For much of Bayern Munich’s title-winning 2013/14, Manuel Neuer was so often underused, he could have taken a comic, a coffee and a stool out with him. But, whenever Pep Guardiola’s men switched off for the last ten minutes, Germany’s number one was always on hand to pull off a magnificent stop when called upon. There was a real pre-tournament fear that Neuer wouldn’t recover from injury in time to be fit for the opener against Portugal. Roman Weidenfeller is a more than capable deputy, but his sweeping against Algeria is proof the ex-Schalke man is quite the best sweeper keeper in the world. Added to the impressive shot-stopping, there’s a big argument as Neuer being the best all-round keeper in world football. The brilliant showing against Algeria only served to further underline that.
Neuer was allowed to show off all his sweeper-keeper abilities because of Germany’s high line of four centre-halves. Per Mertesacker isn’t quick – in fact, there’s an abundance of similes to describe his lack of pace. But Joachim Low decided on a high line against Algeria, despite missing the ever-trustful Mats Hummels. The Borussia Dortmund man is quick, with excellent positioning and recovery, but with Jerome Boateng in alongside with the Arsenal stand-in skipper, Neuer was often called into action. Hummels had flu – therefore should be back in the starting XI versus France. But ‘Mr Indispensible’ is central to any hopes that Low has of playing a higher line than previously employed. Mainly because he is more comfortable on the ball than most players – certainly more than the ‘BFG’ and Neuer’s Bayern team-mate Boateng. Should Germany have genuine ambition to win this World Cup, then a fit Hummels is the way forward.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Hummels and his stand-in Shkodran Mustafi all missed or limped out of this win over Algeria, while Mezut Ozil – until his goal – has struggled to make any impact on the game. Borussia Monchengladbach’s Christopher Kramer’s made his first appearance of the tournament, but as injuries and fatigue take hold of Low’s squad, can the best of the rest do it if Germany’s top stars can’t step up? There’s always Miroslav! Klose’s presence on the pitch – while not from an actually footballing i.e. they probably don’t think he’s great – would scare France’s centre-halves because he just scores World Cup goals when he plays. That’s quite a lucky habit to have, to be honest. As for the rest of the squad. Schalke’s Julian Draxler hasn’t been involved at all, while Erik Durm would be a popular choice should he be needed at left-back, it would be a brave one against a France side performing well. Three days between this win and the quarter-final against an old enemy, throwing up memories of Harald Schumacher and Patrick Battiston. The physios will have their work cut out for them!
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