Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Löw searches for answer to Germany's biggest worry... who is his best third-choice keeper? 10.11.2017

London Evening Standard
Friday 10 November 2017

England may be struggling with injuries to key personnel at Wembley tonight, but Germnay will also be missing some important players.

Thomas Müller, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer were all starters in the World Cup Final three years ago, but miss out this evening through thigh, muscle and foot injuries respectively.

Neuer, captain of both Germany and Bayern Munich, is the most important cog missing. Reports in Germany have suggested his original comeback, planned for January, could be delayed a further five weeks, but Neuer's No 1 spot for club and country remains undisputed.

That does not stop the discussion in Germany of whether Bayer Leverkusen's Bernd Leno should be the No 3 goalkeeper behind Neuer and Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen. When people are fretting over whether coach Joachim Löw is picking the right third-choice keeper, it tells you something of the first-world problems he has.

The strength in depth was shown in the summer, when Germany won the Confederations Cup in Russia with what effectively was a B team. THe Under 21s, meanwhile, won the European Championship in Poland, despite being without 10 players who were either injured or with the senior squad in Russia.

Those successes did exactly what Oliver Bierhoff could have done without: namely raise expectations for next year's World Cup in Russia, which have Germany's general manager "a bit worried".

"The situation at a World Cup is quite different." said the former Germany striker. "We know we have to be at 100 per cent in everything we do. We can't be short of a single percentage point or centimetre in Russia next summer. We're the hunted."

Injuries and lack of fitness did a lot of the expectation lowering for Germany in Brazil in 2014. There were major doubts going into the tournament over the fitness of Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Sami Khedira, four key players in Germany's eventual success. On top of that, they had an injury to Marco Reus, along with the exclusion of Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Gomez due to fitness worried. The eventual winners did not enter the tournament in the shape of the world champions.

That helped to create an environment that benefitted an experienced team which still had a point to prove at international level, having fallen short in the semi-finals of the previous two major tournaments. The majority of that starting XI was no stranger to the big occasion - eight had played in a Champions League Final during their careers. What's more, Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller all had recent experience of overcoming past trauma in the final - having lost to Chelsea in Munich in 2012 - to then winning the competition the next year at Wembley.

Having that same sort of strength in depth when it comes to big-game experience is something Germnay lost with the retirements of Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Klose. That Löw is not short in any position for candidates to replace them shows you his strong hand.

England do not possess the same strength in depth as Germany just yet. It could, although, benefit England in the same way that it has heped tonight's opposition in lowering expectations for next summer.

Article uploaded for review and discussion purposes only.

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