Manchester City suffered their second top-flight defeat of the season at West Ham as Eliaquim Mangala's struggles continued. Will Demichelis return for the Manchester derby?
Tim Stannard looks at six storylines that could unfold in Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Will Messi break Zarra's La Liga record?
A match that was billed as the strongest team against the best individual was eventually settled by a moment of individual brilliance from the strongest team. "Me, the German Messi? No, I want to be the Cristiano Ronaldo of Germany," said Mario Gotze in 2013. If there is one player among the German ranks to rival the duo's virtuoso talents, then it is surely the Bayern Munich youngster.
It was a fitting goal to win the World Cup. Gotze's 113th-minute strike owed much to the industry of Andre Schurrle on the left, but his composed finish was unrivalled on a night of missed chances. A beautiful take on his chest and a fine volley past the despairing Sergio Romero, all in one fluid movement. He was as relaxed as a player stroking home a simple finish on the training pitch.
If only the same could be said for Gonzalo Higuain and Rodrigo Palacio. The Argentina pair, along with Sergio Aguero, scored just a single goal between them at the tournament, underlining the burden placed on Lionel Messi's shoulders. Higuain's snatched effort in the first half could not have been more in contrast with Gotze's finish while Palacio, who replaced the Napoli forward, wilted under the shadow of the on-rushing Manuel Neuer.
Even Argentina's peerless No. 10 was guilty of wasting a wonderful opening shortly after half-time. Lucas Biglia's threaded through-ball put Messi in the clear, but he scooped his shot wide of the far post. The moment was gone. The debate left unresolved.
It would be difficult to deny that Germany deserved their victory after Argentina failed to manage a single attempt on target in 120 minutes. But their World Cup crown isn't merely reward for Gotze's goal and the team's performance in the final. This has been years in the making, the culmination of the re-building project that took place after Euro 2000 when Germany finished bottom of England's group with just a single point from their three matches.
A World Cup final appearance in 2002 came earlier than expected, and it was back to the drawing board after another group-stage debacle in 2004. Jurgen Klinsmann's reign brought a semi-final defeat on home soil in 2006, but then the carefully crafted plans really began to take shape. As Spain ruled the world with narrow 1-0 wins over Germany at Euro 2008 and in the semi-final of 2010, Joachim Low tweaked and perfected. The loss to Italy in Warsaw was a shock but, true to form, the Germans regrouped and came back stronger in Brazil.
As the tournament awards were handed out after the final whistle, the ceremony underlined the opposing forces that clashed in the unforgettable setting of the Maracana. Messi collected the Golden Ball, Germany took home the trophy and winners' medals. Neuer, who was born in no man's land and who will die in no man's land, claimed the Golden Glove, while Miroslav Klose departs with the all-time scoring record.
The striker's achievement emphasises the considered approach to Germany's renewal. Whereas in England the call is often to rip it up and start again, they built on the quality that was already evident. Germany designed a development plan to identify the country's best young talent, but nothing they identified was as good as Klose.
There have been questions over Germany's strengths at various stages of the World Cup - notably after the draw against Ghana and the battle to get past Algeria - but each time the team has found an answer. The manner of Brazil's record-breaking 7-1 defeat and the tears that followed meant the focus remained very much on the hosts in the aftermath of the semi-final, but Germany were simply superb in that first half, ripping apart what remained of Brazil's footballing identity and wearing it as a badge of honour.
"Let's put it into context: the hosts were unable to deal with the pressure," said Low in his clinical assessment of a historic victory. "We had a clear, persistent game-plan and if we were courageous and believed in our own strengths, we would win this match."
Belief is what this World Cup win is founded in. Belief in the flexible system Low and his coaches have crafted and belief in the players to follow instructions to the letter. It is for that reason that the manager had no fear handing Christoph Kramer his competitive debut as a late replacement for the injured Sami Khedira in the final, and it is for that reason that he seamlessly changed the plan again when Kramer himself was injured in the first half and was replaced by Schurrle.
As we have seen with Spain over the past six years, this Germany side is more than a brilliant XI, or worthy 23. It is a machine, a blueprint. Take away one cog and it can be substituted with another. The fear for the rest of the world is that Germany's squad was the sixth-youngest at the World Cup and the youngest to get past the quarter-finals. This journey doesn't end here; in truth, it may only be the beginning.
Matt Stanger - he's on Twitter.
@heinrich moller how dare you? How very dare you? LOL Seriously though, you are right spot on I would say. This 'development' plan which F365 seemed to know about but not fully inform us on should be looked at. England don't need to rip up everything they just need to have a purpose. One purpose the Premier League needs to understand that is having your own national team just qualifying for tournaments is not enough and more help is needed to bring through more English players in the Premier league. Players like Shaw maybe good in the short term but with their excessive wage demands will only hamper more clubs signing English players. The Premier League is certainly strong and entertaining but it needs to offer something for its national team, maybe a set of guaranteed places for English players in Premier league clubs?- crow