Now the even harder part begins: having been drawn against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, Germany coach Joachim Löw must pick a squad for the tournament. With no shortage of experts hailing the country’s wells of talent, we took it upon ourselves to see just how deep they run, drawing up no fewer than FOUR world-class starting line-ups.
That’s right – FOUR! Allow bundesliga.com to present Germany’s incredible strength in depth…
Boasting seven World Cup winners and a youthful injection in the form of Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and RB Leipzig‘s Timo Werner, this line-up is a combination of the players Löw prefers to utilise and those who would feature were everyone fully fit.
Kimmich’s vision, energy and reading of the game make him a ready-made replacement for former team-mate Philipp Lahm – Löw has called Kimmich “world class” – while Cologne’s Jonas Hector has cemented his spot as first-choice left-back since making his debut in November 2014.
The spine of the team is built around the 2014 World Cup winners: the Bayern core of captain Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng comprise a formidable defensive trio, while Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira – both starters in last season’s Champions League final with Real Madrid and Juventus respectively – dovetail naturally in midfield. Thomas Müller is as Thomas Müller does, while Mesut Özil’s quality and experience guarantee him a spot.
Werner’s remarkable recent form forLeipzig makes him the first-choice out-and-out striker, although should either Mario Gomez or Sandro Wagner continue to impress during the Bundesliga season, then they will put pressure on Werner’s place.
It goes without saying that Löw has alternatives in the attacking midfield positions at the ready should he prefer to shift Müller into the lone striker role or should Marco Reus’ injury troubles continue, but the Borussia Dortmund man has looked in imperious form since returning from his latest lay-off.
Although it only features one World Cup winner from 2014 (Julian Draxler), this iteration is perhaps representative of some of the new wave of talent, as well as some of those on the comeback trail from injury, such as Ilkay Gündogan.
Leon Goretzka’s fine run of form for Schalke and performances at the Confederations Cup mean he is pushing hard for a spot in the first-choice midfield. Behind him, Sebastian Rudy is one of Löw’s reliable options in midfield: the Bayern man was impressive in qualifying, not least in scoring a stunning goal against Northern Ireland.
Captain of the Confederations Cup-winning unit, Draxler is also in contention for the first-choice side, given Reus’ well-documented injury troubles, while Gomez looks to have rediscovered some form since his move to VfB Stuttgart, and provides nous and experience up top – as well as a guarantee of goals (31 in 71 caps).
Marvin Plattenhardt looks to be at the front of the left-back queue when Hector is unavailable; Hertha Berlin’s free-kick specialist is as impressive going forward as he is solid in defence. Elsewhere, given that Niklas Süle continues to impress in Bayern colours, it’s hard to overlook his claims to be the next cab off the centre-back rank behind Hummels and Boateng.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is already pencilled in as Manuel Neuer’s No2 – will there be a better back-up goalkeeper in Russia? – while Bayer Leverkusen‘s Benjamin Henrichs is perhaps most in danger of slipping out of this team after a slow start to the 2017/18 Bundesliga campaign.
If you want proof of Germany’s current strength in depth, then how about this: our third-choice line-up contains three World Cup winners from 2014 (Mario Götze, Shkodran Mustafi and Benedikt Höwedes).
Bernd Leno’s impressive displays so far this term for Bayer Leverkusen look to have the keeper ahead of Kevin Trapp – who has lost his place at Paris Saint-Germain – in the running to be third choice at the World Cup.
In front of Leno, Jeremy Toljan’s move to Dortmund has catapulted him up the full-back queue, while Jonathan Tah adds to the Leverkusen presence in the back line.
Comfortable at right or centre-back, former Schalke skipper Höwedes had hoped could impress in Serie A with Juventus this term, but injuries have limited his playing time to just one appearance, raising serious doubt over his likelihood of reprising his role in the World Cup-winning side.
Given that he’s now returned to action with Dortmund, Julian Weigl will no doubt be pushing the midfield in options 1 and 2. The same goes for the goalscorer in the final against Argentina in Rio in July 2014, Götze, who has shone in the BVB midfield of late following his return from metabolic disturbances.
Löw is also a fan of Amin Younes’ trickery: the former Borussia Mönchengladbach man offers the option of playing with a genuine winger. Julian Brandt adds to the Leverkusen connection, and could well push for more regular international recognition if he continues to impress at club level.
Up top, Lars Stindl has impressed since being included earlier this year: although no spring chicken at 29, the Gladbach skipper boasts plenty of Champions League experience and underlined his big-game mentality by scoring the winner in the Confederations Cup final this summer.
There was no real need to scrape the barrel for the fourth variation – wait until you see the list of absentees! Matthias Ginter stands as the sole survivor from 2014, but every single one of these players has represented their country at either senior or U-21 level.
Germany’s defensive strength in depth is underlined in the final line-up: two of the Bundesliga’s most reliable centre-backs, Willi Orban and Ginter, only appear on the periphery of Löw’s thinking, although both will no doubt fancy their chances of a spot on the plane to Russia if they continue their barnstorming form. Ginter, in particular, looks to have benefited from his summer move to Gladbach and is back to his best thanks to playing more regular football.
Sven Ulreich, behind them, has had a particularly impressive season stepping into Manuel Neuer’s shoes in the Bayern goal. After earning himself a new contract, the former VfB Stuttgart stopper has gone on to show his drastic improvement in every game he has played.
A youthful, well-balanced midfield comprises Kerem Demirbay and Mahmoud Dahoud, whose fine start to life at Dortmund means he will surely be pushing for a first cap sooner, rather than later. The former’s hopes of a trip to Russia rest in the balance, though, after suffering ankle ligament damage in February.
Another youngster to have had a fine start to life in Dortmund is Maximilian Philipp. A serious knee injury has curtailed his campaign, but the 24-year-old returned against Leipzig in March. If he can rediscover his form from before his injury, he’ll be in with a real chance of a World Cup place. Although Löw is not a natural risk-taker, he has always been willing to reward players impressing domestically.
Up top, Wagner’s wonderful goal against Northern Ireland pointed to his qualities: the Bayern striker, who won the European Under-21 Championship back in 2009, has experienced a renaissance in the Bundesliga, giving him a new lease on life on the international circuit. Although 30, five goals in seven international games is an outstanding record.
There’s only a few months to go before Joachim Löw has to make his decision on who makes his 23-man World Cup squad, but the array of talent he has at his disposal is enviable to say the very least.
Just take a look at this list of absentees:
Bold indicates player was a 2014 World Cup winner
Italics indicate the player was an Under-21 EURO 2017 winner
Goalkeepers: Oliver Baumann (Hoffenheim), Ralf Fährmann (Schalke), Timo Horn (Cologne), Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain)
Defenders: Sven Bender (Leverkusen), Thilo Kehrer (Schalke), Lukas Klostermann (Leipzig), Marcel Schmelzer (Dortmund), Marcel Halstenberg (RB Leipzig), Philipp Max (Augsburg)
Midfielders: Nadiem Amiri (Hoffenheim), Maximilian Arnold (Wolfsburg), Karim Bellarabi (Leverkusen), Diego Demme (Leipzig), Daniel Didavi (Wolfsburg), Kai Havertz (Leverkusen), Christoph Kramer (Gladbach), Max Meyer (Schalke)
Forwards: Max Kruse (Werder Bremen), Andre Schürrle (Dortmund), Mark Uth (Hoffenheim)
Quiz: Who would make YOUR ideal Germany XI?