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Will Joachim Löw bench Mesut Özil?

The longtime Germany standout could be on the sideline against Mexico.

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Mesut Özil is an immensely talented play maker who suffers from the perception that he lacks the requisite fire and passion that many people would like to see from their star players. The criticism of his on-field demeanor and body language indeed has merit, but up to this point in his career, the German’s superior talent has kept him on the field.

Until now...maybe.

Julian Draxler could play a key role as a starter for Germany against Mexico.
AFP/Getty Images

Per a report by ESPN, Joachim Löw may start Julian Draxler against Mexico but has not officially revealed exactly who will sit out. Media members speculated that the choice of Draxler to face the press on Saturday was telling. Löw scoffed at that notion.

I’m picking the lineup, not [media officer] Jens Grittner.

Löw, however, may have been playing coy. In a radio interview with state broadcaster ARD, Löw detailed why he thought the Paris Saint-Germain man deserved a spot in the starting XI.

It’s because he’s really developed [as a player] over the last two, three years. He’s been playing for us for a while now, [and] he was very good at the Confed Cup, too.

If Löw opts to go with Draxler it would be a shock to the team’s system, unless Özil is still bothered by a balky knee.

Draxler’s inclusion vs. El Tri is a minor surprise that could beget a much bigger one. For the first time ever in Low’s reign, Mesut Özil might not make the first XI in a tournament game. The Arsenal playmaker was “ready to feature” after his knee complaint, Löw said at the presser, before immediately adding that he had “two or three ideas in his head” and not settled on the team sheet.

How one picture is playing a role in the World Cup.

The move, however, could come down to the effect Özil’s off-the-field decision making is having on the German team.

Sources have told ESPN that Low has been far unhappier with Özil’s and İlkay Gündoğan’s conduct in the much-discussed Erdogan affair than he has let on. The national manager apparently feels the duo have unnecessarily complicated the buildup to Russia by first meeting the Turkish president and then showing a lack of contrition. Members of the German FA delegation privately insist Low has not fallen out with either player, but he is said to have been a little annoyed by the need to deal with matters that have nothing to do with football as such.

Özil, Gündoğan and Turkish international Cenk Tosun – who were all born in Germany – have been universally lambasted after posing for pictures with Turkish president Recept Tayyip Erdogan. While Gündoğan is not expected to be anything more than situational substitute, Özil has been one of the key cogs in the Germany attack since breaking into the lineup in 2009.

Gundogan was not expected to start in any case. But it will be instructive to see whether the manager’s displeasure with the two Premier-League-based squad members will be strong enough to bring about a first-ever snub of Özil, one of the mainstays of the side for nearly a decade and the player whose immigrant background and superlative passing skills best symbolizes the national team’s changed identity on the pitch. Draxler hailed his teammate as “the most creative player on the pitch” with “unparalleled technical ability,” and you won’t find anyone in the German FA delegation who’d disagree. On his day, as the Sade song goes, Özil is Low’s smoothest operator, moving in space with minimum waste and maximum joy.

It is easy to criticize the players for their decision to take the picture, but if Erdogan requested the meeting and photo, what would the ramifications have been if they said “No”? As captured by The Guardian, it might have been the supportive theme of the meeting and photos that has created the controversy.

In a meeting at London’s Four Seasons hotel on Sunday evening, which was also attended by German-born Everton striker Cenk Tosun, the players handed signed club shirts to the leader of Turkey’s Justice and Development (AKP) party. The shirt given by Gündoğan, who holds German and Turkish passports, bore the message: “To my president, with my respects.”

While Arsenal star Özil has not commented on the affair, Gündoğan has defended the meeting as a “gesture of politeness” that he had made “out of respect for the president’s office.” Critics say Gündoğan could have shown his respect without allowing himself to be used as a political tool, pointing out that Liverpool FC’s Germany international Emre Can had reportedly declined an invitation from Erdoğan’s team.

Despite that, the situation is not as cut-and-dry as most would like to believe, and it is hard to say what was going on behind the scene as the athletes decided on whether to accept the meeting. Perhaps they truly support Erdogan, or maybe they they felt some sort of obligation. Maybe even they just wanted to meet the President of their ancestral homeland. It’s also possible that they put no thought into the possible outcome at all. No one knows, and Özil is not likely to start giving his rationale now.

The Arsenal man’s silence on the topic has clearly not helped his cause to move past what has become an awkward and volatile situation for everyone involved.

What comes next for Die Mannschaft?

The selection of Draxler over Özil could have a ripple effect on the line-up, particularly who mans the attacking midfield role behind presumed starting striker Timo Werner. Would Draxler play in the attacking midfield role or would Thomas Müller slide behind Werner with Draxler shifting to the right wing? Arguably, including Draxler gives Löw more options to shift players around during the game should the offense hit a wall.

To his credit, Draxler showered Özil with praise during the press conference, as captured by

Mesut is very important player for us. That’s a fact. The debate over his body language has raged for a couple of years. But he is an exceptional player with unparalleled technical abilities and our most creative player on the pitch. He will be there when we need him and he will be delivering in this tournament.

Löw knows that Özil and Gündoğan will likely draw jeers from German and opposing fans alike. It is a situation that he knows he cannot control.

They will possibly be accompanied by some whistles. OK, it is what it is. I cannot influence the whistles. I would have liked it differently but my job is to get them into the flow and help our team.

If selected, will Draxler succeed?

Draxler is an excellent talent, and he is the type of versatile player that Löw loves to deploy. The question of where Löw stations Draxler is very intriguing. Many people think Müller is most effective and would have a greater influence in the game by playing the attacking midfield role behind Werner. Should Draxler play as a wing, he can make an impact in a number of ways, given his skill-set.

Should Müller remain on the wing, however, the team will rely on Draxler to facilitate the offense by creating opportunities for Werner. Draxler is certainly capable of that, but would he achieve the same result as Özil or Müller?

We all knew Löw would eventually be in a spot to send one of his mainstays to the bench, and frankly most of us assumed it would Sami Khedira making way for Leon Goretzka. Now, however, Löw must make his first, crucial lineup decision (Manuel Neuer over Marc-André ter Stegen notwithstanding). The decision could have a lasting effect as long as Germany is in the tournament.

UPDATE (8:30AM EST): Löw may start Özil and Draxler; sending Marco Reus to the bench (!?!)

In a shock move, Borussia Dortmund dynamo Marco Reus is reportedly headed to the bench, while Özil remains in the lineup.

Exclusive: The first starting XI decision has fallen! Federal coach puts Mesut Özil (29) in the starting XI, for this the strong WM-debutant Marco Reus (29) must first be on the bench @SPORTBILD @BILD_National11 @MesutOzil1088

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