With some big names left at home, including Mesut Özil, Löw still has an abundance of talent to choose from at Wembley
There is something very striking about the list for the Germany squad for these autumn friendly matches, the last to come before a World Cup year and perhaps the final chance to be radically experimental. Joachim Löw has selected only two forwards. Their international records read like chunks of proverbial chalk and cheese: Miroslav Klose, 130 caps and 68 goals. Max Kruse, five caps and one goal. One radiates experience but age seems to be catching up. The other is a fresh face on this stage.
With Mario Gomez out of the picture with injury, Germany have chosen not to integrate any attackers outside of the usual (and in the case of Kruse, unusual until recently) suspects. Instead, these matches present Löw with an opportunity he appears to relish. With such abundant resources in his creative midfield department, contests of the intensity of Italy and England away give Germany the perfect platform to continue to explore how his team fare with a false 9.
It is a compliment to Pep Guardiola, who brought the idea to Bayern Munich this season and began a debate about how it can effectively use certain combinations of talent. The touch of the former Barcelona coach was also evident as Philipp Lahm lined up for Germany against Italy on Friday night in a midfield anchor role – something that assumed more importance when Sami Khedira sustained a cruciate ligament injury. Another nod is the reinvention of Jérôme Boateng, who played full-back for a long time for his country but is now established as a centre-back.
By extension, these trials show how Germany in a wider way have been influenced by Spain, who knocked them out of two of the past three tournaments as La Roja reset the world footballing bar. For all the upward strides German football made over the past few years, the Spanish had a knack of trotting over to ask a question that couldn't be answered.
It is not as if there is any kind of insecurity complex going on here – not after Bayern and Borussia Dortmund overwhelmed Barcelona and Real Madrid in last season's Champions League – but the Germans looked at the international picture strategically. How can they give themselves as many weapons, and as much flexibility, as possible to prepare for the World Cup? In dabbling with the option of a false nine system they are hoping to bring something extra to the party. If it works, it would enhance the feeling that they are in a better position than previous attempts to match (or exceed) the best of what Europe has to offer.
If Löw wants to use a conventional striker, his main options are Klose and Gomez. Klose is in many ways the perfect Löw player – intelligent, strong, highly professional, he is a classical centre-forward who welds his sharp eye for goal with a natural ability to bring others into play. The veteran brings the experience of six consecutive international tournaments. The nagging problem is that he has been in underwhelming form this season at Lazio. At 35, questions about his age are not so easy to shake off.
Gomez, when he returns to fitness, offers a more old fashioned attacking focal point. But apart from that there is not a queue of authentic No9s waiting patiently for Löw's call. The curious case of Stefan Kiessling, who has never looked comfortable in his cameos around the national team and appears not to have the trust of the coach, remains unlikely to figure.
So, the false 9 looks an attractive proposition, especially as Germany have such depth in that department. Löw is almost spoilt for choice as to who to try out there: will it be Thomas Müller, who has roamed so expertly for Bayern? Mario Götze, who has been identified to play from the Lionel Messi manual of false nines? Mesut Özil, who was used in this position against the Republic of Ireland?
Götze was chosen against Italy, although the team performance did not supply much in the way of definitive answers. The upshot was a decent result (actually Germany should have snatched a win against their bogey team in stoppage time only for Marco Reus and Lars Bender to crash into one another in front of an open goal – it finished 1-1). The downside was that Germany lacked the attacking focus and verve they show when at their best up front. Their depth in that department is pretty enviable. Reus and Özil coming on as substitutes tells that story well enough.
In fact, such is their all-round quality, Löw even felt able to leave behind Özil, together with Lahm and the goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, for the England game.
Coming up the rails, the other attacking option is Kruse, who seems to be a halfway house between a more traditional striker and a false 9. Kruse, a player with excellent, flexible movement to draw defenders and expressive ability on the ball, was a slow burner in terms of his career. He began to turn heads in a serious way when he joined Freiburg last season. After a standout campaign, he was one of a number of B-list players selected for a Germany game in the USA last May. Because of the Champions League final, all Bayern and Dortmund players were excused, which gave the opportunity for players who are not normally called up by Löw to stake a claim.
Out of all the wannabes, Kruse seized the moment most convincingly of all. There is considerable goodwill for him not only because he is playing well this season for Borussia Mönchengladbach but also because he is known as a very likable guy to have around the squad.
Whether Kruse, Götze or Müller get the nod to lead the withdrawn forward line at Wembley on Tuesday, England's defenders, still smarting from their Chile experience, will have another complicated challenge on their hands.