England v Germany: Five key battles

The Rio Report

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England and Germany are both poised to field experimental sides at Wembley for Tuesday night’s international friendly - particularly the visitors, who have excluded a number of key players.

Still, a match between the two historic rivals that serves as useful preparation for next summer’s World Cup finals will be a keenly contested affair nonetheless, with a number of key tussles playing out across the pitch.

Here we identify the five individual battles which could define the game.

For our predicted XIs (England have already named theirs), see the graphic at the bottom of the page...

1. Steven Gerrard v Toni Kroos

Kroos, rather like Gerrard earlier in his career, has a reputation for excelling in a number of positions and he is arguably one of the most complete midfielders in European football at present. The Bayern Munich star will play alongside Sven Bender in a deeper role in midfield, though he is perhaps at his most dangerous when playing in behind the striker, and if Gerrard – who will have little defensive help from Tom Cleverley – fails to shut him down then Kroos could very well run the game from the centre of the Wembley pitch.

The 23-year-old is astonishingly proficient in possession – completing 345 of 355 passes in the Champions League this season, or 97.2 per cent - and blends technical brilliance with an intelligent and mature approach to the game. We were given a glimpse into Gerrard’s decline when Arsenal ran rings around him at the start of the month and though he is not yet a spent force at club or international level, Kroos is very much the future, and Gerrard the past.

2. Wayne Rooney v Sven Bender

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The injury suffered by Sami Khedira in Germany’s 1-1 friendly draw with Italy last weekend means Borussia Dortmund’s Sven Bender is now first in line to take the defensive midfield role, unless Philipp Lahm’s Pep Guardiola-inspired move to midfield continues for the national side having played upfield against the Azzurri. Bender, 24, is an authentic holding midfielder who performs a vital role for his club in intercepting opposition passes and launching the counter-attacks for which Dortmund are so famous.

He will have a similar brief for Germany, who also like to counter-attack with speed and precision, but while patrolling the deep he will also come up against Rooney, who has been by far England’s best player in the Hodgson era with 10 goals in 13 appearances. Rooney's best work has arguably come when playing off a striker, as he will do with Daniel Sturridge on Tuesday, and when he comes deep to link up play and orchestrate the attack he regularly does damage. If Bender allows him to drift in behind and enjoy space in between the lines then Germany could suffer.

3. Kyle Walker v Marco Reus

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With no Mesut Ozil or Mario Goetze in the starting XI - and Joachim Loew expected to give chances to 20-year-old Julian Draxler and Bayer Leverkusen’s Sidney Sam and Moenchengladbach’s Max Kruse, neither of whom have more than five caps - Dortmund star Reus suddenly finds himself as the senior figure in Germany’s four-man attack. The exceptional talent – who has seven goals and five assists in only 11 Bundesliga starts this season – will play on the left, but with a brief to cut into the centre with regularity.

This puts him in direct opposition with Walker, who will be winning his 10th cap for England. The Tottenham defender ended the qualification campaign as his country’s first choice right-back thanks to an injury to Glen Johnson and now faces a huge test in nullifying Reus, who will gleefully exploit any space left in behind. Walker’s strengths lie in his attacking contributions and he remains vulnerable on the back foot, so the Spurs defender could well be found out by one of Europe’s best wide forwards. Threat level: critical.

4. Andros Townsend v Marcel Schmelzer

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Another Spurs v Dortmund battle, but whereas Reus is a modern, multifaceted forward, Townsend is an retro, unadulterated winger who will get the ball on his trusty left foot from the right wing and run and run at Schmelzer all night. Remarkably, only Luis Suarez averages more shots per game than the England man and it says something about his finishing, and predilection for a long-range effort, that he has scored only once in the Premier League this season – and that was a lucky cross which found the back of the net.

Townsend announced himself in spectacular fashion with a sensational debut goal against Montenegro in England’s penultimate World Cup qualifier and followed that up with another bright display against Poland. However, Germany will be another test entirely and Schmelzer – who continues to improve – will spot a real chance to demonstrate to Loew that he can be relied upon should Lahm move into midfield for the long-term. The Dortmund left-back will hope to expose Townsend as a one-trick pony.

5. Daniel Sturridge v Mats Hummels

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The Premier League’s joint top scorer with eight goals has had a limited impact at international level so far, scoring twice in only eight caps for England, but he finished the final two qualifiers as his country’s first-choice No. 9 and, after missing the Chile loss due to injury, now continues the task of proving to Hodgson that he can bring his electric domestic form to the international arena. For Liverpool this season he has looked sublime, matching unerring finishing with intelligent movement off the ball and excellent link-up play.

Per Mertesacker has been one of England’s best defenders this season – a man mountain who has been ultra-reliable for Arsenal and helped contain Sturridge in the league earlier this month – so Sturridge could get more joy off fellow centre-back Hummels. Though few defenders in world football are as confident with the ball at their feet, either feeding the midfield or dinking long balls over the top, Hummels has never shaken the suspicion that he is too vulnerable to individual errors and his mistakes can be exploited. If Sturridge can get the better of him then England could profit.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport

Predicted teams (England's has been confirmed by Roy Hodgson):

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