Will Germany, Joachim Low stick with what's working or tweak vs. Italy?

Lukas Podolski is doing all he can to impress Joachim Low, but the manager outdid him on one occasion. 
 If "Angstgegner" (German for "bogey team") was the watchword after Italy (unbeaten in eight tournament games against the Nationalmannschaft) secured a quarterfinal meeting with Joachim Low's team, the eve of the match in Bordeaux was dominated by something called "Geheimniskrämerei" -- extensive secret-mongering both in and by the Germany camp.

The German FA received permission from UEFA to hold their last training session at their base in Évian, rather than at the stadium in Toulouse, on Friday night in order to escape prying eyes. The pitch in the Stade Camille Fournier was hidden behind huge screens to enable Low to train with his first team in total seclusion. FA officials were posted around the ground to stop anyone from getting too close; chief scout Urs Siegenthaler was tasked with patrolling the perimeter on his bike.
Team manager Oliver Bierhoff revealed that the coach was "weighing up plenty of options" including the introduction of captain Bastian Schweinsteiger in place of, or in addition to, Sami Khedira. The players also hinted at changes, namely at the back.

"We don't know yet if we will play with three or four defenders," Jerome Boateng said. Germany, who have played in a 4-2-3-1 formation so far at Euro 2016, could be tempted to mirror the Italian 3-5-2 on Saturday after beating Antonio Conte's side 4-1 that way in a March friendly in Munich. "We didn't play that system for fun that day," midfield linchpin Toni Kroos said on Thursday. "We were outstanding that night," stressed centre-back Mats Hummels, "because we managed to completely clamp down on their two, three attacking moves that they had."
All this talk about altering the setup and their sudden, ostentatious secrecy makes you wonder if Germany aren't engaging in an elaborate double-bluff, hiding the fact that there is nothing to hide. Perhaps the big surprise is that there won't be a big surprise, but rather the exact same formation and lineup that delivered so well against Slovakia and has yet to give up a goal at this competition.
In any case, Low will have had to think very carefully about the right approach. A few shaky moments against Ukraine and Poland aside, his Germany have not been tested too much defensively, which makes an evaluation of their robustness difficult.
Can Kroos and Khedira be trusted to hold their ground against three central Italian midfielders? Or do they need a defensive specialist behind them to offer extra protection? Switching to a back three would offer an extra man in midfield and undermine the Azzurri's man-marking system in the middle of the park by adding width, but at the considerable cost of losing the creativity of either Julian Draxler or Mario Götze up front. The more fundamental, almost philosophical question behind all these deliberations, however, concerns the extent to which a functioning side should adapt to the opposition.

Low knows all about that dilemma from painful personal experience. Ahead of the Euro 2012 semifinal, the national manager was so worried about the influence of Andrea Pirlo that he sacrificed the width brought by Marco Reus for a lopsided team with Kroos as an unhappy Pirlo shadow. Germany lost 2-1 in Warsaw, and Low got the blame. He stood accused of overthinking things and mismanaging the potential of an entire generation right up until the summer of 2014, when the World Cup win put such notions to bed.
In Brazil, the 56-year-old persisted with a back four consisting of four centre-backs in the face of much public resistance for the first four games then changed the team for the quarterfinal, just as many felt he'd be too proud to do it. He appeared tougher, and more detached than before, thoroughly uninterested in the perception of him back home.
On Thursday, Low vaguely claimed that Italy's plan would "play a role, in a way" regarding Germany's tactics but also stressed that the basic aim was to "bring our strengths to bear, to try to put our football on the pitch. You can do that with three at the back or four at the back, the differences aren't too big."
 Low gambled and lost heavily vs. Italy in Euro 2012. Despite some misdirection, it seems he won't make the same mistake.

Listening to the coach at this tournament, you get the sense that his confidence in the team getting all the little things right on the day has grown so strong that he has come to regard the grand, much-discussed tactical variations as being of secondary importance. Asked about the team reverting to a more traditional setup with a recognised centre-forward in Mario Gomez, Low this week declared the whole debate outdated and formulaic.
"For us, it's no longer about a false nine or a real nine -- it's about getting into deep spaces [in the box]." Lineups and formations are not a big deal anymore, in other words, but only an means to an end.
Low and his team have earned the right to think in these terms, talking down the relevance of specific measures. That won't stop the rush to portray Sunday's game as a battle of wits between the two managers but it should perhaps give pause for thought. As much as the right formation and game plan will increase your chances of winning, it's often a little too easy to blame them for defeats as Kroos reminded everyone on Thursday. "We didn't lose because of tactics in 2012 but due to individual errors," the Real Madrid midfielder said.
If the latter will be avoided, no one will second-guess Low's choices come the final whistle.

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