Does Low Need to Sacrifice Mesut Ozil for Germany to Succeed at the World Cup?

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Does Low Need to Sacrifice Mesut Ozil for Germany to Succeed at the World Cup?
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

As the cloud of negativity and skepticism surrounding Germany's World Cup campaign has gradually begun to dissipate, some questions still remain about the team that will line up in the opening game against Portugal on Monday.

With so many injuries, players still working to reach full fitness and several spots on the team undecided, many are wondering who will be the 11 players that coach Joachim Low will put out against Portugal.

In the team's press conference on Thursday, Low didn't do much to clear things up, saying (link in German) that there is no set starting XI but instead 23 squad players.

He also swiped aside any discussion of a "False nine," insisting on the many offensive options in the absence of traditional striker on the squad besides 36-year-old Miroslav Klose.

Low did confirm that Philipp Lahm would start in midfield against Portugal however, which means that Jerome Boateng is most likely going to start at right-back in Brazil. 

The conservative defensive approach coupled with Lahm's role in midfield could have several other tactical implications, namely the potential benching of first-choice playmaker Mesut Ozil.

Ozil has been the heart of this Germany squad since he made his debut in 2009. He was key in Germany's campaign in South Africa four years ago and the side's leading goalscorer in World Cup qualifying.

But Ozil's recent drop in form and the necessity to maybe adjust tactics at this tournament could put his starting role in danger in Brazil.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

Curiously, Low also said that there was no need to play with such a high back line in Brazil, preferring to perhaps sit back more than they have usually done and play more on the counter.

According to Bloomberg, Germany will face some of the hottest conditions of any teams participating in Brazil, and Low will very much adjust the team's tactics to suit the climate. 

Taking a more defensive and direct approach is a slight departure from the more possession-oriented style the team have implemented since the last World Cup, of which Ozil has been a key part.

Part of that tactical adjustment would necessitate playing with three central midfielders as opposed to two holders and one attacker playing off the striker. 

The three players most suited to such a configuration, and bearing in mind that Schweinsteiger is still not 100 percent, are Lahm, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, the three Low also used in Germany's final friendly against Armenia to great effect. 

Having three players in the middle not only provides the team better defensive coverage but gives the three attackers ahead of them greater license to interchange, knowing that three are behind them to pick up the pieces if they lose the ball.

Ozil is best in a less constrained role, creating and moving freely behind and around other attackers rather than having a more disciplined defensive role. As such there is no room for him in this new setup. Not unless Low uses him up front.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Against Armenia, Low used three interchangeable strikers rather than one central focal point up top. Three of Andre Schurrle, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Mueller and Mario Gotze will likely make up those three against Portugal.

Low has used Ozil up top before but not really from the start. Ozil is also not the team's best finisher, and with limited chances expected in the hot Brazilian sun against physical opposition like Portugal and Ghana, more direct options could be preferred.

Ozil can be an effective option late in the game when space opens up and opponents tire and slow down. He came on to great effect against Armenia and instantly created more chances for the team.

Situations like that are where his intelligence and creativity can really make the difference, but Low might prefer a more tactically disciplined and defensively sound starting XI against Portugal.

Low has been Ozil's biggest proponent amidst an avalanche of criticism, insisting that the 25-year-old playmaker will be at his best once the tournament kicks off.

But even Low may feel that for the team to excel under difficult conditions, Ozil will have to serve a different function.

It wouldn't be an easy decision to bench a team's star player, but this time around it may be a necessary one.

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