Why Central Midfield Is Germany's Biggest World Cup Headache

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Why Central Midfield Is Germany's Biggest World Cup Headache
Michael Sohn/Associated Press

A year ago, anyone who asserted that Germany would have a crisis in central midfield entering the World Cup would have been met with a skeptical eye. The Mannschaft had Ilkay Gundogan, Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Sven and Lars Bender among their options.

Considering the advanced age of Spain's Xavi and Xabi Alonso, there was reason to believe Germany would boast the strongest holding midfield pair heading into the World Cup.

Twelve months have changed everything.

Arguably the world's best central midfielder in 2012-13, Gundogan hasn't played since mid-August of 2013, and it still isn't certain that he'll be back for the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

Khedira tore an anterior cruciate ligament in November and only recently returned to action. His poor performance for Real Madrid in the Champions League final says everything about his lack of fitness and the sharpness that can only come with consistent match practice.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press
Desperate times: Is Kramer the man to anchor Germany's midfield?

Sven Bender missed the last couple of months preceding the World Cup and was not named to Joachim Low's squad, while his twin brother was recently forced to withdraw with an injury that could see him miss up to three months.

Schweinsteiger and Kroos are options, but the former is very injury-prone and not at the level at which he played in 2010, while Kroos has yet to convince that he has the defensive quality to play in a purely holding role.

In addition to last year's options, a few others have emerged. Christoph Kramer is an extremely hard-working holding midfielder. Matthias Ginter, although seen as a center-back, was trained in his youth as a midfielder and has often played in midfield and even in attack at Freiburg.

However, neither option has Champions League experience. In that respect and given that both are younger, neither can be likened to Khedira circa 2010.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press
Lahm is a good option in midfield, but leaves a weakness at right-back.

Philipp Lahm is a third option, having played in midfield for the vast majority of the club season. His Bayern were found out by Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals as Lahm was unable to stem the Real counterattack from his midfield berth, while the right-back position lacked defensive quality in his absence.

Germany could find themselves in a similar situation in the latter stages of the World Cup if he were to be used in the central midfield pivot.

The only certainty for Low in central midfield is that he will start Schweinsteiger, provided the vice-captain is fit. Beyond the 29-year-old, there are serious question marks. Khedira (like Schweinsteiger but amplified) isn't at his best and is unlikely to be at the World Cup.

Kroos is a defensive liability. Kramer and Ginter are inexperienced at the highest level. And although he may be the best full-back in the world, Lahm is not quite at the same level in midfield and leaves a weakness on the defensive wing.

What once was perhaps Germany's greatest strength is now an area of real uncertainty and Low will have to change his entire outlook on selecting his defensive midfield.

For the first time in several years, he'll need to make his selection based on the balance not of the strengths of his holding midfielders but of their weaknesses.

 

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