Defending champions Germany got their 2018 World Cup campaign off to the worst possible start, after a calamitous opening defeat to Mexico.
While the scoreline ended 1-0, the Mexicans could, and should have had more. A few flashes of brilliance reminded fans watching that this was indeed still Germany, but overall their game was flat and thoroughly uninspiring.
However, with that said, head coach Joachim Löw knows the quality of the players he has and is unlikely to bring in large-scale changes as Die Mannschaft attempt to bounce back against Sweden.
Here’s how Germany might look against Sweden on Saturday.
1. GK – Manuel Neuer
He wasn’t overly impressive against Mexico, but is Löw’s trusted servant between the sticks and is unlikely to be usurped that quickly.
Had Mexico finished their chances and ran out closer to 4-0 winners, then we might just have seen Marc-Andre ter Stegen brought in but having conceded just one, expect to see the German number one retain his place against Sweden.
Pre-tournament talk over his injury problems and lack of match practice this season weren’t helped by the defeat to Mexico, and Neuer will likely be ready to silence the critics in the next match.
2. RB – Joshua Kimmich
Joshua Kimmich’s performance against Mexico was indifferent to say the least.
Offensively, he was one of the few bright sparks in a relatively dull performance by Germany, but his lack of diligence towards his defensive duties left the defending champions wide open at the back.
The young full back loves to bomb forwards, and that – whilst giving Germany good attacking outlets – cost them dearly against Mexico, as it gave too much space to El Tri’s attackers.
However, against Sweden he should be faced with fewer issues over this – not many teams besides the Mexicans leave three players up-field at all times – and he is therefore likely to keep his place in the team.
3. CB – Jerome Boateng
Jerome Boateng was utterly shambolic against Mexico.
He struggled to pass, and couldn’t deal with the pace of Hirving Lozano in particular. However, he’s an experienced player and undoubtedly one of Germany’s best defenders.
Löw needs his experienced figureheads to step up and make amends against Sweden, none more so than Boateng, and he will likely hand him the chance at redemption on Saturday.
His size and physicality will be a positive against a strong and big Swedish side, too.
4. CB – Niklas Süle
With star defensive turn Mats Hummels ruled out with a neck injury, Germany will likely hand a starting role to his club colleague Süle.
The 22-year-old has a growing reputation within the game, earning a move to Bayern after an impressive four year stint with 1899 Hoffenheim.
He only has 11 international caps to his name, but is a trusted member of the squad and will no doubt utilise his experience of playing with Boateng at club level in order to slot seamlessly into the side.
5. LB – Jonas Hector
Defensive solidity is a hallmark of German national teams; a source of national pride, even.
Against Mexico they lacked that in its entirety and a big part of that was the missing Jonas Hector. At times, inexperienced replacement Marvin Plattenhardt looked out of his depth.
Having overcome his battle with the flu, its widely expected first-choice left back Hector will make an immediate return to the squad for the Sweden clash.
6. CM – Toni Kroos
Courtesy of Mexico’s rapid defend-then-counterattack style, the ball largely missed the midfield section of the pitch for long periods of the opening game.
It negated the effect that Toni Kroos could have on the game to begin with, though the experienced Real Madrid man eventually established a foothold in the game.
Against Sweden, the German midfield are unlikely to see three opposition shirts sitting beyond them at all times, and so should get more time on the ball. With that proposition, Low will likely chose to retain Kroos in midfield to help control the game.
7. CM – İlkay Gündoğan
Sami Khedira was entirely ineffective against Mexico, and so against Sweden manager Low might just be tempted to change it up in the middle of the park.
İlkay Gündoğan would provide the Germans with the quality of his passing, which might just be the key to breaking down what is likely to be a much more defensive Sweden side.
Against Mexico, there was always the concern of a rapid breakaway, but against Sweden we are more likely to see the Germans have greater possession and be forced to break down a yellow defensive wall – which Gundogan’s creativity will help to do.
8. AM – Thomas Müller
Thomas Müller no longer has the pace to play effectively out wide, often being dragged out wide against Mexico where he was unable to have an influence on proceedings.
While he might have at previously World Cups lit up the stage in his out-wide Raumdeuter position, as he’s grown older, he has transitioned from a goalscorer to a creator and one that could serve Germany much better through the middle of the park.
After Mesut Öziil’s ineffectual performance in the role against Mexico, Löw may turn to Müller in the centre of the three attacking midfielders to allow for pacier wide players to be brought in on the flanks.
9. RW – Julian Brandt
A real livewire as soon as he came on against Mexico, 22-year-old Julian Brandt was one of the few German players on the pitch that showed desire and commitment.
The young prospect showed his ability too, coming ever so close with a sweetly struck snapshot late on in the second half. He’s an asset for the Germans, a young player full of determination and running – with the ability to back it up.
Löw faced criticism for choosing the Bayer Leverkusen winger over Manchester City’s Leroy Sane, but after his cameo performance in the first game, the questions marks are no longer there. Now, he may be given an opportunity to shine from the start.
10. LW – Marco Reus
Marco Reus has struggled with injuries and form in recent seasons, but his substitute appearance against Mexico showed glimpses of his obvious talent.
Against Sweden, Reus could offer more pace and better crossing ability than teammate Müller, which could earn him a starting berth.
Those qualities could be key against a Sweden side that is physical and more defensive-minded than Mexico were. The quality of crosses could be key too, given Sweden’s aerial strength.
11. ST – Mario Gomez
Coming on as a substitute against Mexico, Mario Gomez’s performance did little to merit a place in the starting XI for this clash.
However, Gomez is undeniably a talented forward, and head coach Löw is likely to turn to him because he offers one key advantage over Timo Werner – aerial ability.
It will be a highly physical clash against the Swedish centre backs, who are both strong and good in the air. Gomez holds the ball up better than Werner ever could, and will be a useful asset at set-pieces. Expect to see Werner unleashed from the bench if things aren’t going well.