Key Selection Choices for Germany in World Cup Clash with Ghana
Germany began their World Cup campaign in perfect form with a 4-0 win over Portugal on Monday afternoon, but there is still a lot to be done if this side are to be considered the favourites to lift the trophy next month.
As we have already seen from two of the tournament's most popular sides—hosts Brazil and proverbial underachievers England—changes from game to game are inevitable and tend to either work in a side's favour or push them toward the bring of elimination.
Ghana offer the next test for die Mannschaft on Saturday at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, where coach Joachim Loew will once again be asked to mastermind another brave victory to ensure qualification for the next round of the competition.
But just how will the Bundestrainer tackle the choices that await him in this coming challenge?
Who Moves Aside for Bastian Schweinsteiger?
Loew's bold move to play a 4-3-3 against Portugal paid off for a number of reasons, but none more so than the way it accommodated players such as Mesut Ozil and Mario Goetze in the system, while also keeping a rigid midfield to defend the back line.
One of Germany's greatest apprehensions going into the tournament was how to tweak a 4-2-3-1 formation that didn't seem to get the best out of Ozil as the No. 10 or Goetze as a false nine. Yet with this simple change to a front three, both were able to comfortably play behind Thomas Mueller to full effect.
However, Loew will be scratching his head at the prospect of returning Bastian Schweinsteiger to the side following his absence from the opening game.
Against Portugal, Germany played with a midfield trio of Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, who worked in perfect synchronisation as defensive midfielder, box-to-box midfielder and advanced playmaker respectively.
Who Schweinsteiger replaces in this system is hard to tell. The most obvious would be Khedira—as Schweinsteiger tends to play a similar role to the Real Madrid star and shares a natural chemistry with the other two Bayern Munich players—but a straight swap for playmaker Kroos is also not beyond the realms of possibility.
Another option could be defensive midfielder Lahm, if asked to return to defense as a result of the aforementioned injury to Hummels. Here Germany's vice-captain could quite easily sit in front of the back four, while allowing Kroos and Khedira to roam forward in search of goals and support.
Whether Loew should change things at all is still up for debate, but if he does there will be plenty of positions and roles that the Bayern midfielder can happily fill.
Erik Durm or Benedikt Howedes?
Although Germany's World Cup performance has been near-enough faultless thus far, some fans would have let out a minor sigh when they noted that the starting line-up on Monday was without young Dortmund defender Erik Durm.
The right-footed left-back was something of revelation in pre-tournament friendlies for Germany and was quickly heralded as a potential player to watch throughout the competition.
Loew will, of course, stand by his decision to play the more defensive Benedikt Howedes against the attacking threats of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. With Jerome Boateng at the right-back, Germany had a back line of four central defenders to balance the three attacking midfielders and attackers in front of them.
However, against Ghana we should see a more collective approach to attacking for all 11 players on the pitch for Germany, and although Boateng can get forward as well as any conventional full-back, Howedes does tend to struggle—especially on the left flank.
As such it will be interesting to see if Loew sticks with his uber-defensive line or indeed alters it ever so slightly to accommodate a left-back who can join in attack.
Who Replaces the Injured Mats Hummels?
One minor downside to Germany's annihilation of Portugal in their opening match on Monday was the injury that Mats Hummels picked up late in the game.
As reported by the Guardian's Rob Bleaney on June 17, the German defender suffered a thigh injury and was forced to leave the pitch and will likely miss just the one game against Ghana on Saturday.
“It doesn’t feel as if the injury is bad enough to end my World Cup but more like missing perhaps a game,” Hummels said. “It looked worse than what it was.”
This now leaves Loew with a decision to make in the upcoming showdown against Ghana. Who will now play alongside Per Merstesacker in the centre of Germany's defence?
The Bundestrainer does have options, with 22-year-old Shkodran Mustafi of Sampdoria and the more experienced Howedes from Schalke both offering perfectly suitable alternatives to the Dortmund defender.
The question will, of course, come down to what we have already discussed: Who will be Germany's left-back on the day? If Durm does indeed start in a more attacking role for die Mannschaft, expect Loew to then move Howedes back into a central position or to right-back, allowing Boateng to slot in alongside the towering Arsenal defender.
The only real option that we can really rule out is the return of Lahm at right-back. Loew will be reluctant to remove him from his new central-midfield role unless deemed absolutely necessary
Loew Should Stick with His Winning Tactic
Ghana will certainly offer a different challenge for Germany to what Portugal supplied on Monday, but that doesn't mean Loew has to completely change his winning side just yet.
The 4-3-3 system worked well because it utilised Goetze and Ozil's natural inclination to drift wide when in possession and when looking for space in the final third of the pitch. It also allowed the two players to play alongside Mueller in a front three that actually made the most of their skills, rather than the old tactic that had Mueller out wide and Goetze with his back to goal.
Despite the four goals against Portugal, this new formation was actually primarily introduced to shore up a somewhat leaky defense of late. Loew clearly feared for Manuel Neuer's goal ahead of the competition, and with this new system came the back four of central defenders that defended the goal mouth with a rigid and physical display rarely seen from this modern German side.
It also flooded the centre of the pitch with three midfielders—Kroos, Khedira and Lahm—that added shape to the side and helped relieve pressure from the back line with constant attacking and closing down.
Germany looked hungry for the ball against Portugal and rarely gave Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso or Raul Meireles any time on the ball.
As the saying goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it.