How an Injury Helped Germany's World Cup Run
In the 70th minute of a 0-0 game against Algeria, an injury to Shkodran Mustafi forced Joachim Löw to face the toughest decision of the 2014 World Cup.
Coming into this summer's games, Germany was tipped as one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. They were numberFire’s number three ranked team with a 10.90% chance to win the World Cup, trailing only the host’s Brazil and Argentina, respectively. But in this game, Germany found themselves in a very real fight with the Algerians. Algeria created five clear-cut scoring chances up until this point in the match. They played long balls over the top of Germanys defense, which consisted of four natural center backs, taking advantage of the lack of German pace.
Up until this pivotal moment, Joachim Löw had stuck to his guns, which were armed well before the tournament began. When asked leading up to the World Cup, Löw vehemently insisted that his captain, Philipp Lahm, wouldn't play his natural position of right back. Instead, Löw preferred to play Lahm in his new transitioned position of center midfield.
Lahm was converted to this center midfield role buy Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola. Guardiola moved Lahm to midfield because he felt that he's the smartest player on the pitch and wanted that knowledge in the middle of the field, and that he had a more than capable back up for the right back position in Rafinha.
The difference between that Bayern team and this German national team is that Löw never had the luxury of a Rafinha. Instead, Löw was forced to play center backs along the entire defensive line. This led to a less-than-impressive Germany in the first three and a half games, and opened the door to the harsh criticism Löw has faced from the German press.
But in the 70th minute, Löw’s stubbornness was put to the test. His first choice center back, Mats Hummels, wasn't fit for the game with a stomach ailment. This forced Joachim to start Mustafi in the right back position, and shift Jerome Boateng to center back to play alongside Per Mertesacker. With his hands tied, Löw had no choice but to swallow his pride, sub off the injured Mustafi and replace him with Sami Khedira, who had been left on the bench in the Algeria game in favor of Bastian Schweinsteiger. This move also forced Philipp Lahm to his natural position of right back, and proved to be a tournament-changing moment.
Since that move, Germany has played a total of 230 minutes. In that span, they've outscored the opposition 10-2 (7 coming in the semis finals against Brazil). They tamed one of the most explosive offenses of the tournament in France, and have been clinical in their possession and their finishing.
Moving Lahm to right back has opened up the midfield for Germany. It has allowed Schweinsteiger and Khedira to play together in the middle of the pitch, something that, before the tournament, people believed wouldn’t work. Moving Lahm also provided width to the German attack when he pushes forward, a characteristic of the German attack that was absent when Mustafi or Boateng were playing the position. Not only has the midfield opened up, but Lahm at right back allows Joachim Löw the luxury of playing the faster Boateng at his natural center back position and bench Per Mertesacker, who has proven to be a weak link in the defense due to his lack of pace.
The injury to Mustafi was singularly the most important event for Germany in this World Cup. It led to the chain of events that became the catalyst for Joachim Löw and his team to end up in the final this weekend. At this point in the tournament, the team that can adapt to the environment has the upper hand, and this is exactly what Löw has done. He backed off of his strong stance, ate some crow, and is now on the verge of becoming a World Cup winner.
They face the daunting task of trying to beat the world’s best player Lionel Messi. But if Löw sticks with his “new” lineup, then there is no reason why Germany will not be crowned the 2014 World Cup champions. And right now, that's who our algorithms think will win.