Soccer, like most sports, is a team game which, in the vaguest definition, revolves around 11 players who must work together in a series of carved out positions and tactics to enable the most efficient means of obtaining and exploiting a small leather ball to allow them to win a game.
However, as the sport has grown in size, strength and speed over the past 20 years, the modern game no longer allows the primitive notion of a single 11 players exclusively holding the right to dictate the manner in which their side either succeeds or fails.
Such a concept manifests itself most evidently through cup competitions in which a single squad group of players are constantly hit with injuries, form and the ever-changing face, size and tactics of their next opponent.
For a side like Germany – one of the favorites for the European Championships – most consider their strength in midfield or their continental goalscorers as the key to their prominence, but few consider the advantage they hold in the level of depth throughout the squad.
When called upon, Germany’s bench of young stars offer an alternative style of play and different options in midfield and up front while maintaining that consistent standard expected of a German international. In Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle, Germany possesses not only viable replacements, but three “plan B” options to stifle any defense.
Marco Reus, of Borussia Dortmund, recently completed his €17.5mil transfer from Gladbach to the Bundesliga champions as a result of a fantastic debut season in the German league. The forward-thinking midfielder enjoys playing behind the striker and was often played up front when the need was there. In 32 matches, Reus managed 18 goals and eight assists for Gladbach as he dragged a side that finished 16th the previous season, to Champions League qualification in fourth place.
What sets Reus apart from most is his relentless ability to offer goals. Whether on the end of a play, slotting the ball past the goalkeeper, or offering a moment of imagination and invention to create a chance for the striker; Reus preys upon defenses from every stage of an attack.
After making his debut for the national squad in October of last year, Reus has only made six caps for Germany as he approaches his first major tournament for die Mannshaft, yet his goal against Switzerland was a welcome sign for fans of the exciting young player who had lit up this year’s Bundesliga.
Alongside Reus on the German bench will sit fellow Borussen, Mario Gotze, of equal skill and possibly greater potential.
There is an interesting contrast between the way he looks and the confidence he displays. At just 5 foot 9, the midfielder looks better suited to the wings, yet the deathly touch and astonishing ball control quickly convince you that he should be as close to the penalty box as possible. In his opening 16 games for Dortmund, before injury ruled him out until the remaining four weeks of the season, Mario contributed to 10 goals, scoring five and assisting a further five.
For Germany, the young playmaker has only played 12 times, with his debut goal against Brazil last year being one of only two that he’s managed since then. Yet Joachim Low will be eager to include the midfielder in his plans with an obvious similarity between his own game and that of Mesut Ozil, making him an ideal replacement if the Madrid star is forced to come off.
Last but certainly not least on Germany’s list of options is Leverkusen forward Andre Schurrle. Unlike Reus and Gotze, Schurrle prefers to play his football on the wing with his game essentially revolving around his astounding pace and clinical finishing. Much like Lucas Podolski’s role for the national team, the 21-year-old enjoys cutting inside from the left and finding a root to goal – often through his thunderous right foot – making him an obvious backup or alternative to the Arsenal forward on the lefthand side of the German attack.
Despite a relatively average season for Leverkusen this year, with only 9 goals in 40 matches compared to 18 in the same amount for Mainz the season before, Schurrle has continued to progress as a German international with three goals in his last six appearances for die Mannschaft over the course of the past 12 months, tempting some to suggest that the young wide player may even start for the national team in place of Thomas Muller.
Goals in big-name friendlies against Uruguay, Brazil and Switzerland as well as three goals in the qualification round suggest that his performances for Germany are not affected by the inconsistency he’s experienced at club level of late – a factor that Low will be keen to have picked up upon – making him a likely impact sub when either wide players aren’t offering ample chances in the coming games.
Among these three players, Germany possesses the means to not only maintain the quality to win a tournament, but to offer alternative tactics, positions and methods to victory. Strength and ability will take a side most of the way in this competition, but the ability to shuffle and adapt when plan A stops working, is fundamental to the success of any eventual champions. This is why Germany’s plan B is so important.