Germany had a fine World Cup in more ways than one. Not only did their national team win the World Cup in historic style, but their national league, the Bundesliga, saw the rise to prominence of many of its young stars. A number of sides featured some incredibly talented Germany-based players, while the German squad itself contained no fewer than 16 Bundesliga men dotted around the country. With this in mind, then, what would a World Cup best XI look like if made up purely of Bundesliga players?
Manuel Neuer – FC Bayern München – Goalkeeper
Manuel Neuer is an easy choice for the position of goalkeeper, his fine tournament already eclipsing the relatively average Diego Benaglio of Wolfsburg before officially winning the Golden Glove, while the likes of Yann Sommer, Roman Weidenfeller, Roman Bürki, Daniel Davari (now of Grasshoppers, but Braunschweig’s first choice goalkeeper last season) and Ron-Robert Zieler were all consigned to the bench.
Neuer’s strength in goal was confirmed with several stunning saves, especially in the latter stages, as he kept Germany in the game against Algeria in a surprisingly pulsating Second Round tie, while he withstood a French barrage late on in the Quarter Final before producing one of his best performances in the final. One area which delighted more than ever, though, was his role as a sweeper keeper, quite literally taking defending into his own hands as the German high line faltered at stages in the tournament. Neuer’s quick thinking and fleet-footedness may not have added to his save ratio, which already stood at an impressive four saves per goal conceded, but it definitely prevented Germany from conceding more goals than they did, as Neuer kept four clean sheets during the tournament, including against Argentina in the final.
Fabian Johnson – Borussia Mönchengladbach – Right Back
Lauded early on as the best full back of the competition, a number of big clubs will have been rueing not picking up Fabian Johnson on a free from 1899 Hoffenheim at the end of this season; FC Barcelona were even linked with a multi-million Euro move for the American, before he’s even linked up with new club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, for pre-season training.
As it is, he’ll stay with the Foals, which will no doubt please fans and his teammates alike. Johnson’s marauding runs were one of the only dangerous elements of a relatively blunt USA attack, and this was typified in Johnson’s man of the match performance in the 2-2 draw with Portugal, as he stretched the weakened Portuguese backline all night long. With an incredible passing percentage for a player whose game relies a lot on crossing – 77% – and having won all his attempted tackles and more than half his take-ons throughout the tournament, Johnson can quite rightly lay claim to being the best Bundesliga-based right back of the 2014 World Cup, as the other contender, Philipp Lahm, was very poor in a midfield berth for most of the tournament, before successfully moving back to his usual position.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos – Borussia Dortmund – Centre Back
It’s hard to overstate how far Sokratis has come along in the past year at Borussia Dortmund. Joining largely as cover for both centre and right back, the Greek centre back has cemented himself as an important part of the defensive puzzle at the Westfalenstadion, and confirmed his name on the World stage in Greece’s surprise run to the Round of 16, where he scored a dramatic last-gasp equaliser against Costa Rica.
Papastathopoulos was the lynchpin of the Greek defence, attempting successfully to control a number of opposition defenders. Given that Greece conceded 5 goals throughout, he did this rather successfully, and this was typified in the second game against Japan when, against ten men, Sokratis marshalled a defence which kept a clean sheet despite Japan’s technical and attacking prowess.
Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund – Centre Back
It’s absolutely impossible to not include the German centre back supremo Mats Hummels in the team of the tournament – and even more so in the Bundesliga team. Hummels was probably Germany’s most consistent outfielder despite playing with a knee injury through the whole tournament; his goals against Portugal and France were some of the most important of Germany’s entire campaign, starting off their tally for the tournament and in arguably their toughest game before the final, while a tiring, very clearly injured Hummels quite easily held the likes of Agüero, Messi and Palacio at bay despite being exposed by the hapless Benedikt Höwedes and not being able to walk very well.
One area which characterised Hummels’ tournament was his elegance and confidence on the ball. Completing 87% of his passes, it’s easy to see why he’s Germany and Dortmund’s first choice on the team sheet at centre back, as he can be relied on to distribute the ball as well as any midfielder could. His slight lack of pace wasn’t exposed all too much – a few Messi bursts in the final aside – because of his incredible positional play, which even manage to accommodate Per Mertesacker in a high defensive line. Who knew that could work?
Ricardo Rodriguez – VfL Wolfsburg – Left Back
It’s quite telling that, in Switzerland’s first game against Ecuador, Switzerland didn’t create anything of note until Xherdan Shaqiri relinquished the taking of set pieces to Rodriguez, the set piece specialist in the Swiss set-up. That paid immediate dividends, the Wolfsburg full back setting up Admir Mehmedi for a sensational equaliser with his first corner of the game. Unlike many dead ball men, though, Rodriguez is dangerous from open play too, setting up the Haris Seferovic winner in the same game, too.
One thing which was made abundantly clear in the Bundesliga this season is that Rodriguez is far too good to stay at Wolfsburg forever, and having built upon that reputation this summer he’ll no doubt continue to be linked with clubs such as Chelsea for the foreseeable future. His style in the tournament, very similar to that of fellow Bundesliga XI member Fabian Johnson, will no doubt have impressed pretty much anyone who watched Switzerland play.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – FC Bayern München – Central Midfielder
Bastian Schweinsteiger has been criticised and maligned as a player not made for the big games by some (albeit ignorant) sections of the press up until the past year or so, after a handful of spectacular big game failures in the 2010 World Cup, Euro 2012 and of course that Champions League „finale dahoam“ against Chelsea. What a way, then, to consign that waffle to the past. Schweinsteiger obviously began to shake off that reputation as a bottler with Bayern’s treble in 2013, but this World Cup title will be all the sweeter for one of the lynchpins of the Germany team.
Schweinsteiger was instrumental in the final, covering virtually every blade of grass despite his advancing years. His range of passing and bravery in the tackle set him apart from his teammates and the opposition; while his stats may often look marginally less impressive than Philipp Lahm’s, Schweinsteiger actually attempts passes that are longer than about 5 yards, while he also created several good chances from his deep midfield position. A worthy Champion.
Toni Kroos – then of FC Bayern München – Central Midfielder
It’s hard to overlook Toni Kroos for the second of the three central midfield berths in the side, purely because of his incredible performance against Brazil in the semi-final. Sure, Kroos isn’t actually a Bundesliga man anymore, having made the switch to Real Madrid the other day, but for the whole of the World Cup he was a Bayern man, and the alternatives in this slot are Ja-Cheol Koo and Luiz Gustavo, both of whom had poor World Cups, so we’ll just have to run with it.
Kroos’ three assists – two of which came in the latter stages, against France and Brazil – and his two goals typified his importance to the German side, who, after Kroos went missing somewhat in the final against Argentina, lacked the bite going forward they did when Kroos was playing balls into them. What is very clear when one looks at Toni Kroos’ game is that he is a player who is incredible with the ball, completing a ridiculous 90% of passes – a large proportion of which were quite long passes, rather than the 5-yard pap mentioned earlier. His positional play is also very good for a player who isn’t perhaps seen as a natural number 6 – most experts agree he slots in somewhere between a natural defensive midfielder and a number 10, maybe in the mould of the Frank Lampard of old – and of course, fourteen chances created over seven games isn’t to be sniffed at. Great tournament for Kroos.
Kevin de Bruyne – VfL Wolfsburg – Central Midfielder
Kevin de Bruyne was easily Belgium’s best player in their World Cup campaign, scoring potentially the most important goal of it to, the opener in extra time against the United States. De Bruyne played as a central midfielder for vast swathes of the tournament, flittering into attacking midfield at stages too, which means in this team he’s the furthest forward midfielder, but ultimately it was actually his play from deep that has actually cemented his place in the team, with Belgium’s attack well below par, if you consider the sort of talent it consists of.
De Bruyne played the role of creator for Belgium more often than not – creating no less than sixteen chances over the course of five matches, which outclassed the likes of the highly-rated Eden Hazard (who created thirteen). One weak area was his weakness in the challenge, losing take-ons more often than not, but even so, this was bypassed by his excellent passing, which clocked in at an impressive 80%.
Thomas Müller – FC Bayern München – Right Winger
It’s hard to know whether to considering Thomas Müller as a striker or a wide-man in the context of the 2014 World Cup, given that he pretty much spent half his playing time in each position. His five goals weren’t enough to pick up a second Golden Boot, but did propel his side to the final, alongside his assists in vital games against Ghana, Algeria and Brazil.
As such we’ve opted to go for a relatively fluid front three, with both wingers playing very narrowly. This should suit Thomas Müller quite well, whose ability to find space is second to none in the German side, while playing centrally limits his combination plays with the full backs a little too much to help his side offensively down the wings. A hat-trick against Portugal is what will be remember, but working in tandem with Philipp Lahm against Argentina was arguably his finest hour in the 2014 World Cup if you consider the amount of chances created.
Arjen Robben – FC Bayern München – Left Winger
Like with Mats Hummels, it’s pretty much impossible to not have Arjen Robben in any World Cup 2014 team, let alone a Bundesliga one. The Dutch attacker, deployed by his country largely as a second striker, was in inspired form throughout the tournament, scoring three goals and assisting another. Most strikingly, however, the shot-happy Robben actually only registered one shot off target in all seven games – compared to 9 which hit the target – while he created an incredible 17 chances, a high for any player in this team. There’s every indication he’d work very well in this team, especially when you consider his prior experience of playing with half of the team, too.
Despite being 30 years of age, Robben is also still a speedster – while that “record sprint” against Spain didn’t turn out to be a record after all, Robben still attempted 50 take-ons, completing 34 successfully, which is an astonishing statistic. Robben showed at the World Cup that he’s matured like a fine wine over the past few years, and at this rate you wouldn’t rule out seeing him in Russia next time around.
Admir Mehmedi – SC Freiburg – Striker
The toughest position to pick in the team. Not because of a wealth of talent to choose from, but actually because there’s very little to pick from. Mario Mandzukic left Bayern before the tournament ended, and only played twice anyway, while Germany didn’t even bother to take a striker from the Bundesliga to the World Cup and Leverkusen’s duo of Heung-Min Son and new boy Josip Drmic flattered to deceive. Admir Mehmedi is pretty much the last man standing in a tournament which didn’t really end well for strikers anyway, and, despite playing as a wide man for vast swathes, is arguably the most successful Bundesliga striker at the tournament.
Is this taking away from his performances a bit? Yeah. It must be stated that Admir Mehmedi was excellent in an unfamiliar position, in a team which fell short of expectations somewhat. His first touch of the tournament – against Ecuador – resulted in a goal, and this was arguably his high point of the World Cup, but the Freiburg man also toiled to some reward against Honduras, and worked very hard to keep Argentina at bay too. Plus, viewers of the Bundesliga will know very well how talented Mehmedi is – it’s not like he’s a random pick.
Well, there we have it! An exciting, attacking 4-3-3 befitting of an exciting, attacking league.