Just a week ago, Germany appeared to be struggling. The highly-touted side had struggled in a Round of 16 match against Algeria after having been exposed at various times during the Group stage. The problems for Germany earlier in the tournament included playing a high line, seeing its backline beaten for pace against Algeria and Ghana, and some breakdowns in communication in midfield against the United States.
Sami Khedira entered the World Cup coming off an injury-plagued season at Real Madrid. He looked far from fully fit at the beginning of the tournament. Coupled with the pre-tournament injury to Marco Reus, a decision was made by head coach Joachim Löw to play captain Philipp Lahm in midfield. This left Germany with a backline that started the tournament with four centerbacks.
Shkodran Mustafi’s injury coupled with the disastrous defensive performance against Algeria, in a match where goalkeeper Manuel Neuer took nineteen touches outside the eighteen yard box, forced Löw’s hand.
Against France in the quarterfinal, Löw went with the midfield trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Khedira. Lahm was moved back to his natural position of right-back. The change in personnel and positioning proved efficient and effective in a relatively easy 1-0 victory over France. Löw persisted with this formation for the Brazil match.
In the 2010 World Cup, the Khedira- Schweinsteiger combination dominated the tournament until the semifinal. In that match, Spain’s Xavi and Sergio Busquets took control of the central midfield, forcing Germany into a defensive posture. The addition of Kroos to the midfield created a trio that did not face a similar problem against Brazil.
The central midfield duo of Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo for Brazil never got going in this match. Seemingly chasing shadows and being denied time on the ball, both were remarkably poor. The German midfield trio worked efficiently with one another and showed a strength in defending and a positioning sense that ripped Brazil apart.
Khedira and Kroos both consistently picked the right spots to go forward especially since the Brazilians were affording the entire German side so much time on the ball and space to traverse. Lahm was able to exploit the poor defending of Brazil down the right side to become an auxiliary attacker time and again.
These changes allowed Germany to dominate 180 minutes of play since the scare against Algeria. Löw had the courage to make changes to a side that was advancing but not doing it with the ease or style required to win a World Cup. Should Germany win in the final on Sunday, this tactical change by the manager will rightly be one of the key reasons.