After two wins in their opening two fixtures against the Faroe Islands and Austria, Joachin Löw’s side face a far tougher double-header – with the first match in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland followed by a home meeting with Sweden.
Despite having earned the maximum six points from their opening matches, all was not well in the German camp: the three-goal win against the Faroes was widely dismissed as limp and at times fairly ordinary, while the team were arguably lucky to take the entire share of the spoils against an energetic and physical Austrian side in Vienna. The defence was sketchy, the midfield was off-form, and striker Miroslav Klose – the only real option up front – had by his usual high standards two poor games. Clearly the Nationalmannschaft have to shift into another gear if they hope to get the best return out of two arguably tougher fixtures.
Coming into the match at Dublin’s new Aviva Stadium, things are not exactly rosy. The defence is not in the best shape, with Mats Hummels – arguably one of the more consistent performers – out injured and skipper Philipp Lahm having to sit things out following two yellow cards. Thankfully, Giovanni Trappatoni’s side are even more depleted than the Germans and don’t have an offensive game to set the world on fire; ‘keeper Manuel Neuer and the four men named to start shouldn’t have too tough a time. Hopefully.
Having been benched for the first two matches Jérôme Boateng should be back in the starting lineup to replace Lahm, while Per Mertesacker will probably fill in for Hummels in the middle. Heiko Westermann has been called up for mational duty for the first time in almost two years, but I cannot much more than a bench-warming role for the Hamburger SV skipper. Holger Badstuber should expect to start once more on the left of centre, alongside Marcel Schmelzer – not my favourite left-back, but the one preferred by the Nationaltrainer.
If the defence is not as good as it could be, this is more than made up by the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Having suffered what could have been seen as a crisis of confidence at the tail end of last season and suffering an injury that kept him out of the opening World Cup qualifiers, the FC Bayern man appears to have recaptured his best form, and has been one of the star turns in a Bayern side that has so far cleaned up all comers in the Bundesliga. Schweinsteiger will be leading the team in the absence of Lahm, and will once again join forces with Sami Khedira.
The offensive midfield should see no changes from the trio that started against the Austrians, with Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Marco Reus expected to start. I don’t expect any last-moment shenanigans from the coach, though one has to consider that Lukas Podolski’s form for Arsenal has done him no harm whatsoever. We could very easily see the versatile Reus start on the right and Podolski on the left, with Müller being benched.
Up front there is the team’s thirty-something Klose, who will hope to remove the memory of his last two games and creep closer towards Gerd Müller’s goalscoring record.
This is Germany’s eighth visit to the Irish capital, and their first match at the all-new Aviva Stadium. The Mannschaft have a negative record on Irish soil having won twice and lost three times with two draws; on the other hand, the last of these defeats came in 1956. There have been three previous competitive encounters between the two sides, with Germany winning one and the other two being drawn.
Germany have also never lost a World Cup qualifying match away from home, and will not be looking to start now.
I have predicted the following lineup, as does Kicker:
Neuer – Boateng, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Schmelzer – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Özil, Reus – Klose
This game is live on Sky Sports 2 here in the UK, and as usual I will be sitting by the screen with laptop at the ready to type up the minute-by-minute report. Let’s hope German eyes and not Irish ones are smiling tonight!