How Will Marco Reus' Absence Affect Germany at the World Cup?

Cristian Nyari@@cnyariContributor IJune 8, 2014

Germany's Marco Reus, center, leaves the pitch after he was injured during a soccer friendly match between Germany and Armenia in the Coface Arena in Mainz, Germany, Friday, June 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Michael Probst/Associated Press

In addition to all the injuries suffered so far, Germany may have been dealt their biggest blow on Friday, as key player Marco Reus suffered an ankle injury that eventually ruled him out of the World Cup.

The Borussia Dortmund attacker was diagnosed with a torn ligament on Saturday and was deemed unable to participate on the day the team was scheduled to leave for Brazil, depriving coach Joachim Loew and his team of arguably their most productive player heading into the tournament.

After featuring off the bench at the European Championships two years ago, Reus became an integral part of the team in qualifying and was set to break out on the international stage in Brazil this summer.

Alas, he will have to wait four more years to get his chance. And Loew now has to find a way to fill the void of the team's best big-game player.

So, what are Loew's alternatives? Can Germany compensate? If so, how? And what was Loew's idea behind replacing Reus with defender Shkodran Mustafi?

When Reus was initially thought to be out of commission, many had Kevin Volland penciled in to replace him. Volland just missed the cut after being in the provisional squad and participating in the team's training camp.

The Hoffenheim attacker was considered surplus to requirements, and because he can fill in out wide and up top, he appeared to be the natural replacement.

However, Loew surprised everyone by selecting Sampdoria's Mustafi on Saturday morning. Mustafi, too, had been in the provisional squad, but with five central defenders already on the squad, he was the obvious exclusion.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

But maybe the first step to understanding Loew's decision making is to admit that there is no direct replacement for Reus.

The 25-year-old attacker came into training camp in the form of his life. He elevated his game to another level this season with Dortmund, continuing his prolific goalscoring with 23 goals but also setting up 17 more.

By the end of the season, he was not only Dortmund's second-best goal outlet behind Robert Lewandowski but also their primary playmaker. After starting out wide, Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp eventually finished the season playing him in the middle.

That versatility and output is what many Germany supporters were hoping to see from Reus this summer. With Mesut Ozil struggling to rediscover his form and no real striker available, Reus was to be the go-to player for the team.

Indeed, it was Reus that was going to make Germany's system work without a traditional striker, and the combination of him, Thomas Mueller and Andre Schurrle constantly interchanging inside and around the box was extremely promising and productive against Armenia.

So, if Germany are going to be missing anything with Reus out, it is the presence that has so seamlessly integrated into the attack and seemingly made it function better. Loew has been criticized for moving away from the use of a traditional striker, but Reus has softened that transition and made it look like a realistic step forward.

Loew admitted, via ESPN FC, that they were not going to look for a direct replacement but rather reinforce the defense.

"It was not about finding a like-for-like replacement for Marco," Loew said. "We have a great deal of quality in that position behind the forwards."

If there is one thing that Germany have been able to count on with so many injuries piling up, it is their considerable depth in the attack. It is also why Loew was able to afford bringing only one out-and-out forward in Miroslav Klose.

The plan very much remains to rely on the attacking midfielders to provide the penetration and offensive output.

"We've got enough alternatives with Lukas Podolski, Andre Schurrle, Mario Goetze, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos," Loew said during Saturday's press conference.

When you consider the fact that Podolski, Schurrle, Goetze and even Ozil have all played up top for Germany at one point or another, including another attacking player would have been superfluous.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

"That is why we have chosen an extra option for defense. Shkodran [Mustafi] impressed us during our training camp, he's fit and we have faith in him. We know we can rely on him 100 percent," Loew remarked.

Perhaps Loew sees players like Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes as full-backs after starting them there against Armenia and therefore wanted to add cover to Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels.

Either way, Germany should be able to compensate for Reus' absence. Podolski, in particular, has rediscovered his form and looked motivated to reclaim his starting spot on the left during their friendlies against Cameroon and Armenia.

Schurrle, too, enjoyed an impressive first season in England with Chelsea and could be Loew's first choice up top with Mueller should Klose be deemed only an option off the bench. Goetze, meanwhile, has been the attacking midfielder used most frequently in that false-nine role and offers a similar combination of mobility and a nose for goal.

Whereas Reus is Germany's most complete attacking player, each of the above options brings something distinctly different to the table, and that is where Loew will have to choose wisely. Podolski is a more direct option on the left, while Goetze and Schurrle will play a lot more centrally.

Whether the above candidates can replicate Reus' combination of scoring and creativity remains to be seen, but the alternatives are definitely there.

Losing Reus is a bitter blow for sure, but Germany's "golden generation" has made its name on the countless attacking players it has produced. In Brazil, we will find out what they are made of.