Key Battles That Will Shape Germany's Clash with USA
Germany take on the United States on Thursday with high hopes of picking up all three points and finishing top of the table in their final Group G clash.
Following Germany's 2-2 draw with Ghana and the U.S. following suit with their own 2-2 draw with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, both sides need just a point to continue into the next stage of the World Cup.
Despite humourous rumours of collusion between Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low persisting since the weekend's matches, Germany assistant coach Hansi Flick stated on Monday, at a press conference reported by FIFA.com, that no such scenario would happen.
"The play-offs have effectively begun for us," said Flick. "We want to beat the USA to finish the group stages top and play in Porto Alegre. We looked at the 90 minutes against Ghana to see what we liked and the things we need to improve.
"We want the team to react in a more clever fashion and cut out the space behind when the opposition counter-attack us. We have a few things to iron out and we have enough quality to create chances, but we have to close down the space behind."
With that in mind we now turn our attention to what should be a well-contested battle between two exciting sides. Here are the key battles we should look out for in this final Group G clash between Germany and the United States.
Clint Dempsey vs. Mats Hummels
If one man embodies the spirit of the U.S. team's performances throughout this World Cup it is Clint Dempsey.
A forward who needs little introduction in a sport that has seen so few from the star-spangled country, Dempsey undoubtedly stands as the single-greatest threat to Germany's final match in Group G.
With two goals in his opening two games—a feat made all the more impressive when we consider that many didn't even think Klinsmann's side capable of scoring at all in this group—it will be down to Low's strongest defender to keep him quiet throughout this coming match.
Dortmund central defender Mats Hummels should be up to the task. For all of Dempsey's grit and technique to terrorise even the most experienced defenders, the German defender should be able to match the striker in terms of pace and agility.
There have been murmurs over his fitness following a light injury against Portugal, but if he starts then we should expect another solid performance from Jurgen Klopp's most trusted guardsman.
However, Germany have only kept one clean sheet in the World Cup so far, and following Ghana's two goals on Saturday, Dempsey will be confident of testing Low's fragile back line—a duel we certainly look forward to.
Toni Kroos vs. Michael Bradley
Despite the blockbuster names of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira all stealing the limelight in Germany's midfield thus far in the competition, it has actually been young Toni Kroos who has outperformed everyone else in the opening two games.
The Bayern Munich playmaker was one of the few players to pick up passable marks following a humbling experience against Ghana's Black Stars and has been key to any attacking plays we've seen from Germany in the competition.
Although Khedira and Lahm both tend to get forward at times in the match, it is Kroos who has been setting the tempo of Germany's attacking waves and will undoubtedly be the man to close down if the U.S. envision any form of success.
Klinsmann's side will likely play with two defensive midfielders—Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman—but the task of closing Kroos down high up the park should fall upon experienced international Michael Bradley.
The former Roma star hasn't had the greatest World Cup despite his side's success and could really redeem himself in the eyes of Klinsmann if he can continue to pester Kroos throughout the game and keep him off his usual brilliance. Keep the Bayern midfielder quiet, and the U.S. may just stand a chance.
Fabian Johnson vs. Benedikt Howedes
As previously argued just a few days ago for Bleacher Report, it isn't hard to highlight left-back Benedikt Howedes as the key chink in Germany's armour.
The Schalke central defender has spent the entire competition playing on the left of Low's defence with some very varied performances, but following a dismissive match against Ghana, Klinsmann's side should look to focus any attack down his flank.
Although the U.S. have varied their formations throughout the competition thus far—with a 4-4-2 against Ghana and then a 4-2-3-1 against Portugal—we have always seen Alejandro Bedoya on their right wing ready to attack the opposing left-back.
Yet this isn't who Germany should fear against Howedes.
No, what the U.S. should try to capitalise on is right-back Fabian Johnson's strong attacking flair and essentially try to get the Hoffenheim defender to emulate the trouble and anguish Ghana right-back Harrison Afful offered Howedes in the last match.
Long runs and late crosses into the box often seem like too much for the German left-back and could offer an avenue of success for the U.S. team.
Thomas Mueller vs. Matt Besler
Despite Miroslav Klose's record-equalling goal against Ghana in Germany's last Group G clash, Low will almost certainly stick with the Bayern forward who has already bagged three goals in just two games in the competition.
Thomas Mueller just looks like a purpose-built World Cup striker whenever he leads the line for Die Mannschaft, and the U.S. will have to be at their absolute best to ensure that he doesn't continue a goal-to-game ratio befitting of some of the game's best ever forwards.
Such a task will undoubtedly fall upon Klinsmann's entire back line, considering the manner of Mueller's continuous movement from the centre of the pitch to either wing, but we should see the bulk of the responsibility falling upon Matt Besler.
The U.S. have shown a strong capacity to shut sides out—despite conceding three goals in two games—and that has been in no small part due to Besler's excellent performances. Klinsmann's side will have to work as a unit to keep this German team out, but Besler should be the one tasked with keeping an eye on its lone striker.