12913_isi_klinsi-low_usmnt060213102 Brad SMith
2014 World Cup

Group G Preview: Germany Likely to Dominate Field

The United States outscored a German B Team in June of this year, 4-3, but facing the No. 2 team in the world on the biggest stage in soccer is another matter altogether. Blake Thomsen reports.

BY Blake Thomsen Posted
December 09, 2013
3:58 PM
Editor's Note: American Soccer Now will be all over Group G and the entire World Cup experience from this day forward. We also have early looks at Ghana and Portugal ready for you.

ESSENTIALS

It’s no exaggeration to say that this Germany team is as talented as any the U.S. has ever faced in a World Cup. The Germans are deservedly ranked No. 2 in the world and are absolutely loaded with truly world-class players. As many as six starters could come from the Bayern Munich team that has dominated Europe for the past few years, while Champions League runner-up Borussia Dortmund as well as red-hot Arsenal will also contribute their fair share of impact players to the squad. They’re not invincible, but they’ve made at least the semifinals in the past two European Championships and World Cups and will plan on doing the same this time around.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Germany led all of Europe in goals scored in World Cup qualifying, netting a cool 36 in just 10 games on their way to securing 28 out of a possible 30 points. It was the type of performance that one has come to expect from the Germans, who have been the class of Europe alongside Spain for the better part of the last decade.

For all of their offensive dominance, it was not an entirely flawless qualifying campaign. Seventeen European teams conceded fewer goals than Germany, as all of that offense did bring about a bit of instability at the back. Minor defensive weakness aside, the Germans left no doubt about their qualification as they cruised into the tournament yet again.

THE COACH

The debonair Joachim Low has led the Germans to the 2008 Euro final, 2012 Euro semifinal, and 2010 World Cup semifinal in his three major tournaments in charge, building off Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup semifinal appearance in 2006.

The deep connections between Low and Klinsmann are rather obvious. Low was an assistant under Klinsmann at the 2006 World Cup, and he has continued the attacking style of play that Germany debuted when it hosted the 2006 tournament. Many say that Low was the tactical mind of the 2006 German team, while Klinsmann played more of a motivator role. It’s doubtless that the proud Klinsmann perceives that train of thought as an insult, and he’ll want nothing more than to beat his former apprentice when they meet on June 26.

KEY PLAYERS

  • Mesut Ozil, attacking midfielder, Arsenal
    On a team full of international superstars, none can measure up to the unassuming Ozil. Long hailed as the best No. 10 in the world, Arsenal’s record signing is Europe’s leading assist man over the past five years at the club level, and it’s not particularly close. He also led all midfielders with eight goals in 10 World Cup qualifying games.

    His dribbling quality is matched by few others not named Messi. He is perhaps the best and most creative passer in the world, especially in the final third. He has the strength and the pace to handle himself against physically dominant players. He is capable of scoring sensational goals, as he did in 2010 against Ghana and more recently against Napoli in the Champions League. And his first touch is nothing short of sublime. Needless to say, the U.S. backline will need to be in absolute top form to keep Ozil quiet.

  • Thomas Muller, attacking midfielder/striker, Bayern Munich
    Muller burst onto the international scene in spectacular fashion back in South Africa, winning the Golden Boot with five goals and three assists. The 24-year-old has kept on shining for Germany and Bayern since then. He’s saved his best club form for the current season, in which he already has 15 goals in all competitions.

    Muller is strong and fast and has a rocket of a right foot. He’s probably the least technically gifted of Germany’s main attackers, but he more than makes up for any deficiencies on the ball with his predatory nature in and around the box. Few players are better at getting into dangerous positions than Muller, and few are better at finishing off their chances.

  • Bastian Schweinsteiger, defensive midfielder, Bayern Munich
    Along with Philipp Lahm, Schweinsteiger is the heart and soul of Bayern as well as the national team. After a devastating Champions League final loss in 2012, Schweinsteiger starred in the 2013 edition, pulling the strings as Bayern edged Dortmund 2-1. His performances for club and country have landed him on the 23-man shortlist for the 2013 Ballon d’Or.

    Outside of Xavi, he is widely regarded as the world’s best center mid and combines a robust defensive presence with abundant quality moving forward. Schweinsteiger doesn’t run particularly well, but his positional sense and calmness on the ball more than makes up for his lack of pace. He’s debatably the best player on the best club team in the world, and he will provide quite a challenge to Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the middle of the pitch.

  • Per Mertesacker, center back, Arsenal
    Mertesacker’s career has undergone a remarkable turnaround over the past couple years, as he has regained his place in the national team on the strength of excellent play for Germany and Arsenal. He is the anchor of the Gunners' backline, which had the second-best defensive record in the Premier League last season and has the best this time around.

    Mertesacker reads the game better than just about anyone, and his superb positioning means he is rarely at fault for goals. He is also imposing in the air, commanding his own box and chipping in with the occasional goal at the other end. But it must be said that he is jarringly slow for a top-level international defender, and in certain circumstances his lack of speed can be ruthlessly exposed. The U.S. would be wise to play a fast lineup—Aron Johannsson, anyone?—to exploit the lumbering Mertesacker.

  • Sami Khedira, defensive midfielder, Real Madrid
    Khedira has been a mainstay for Germany and Madrid for a number of years, but the reliable midfielder suffered an ACL tear in November. It’s unlikely that he will make it back for the World Cup, which is a considerable blow for Germany. Khedira does a fantastic job of protecting the back four while also controlling possession, and his partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger is one of the world’s best.

    It’s not that Germany is crying out for solid defensive midfielders—Sven Bender, his twin brother Lars, and Ilkay Gundogan are all capable replacements. But the loss of Khedira will still hurt, especially given the quality of his partnership with Schweinsteiger. Whomever Low ultimately pairs with Schweinsteiger will not have nearly as much experience as Khedira, which may open up a small window of opportunity for the U.S.

  • German fullbacks not named Philipp Lahm
    If Germany has a weakness, it is most certainly at the fullback position. Bayern’s Philipp Lahm has been just about the best right back in the world for a number of years, but it’s left back which poses a problem for Germany.

    Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer and Hamburg’s Marcell Jansen are the two left backs in the squad. However, Joachim Low doesn’t seem to rate either of them that highly, preferring his abundant supply of top-class center backs. This means that Germany often fields Lahm at right back and three center backs, one of which is played out of position at left back. Whoever lines up at right mid for the U.S.—whether Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, or Landon Donovan—will have a massive opportunity to make a difference.

    TACTICS

    For half a century leading up to the 2006 World Cup, the German national team was notable for its defensive solidity and innate ability to grind out results. Then came a sun-tanned, idealistic, former national team striker named Jurgen Klinsmann who helped unleash the Germans’ inner attacking potential.

    Current manager Joachim Low generally sets up the team in a 4-2-3-1, but the quality and versatility of the players at his disposal lends itself to an extremely fluid system. The likes of Muller, Ozil, Marco Reus, and Mario Gotze are often given the freedom to roam the attacking third of the field as they see fit. The attacking third fluidity produces some gorgeous attacking soccer, but the offensive mindedness of Germany’s stars can leave holes in midfield once they lose possession.

    Few countries aside from Brazil and Spain boast more quality on the ball, and thus the Germans have no problems dictating the flow of play. But the squad is still most comfortable (and most lethal) when playing on the counter, as it showed in its back-to-back four-goal eviscerations of England and Argentina in the knockout stage in South Africa.

    WORLD CUP HISTORY

    The Germans have matched or bettered the U.S.’s best-ever World Cup performance every time out since 1954, making at least the quarterfinals in a preposterous 15 straight tournaments. In the past two World Cups it has scored in bunches, netting three or more goals in seven of its 14 games. To put that into perspective, the U.S. has scored three goals in a World Cup game once since 1930.

    And there is certainly recent World Cup history between the U.S. and Germany. Few will forget the U.S.’s epic quarterfinal loss against Germany in 2002. Though Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley are the only holdovers from that 2002 squad, the Americans will still be looking to get revenge after they lost in highly controversial fashion.

    THEY SAID IT

    "I accept it as it is. Now we know who and where we’ll be playing and we can start planning for the World Cup. We’ll need to get used to the temperature and the humidity. We played Ghana in 2010 and Portugal in 2012. So we’re playing against teams we know well. And obviously to have USA and [former Germany coach] Jürgen Klinsmann in the group is also something very special." —Joachim Low

    "It's an interesting and evenly matched group. I think all four teams have a chance of going through. The clash with Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng is going to be particularly special." —Benedikt Howedes

    "We are going to Brazil with the aim of winning the tournament. We will have to play some good teams anyway so if we play them early on or later, it doesn't really matter. We have to beat them all." —Mesut Ozil

    FORECAST

    Considering just how potent the Germans are when teams are forced to attack them, the U.S.’s top priority will be not conceding an early goal. If Klinsmann’s men can withstand the early pressure, the U.S. will have a fighting chance.

    In Germany’s three losses in the past two major tournaments (two in the 2010 World Cup, one in Euro 2012), an interesting trend has emerged. In each loss, Germany conceded at least one goal via a cross. It’s a slight deficiency that the U.S. will look to exploit. And it’s a deficiency that Klinsmann seems to be well aware of, on the basis of the 4-3 win in June at least.

    Now, the two U.S. goals from crosses came against a German team missing its Bayern and Dortmund contingent, but it is the system more so than the players that makes Germany vulnerable. By fielding three skilled creative midfielders in front of the two holding midfielders, Germany often leaves massive gaps in front of its fullbacks, as the likes of Ozil, Reus, Gotze, et al. often forego their defensive duties. It’s a tactical weakness that is illustrated perfectly in Jozy Altidore’s opener, seen below.

    It’s also worth noting that the U.S. plays Germany in the final group match game, so the Germans may be already qualified when the teams meet on June 26. We’ve already seen what the U.S. can do to a German B Team, and there’s a slight chance we’ll get to see it again in Recife.

    OK, American supporters—spill it. Do you think the Yanks have any chance at all against Germany? Are you hoping that Die Mannschaft is already through to the knockout stage before the two teams meet? Give us your thoughts below.
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