Germany are among the favourites for the World Cup once again, but I must admit I am not expecting that much from them this year.
I think in the recent past they have had better teams going into tournaments and, despite reaching three semi-finals and one final, they were not able to get over the line—so I have little reason to believe that will change now, especially with a team that has key players missing or out of form.
In England we hear a lot about the benefits of experience and extra time to develop, about how teams “will be two years older, two years wiser and two years better” at subsequent tournaments. But it does not really work like that in reality.
Four years ago everyone raved about Germany’s performance in South Africa, and they were excited about how good a young team that included Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller and Sami Khedira could be with another four years to mature and develop.
Yet now, on the eve of the next tournament, Khedira is still working back to full fitness after suffering a horrible injury, Mueller’s place for club and country is not guaranteed and a recent dip in form for Ozil has seen him lose his place at the forefront of Joachim Loew’s plans.
Four years ago, few people would have predicted such a situation—but that’s football. You have to take your chances when they present themselves.
You can’t assume a team will improve with another few years together. There are no guarantees Germany are going to go to the semis again this time—you can’t think, “Oh, we are Germany, we have a right to reach the latter stages.” You have to work hard to get there.
They’ve got to that stage with reasonable ease in previous tournaments because they always had strong squads, but I don’t think this year is a vintage collection. Just look at their forwards, for example: They are going to the tournament with just one out-and-out striker, 35-year-old Miroslav Klose.
Klose missed large parts of the season as well, and if you want to win games you have to score goals. Klose might need just one more goal to equal Ronaldo’s World Cup finals record, but I think we will see Mueller or Mario Goetze starting up front for Loew's side, even though they are not proper centre-forwards.
They will drop deeper and link play, which may help the team in some regards but will mean the pressure will be on a number of players to chip in with some goals.
Unfortunately you can’t buy players for international football. Germany would love someone upfront with pace and purpose, someone who also puts the ball in the back of the net with regularity. They will be looking at England and Daniel Sturridge with envy, but as they don’t have a Sturridge of their own the most important player for them is Marco Reus.
I think he’s the best player Germany have, and without a recognised forward a lot of responsibility will be on him to bring his form for Borussia Dortmund to the national team. I think he will deliver, because he’s an exceptional talent but others need to step up, too.
The big question is Bastian Schweinsteiger. He has missed a lot of football this season through injury, and he missed the German Cup final only three weeks ago. He’s had a lot of surgeries on his ankle now, and I’m not sure he is the player he was. He’s the heartbeat of the team, so if he’s not 100 per cent then it makes Germany a lot weaker.
Again, they did not come home with a trophy in the last few tournaments when Schweinsteiger was playing exceptionally well, so if he’s not at least near top condition I really don’t think Germany have any chance of winning the World Cup.
Germany may have more players from Bayern Munich in their squad—Schweinsteiger among them—but their tendency is actually to play more in the style of Borussia Dortmund: They want to attack the spaces, they want to pressure other teams and strike on the counter as much as possible with their quick players.
Bayern can play like that on occasion, but most often teams set up very deep against them so they have to be patient and move the ball around a lot more. I think circumstances demand how teams play, and they will affect how Germany play from game-to-game. I think they will mix Dortmund’s and Bayern’s styles, although perhaps they will lean toward a possession-based style if the heat and humidity in Brazil is a problem.
If you keep giving the ball away in those conditions it will eventually come back to cost you.
That makes the composition of the midfield very important. Khedira still needs to regain his full fitness after missing most of the season, so I am not sure he will start. You saw him in the Champions League final, he did well to come back for it, but he was nowhere near his best. How much further can you get in four weeks?
He’s more of a destroyer than Schweinsteiger, who likes to dictate things from deep, but I think the Bayern man will play alongside club team-mate Toni Kroos in the centre.
Ilkay Gundogan is a big loss, while the absence of both Bender brothers reduces the back-up options in midfield. They could come in and do a job but now the bench is not as deep as it has been in recent tournaments.
Ahead of them, it looks like Ozil won’t be in the starting XI. He’s not really set the world alight in the second half of the season for Arsenal and has carried those struggles into the national team.
Sometimes players put the Germany shirt on and they start producing their best again, but there’s just too many question marks about the team—and that’s why I can’t be confident about them. Germany seem to have a good team spirit and have been in reasonable form recently but absences in key areas will hurt them.
Another big, big factor will be the pitches. I spoke to somebody that said Germany and Spain like to pass the ball, but the pace and length of the pitches in Brazil could be a big issue. The grass there will be slightly different, they may not water them too often, and that might play into the hands of the South American sides rather than the European ones.
Four years is a long time. They’ve got a very tough group as well, don’t forget—they need to just get out of that before they start thinking about going any further.
The whole world wanted their players four years ago: Some of them made big-money moves and some of them went on to win league titles and the Champions League. But, right now, they are not in the form and condition they were in 2010.
If they could not win the World Cup then, I cannot see them doing it this summer.