Reigning champions Germany are one of the favourites to lift the World Cup in Russia. Claiming back-to-back triumphs would see their total rise to five, making them the most successful country ever alongside Brazil.
A lot has changed for Germany since Mario Götze fired home the 113th-minute winner against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final to give the national side success in the competition for the first time in close to a quarter of a century.
Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose have all since retired, either permanently or from international football, and a new look, fresh-faced German side will take to the field.
While plenty in the squad lack experience at international level, the expectations of the country remain the same – Die Mannschaft are expected to be involved in the final match at the Luzhniki Stadium on July 15.
Road to the World Cup
As always, the Germans were ruthlessly efficient during World Cup qualifying. They had a 100 per cent record, winning all ten of their matches, and finished with a goal difference of +39.
Joachim Löw’s men plundered a record 43 goals against the likes of Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino and were breached on just four occasions.
What’s even more impressive was the fact 20 different players found the back of the net and the top scorers were Thomas Müller and Sandro Wagner with five goals apiece.
The highlight of qualifying came in Stuttgart. Germany dismantled a Norway side, hitting them for six on the night with five different players getting on the scoresheet.
While they dazzled during qualification and put on a show to win the Confederations Cup, they’ve been underwhelming in friendly matches. Löw’s team have tasted victory in just one of their last five and that was a 1-0 win over England in March 2017.
Since then they’ve drawn with Denmark, England, France and Spain while succumbing to a disappointing defeat to Brazil in March 2018. The players will have to improve if they’re to retain their title.
Under Löw, Germany have used a number of different systems but their style remains the same across the board. They press high and look to orchestrate transitional situations which allow them to blitz a disorganised opponent. It’s structured chaos.
Their 4-2-3-1 system isn’t like a traditional one seen by many before. The front four are all interchangeable and, at times, they appear to be playing with two false-nines.
The width primarily comes from the full-backs and it allows the attacking quartet to get into central areas and overload certain areas of the pitch.
Joshua Kimmich, the heir to Lahm’s crown, is used as a right-back and one-time Liverpool transfer target Jonas Hector operates on the left. The former is more of an attacking threat while the latter is more conservative.
To balance the side, the two midfielders, often Sami Khedira, when fit, and Toni Kroos, will sit and protect acting as a shield during defensive phases of play and as playmakers when Germany are in possession of the ball.
The Germans have also experimented with a 3-4-3 shape as well as a 3-5-1-1 system. They used a three at the back variation in victories over San Marino, the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan.
There’s a flexibility there not usually associated with a dogmatic side.
When looking at the stats, it’s evident Germany’s attack is built around getting their full-backs into advanced areas of the pitch. Kimmich finished with nine assists, the most of any player in Europe during qualifying, and Hector chipped in with four.
The pair are also playing more key passes per 90 minutes than the likes of Özil, Kroos, Khedira and Draxler. In fact, only Müller (2.68) manages more than Kimmich (1.8) and Hector (1.78).
Kroos comes into his own though when looking at set play key passes. The Real Madrid maestro averages 1.31 – the third most of those going to the World Cup from a European nation.
On average, Germany win the ball in the middle third on 26.9 occasions and 4.71 times in the final third.
The figures put them comfortably in the top ten for both categories and their insistence to win the ball back high up no doubt plays a part in them having the second highest amount of shots per 90 (22.4), behind only Portugal.
Star player: Thomas Müller
Kroos has been one of the best midfielders in world football over recent seasons. He’s been a key cog in a Real Madrid side which has won three consecutive Champions Leagues and he’s the quintessential modern-day metronome in midfield. He could shine again, just as he did in 2014.
Reus is making his first appearance in a World Cup after injuries robbed him of doing so in the past. He’s the wildcard in the forward line and could turn out to be the difference maker. Despite an injury-plagued season, he finished the campaign with an average of 0.67 goals per 90 for Borussia Dortmund.
But it’s set for Müller to be the match winner yet again. An influential figure in qualifying, finishing with the most goals and second most assists, he could yet again come alive on the biggest stage of them all.
He has ten goals in his previous two World Cups and is just six shy of the all-time record.
Manager: Joachim Löw
Löw has been in charge of Germany now for 12 years. He succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann and adapts his team’s style every couple of years to fit in with not only what’s on trend but to suit the biggest strengths of the core players in his group.
He’s got a 66.25 per cent win rate in charge of the national team and guided them to a third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup before winning the 2014 competition.
Löw’s also got to the semi-finals in all three European Championships, finishing as runners-up in 2008.
He gets the best out of a talented bunch of players on a regular basis, something that shouldn’t be overlooked but regularly is.
Germany should top their group. Sweden, Mexico and South Korea are no pushovers but the quality the German’s possess should be enough to see them do what’s required to finish at the summit.
Then, their knockout experience should come to the fore and help them navigate their way through, no matter who they come up against.
A semi-final appearance should be the minimum requirement for a squad littered with world-class talent and managed by a tactician who has never been knocked out before that stage of any international competition.