New-look Germany offer Scotland a glimmer of hope

By Alasdair LamontSenior football reporter, BBC Scotland
Germany line up ahead of the game against Argentina
Germany have lost Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker from the side that won the World Cup in Brazil

Argentina's 4-2 friendly victory over Germany in Dusseldorf on Wednesday night cruelly robbed Scotland of the opportunity to be crowned unofficial world champions on Sunday.

But, all joking aside, could that match have offered Gordon Strachan and his team any insight as to how they might just achieve the seemingly impossible in Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park?

It may appear naive to think that just because the beaten World Cup finalists were able to score almost at will against their Maracana conquerors, Scotland can hope to do likewise.

But even without an Angel di Maria in the ranks, Strachan will surely have taken some encouragement from a shambolic defensive performance by the Germans.

Their problems at the back began with the retirement of the World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Per Mertesacker, seen by some as a weak point because of his lack of pace.

Even during the World Cup, with Lahm operating in midfield, Germany also found themselves playing four central defenders across the backline because of a lack of fullback options.

Angel Di Maria scores for Argentina against Germany
Angel Di Maria nets against Germany on a night when the Argentine ran the world champions ragged

Benedikt Howedes was one of those auxiliary fullbacks in Brazil, but the Schalke man was deployed in his favoured central position against Argentina alongside the inexperienced Matthias Ginter of Borussia Dortmund.

With Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng both doubtful for Sunday's match, that hitherto untested pairing may be used again against Scotland, and their less-than-commanding performance should be a source of optimism for the Scots.

But allied to that, it was the vulnerability in the left-back area that might afford Scotland most joy, with three of the goals Germany conceded coming from that flank.

Erik Durm, another Borussia Dortmund man, was ripped to shreds by Di Maria, who scented blood from the outset and ruthlessly exploited his opponent's inability to cope.

Now, let's not kid ourselves, Scotland cannot call upon a player of Di Maria's talents, but Ikechi Anya, for example, could fulfil a similar role as indeed could Callum McGregor.

The Celtic youngster may not have Anya's pace and is even less experienced that Durm himself, but his start to the season has been breathtaking and while it would be a bold move by Strachan to throw him in against the world champions, his confidence is such that he would surely relish the chance of trying to emulate the Argentine superstar.

Erik Durm
Erik Durm endured a tough night for Germany as they lost 4-2 against Argentina

One of the key improvements Strachan has made to Scotland is to have made them more of an attacking threat, allowing his forwards to interchange at times, and that movement could also help punish any German uncertainty.

The loss of Robert Snodgrass is a massive blow to the Scottish cause as he had perhaps been the best player in the Strachan regime, and would have offered a real threat with his intelligence on and off the ball.

In Steven Naismith, though, Strachan has a player who can find space with his clever runs and, as he has proved at the start of this season with Everton, can find the net from the positions he creates for himself.

One thing is for sure, Scotland will have to convert chances at a pretty productive rate if they are to take anything from Sunday's game because, new-look defence or not, chances will be at a premium and the home side are certain to create many more.

And it is the stifling of Germany's bountiful creativity where Scotland's other main focus will lie.

In Toni Kroos, from central midfield, and the variety of options open to Joachim Low in attack - Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski - Germany are ridiculously well off for game-changers.

So Scotland's own fullbacks will have to be at their very best defensively to cope with Germany's wide-men.

Celtic's Callum McGregor
Celtic's Callum McGregor has started the campaign in sensational form

But another crucial factor in Argentina's victory was the role played by Javier Mascherano.

Playing just in front of his back-four, the diminutive Barcelona player denied Reus the time and space to hurt Argentina and also provided cover for his fullbacks when they were threatened by Schurrle or Julian Draxler, and then Podolski down the wings.

Again, it goes without saying that Scotland do not have a defensive midfielder of Mascherano's calibre, but they do have players who can be asked to perform that job - Charlie Mulgrew did so in Maribor for Celtic recently, albeit against a different standard of opponent.

All this is to say that while taking even a point back home is very much a long shot, there are areas of weakness in the German side and there are ways of making life difficult for them.

But writing that and actually executing that on the Signal Iduna Park pitch are two very different things.