1. Forget everything you’ve heard about collusion
Yes, US coach Jürgen Klinsmann and Germany coach Jogi Löw are friends. No, they have not shaken hands and agreed to play out a 0-0 tie. In fact, there isn’t even a word for tie in German. The closest thing is unentschieden, which apparently just means “undecided.” If anything, the German-Americans like Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, and even the adopted Americans like Klinsmann himself, would love to prove a point about the strength of American soccer by winning this game.
2. That said, don’t expect either team to take unnecessary risks … at least to begin with
Qualification from Group G is still the most important thing; Germany wins the group if they avoid defeat and the US escapes the Group of Death in second place if they avoid defeat. So neither team will want to expose their defense if they don’t have to. But as soon as the first goal goes in, everything will change accordingly.
3. Manuel Neuer is a sweeper-keeper
That means he loves to come off his line and intercept through balls with body parts that aren’t his hands. Sounds dangerous, but he almost always gets it right. So any American through balls for Clint Dempsey will need to measured to perfection. Too long and Neuer gets them with his broom.
4. Germany has been playing four center backs
That means the fullbacks—Jérôme Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes—aren’t really fullbacks. So they’re bigger and stronger than most people who play their position, but clumsier on the ball than most fullbacks and not as fast. It’s not clear Germany will stick with this approach, because it looked shaky against Ghana. But we can always hope they give it one last try.
5. This game could be all about Fabian Johnson
If Höwedes plays left-back, then expect to see the US’s Fabian Johnson running past him, a lot. Johnson, the US right back, has been the key to the team’s attacking width when he gets forward. Which is often. Look for Johnson to leave Höwedes in his dust. If Höwedes does not play left back, Johnson will run at whoever his replacement is. Either way, the US attack will rely on Johnson’s pace and direct runs down that wing.
6. Germany will be very much aware of Fabian Johnson
Johnson caught everyone’s eye in his first two World Cup performances, but Germany knew about him long before that. Before Johnson became a Yank, he won the 2009 European Under-21 Championship with Germany. In that team, Johnson played alongside Manuel Neur, Mesut Özil, Matts Hummels, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Höwedes and a few other players who are on the team he’ll face on Thursday.
7. Thomas Müller is the Sherlock Holmes of forward play
The German striker/winger/all-round attacker describes his role as raumdeuter, which translates roughly as an “investigator of space.” Just as Sherlock identifies clues that no one else even notices, Müller finds gaps in opposition defenses that no one else knows are there. And he’s always on the case. Compact defense and communication across the back line is the US’s only hope of getting away with it.
8. Michael Bradley is playing better than you think
If you have a friend who tells you Bradley was useless against Portugal, then maybe you’d be better off with one less friend. Michael Bradley had two errors against Portugal, missing an easy-ish chance and later getting tackled in midfield to start the move that led to Portugal’s equalizer. But outside of those two errors, Bradley was very effective in pressuring Portugal’s midfielders, spreading passes around midfield and playing dangerous balls through to Clint Dempsey.
9. And he’ll have an important role to play in this game
He’ll do the same again against Germany, and will be expected to pressure Germany’s “controlling midfielder,” either Philipp Lahm or Bastian Schweinsteiger (depending on what Löw decides to do). If Bradley can prevent all the play going through one of those guys, we’re halfway to the Round of 16.
10. Retreat is not an option
One of the biggest problems for the US against Portugal was that the defense and midfield defended by conceding space and dropping deeper and deeper. Doing this is just begging the opposition to score. The smartest thing the US can do in this game—whether holding on to a win or a tie—is to be conscious of keeping the defensive line higher than it was against Portugal.