple positions, but he may be Germany's best asset up front where he can use his clever runs and combine with the players behind him.

In Ozil, Reus, Muller and Toni Kroos, Germany have an extremely technical and intelligent core of attackers whose output is optimized if they have the right player to play off.

Klose's instincts in front of goal are almost second to none, but his lack of pace has slowed down his reaction speed significantly.

Germany will have the advantage of being quicker than all their group-stage opponents in Brazil and need to speed up their game as much as possible to overcome them. With Gotze out there, Germany are simply more unpredictable and faster on the trigger.

Gotze's finishing is also quite good. He has already scored 44 goals in all competitions as a professional. And his creativity also remains prolific, setting up 58 goals at senior level. For a 21-year-old, that is nothing short of remarkable.

The injuries, the many off-pitch incidents and their inconsistent defense has many worried about Germany's performance in Brazil.

But if Low can and is willing to integrate Gotze up top, he won't just have an alternative to Klose ready to go, he'll have what could very well be an upgrade.