On 8th October last year Germany wrapped up their World Cup qualifying with a 5 – 1 win over Azerbaijan. The win ensured Joachim Löw’s side would be travelling to Russia with a 100% record in a group that rarely challenged the 2014 World Cup winners. A successful qualifying campaign concluded an excellent year of competitive football for the German national side in which they also won the Confederations Cup in August despite resting many of their best players.
Not that any of this has been publicised that much within Germany as public reaction has remained very muted to the team’s performances this year. However, when the World Cup starts in Russia later this year the expectation levels will rise as Löw’s side try to defend their title. This article looks at how the World Champions are shaping up as their preparations enter the final stretch.
The Changing of the Guard
Germany’s World Cup winning team from 2014 was the culmination of 6 years hard work which started in the build up to the World Cup in South Africa four years earlier. Experienced campaigners such as captain Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose were backed up by the break out stars from 2010: Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil. The quality of the bench was also evident with substitutes Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze being the players to combine for the winning goal in the final.
In the aftermath of the final Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Klose all ended their international careers leaving some massive boots to fill in critical positions. But within one cycle of qualifiers the natural successors to each departing mainstay has been found. At right back 23-year-old Joshua Kimmich has already collected a quarter century of caps and has been an ever-present member of the first team squad. He finished the qualifying campaign for the World Cup as the leading assist provider with 9 over 10 matches, 2 more than the next best player.
In central midfield Löw has numerous options including the hugely experienced Toni Kroos who already has 80 caps and Sami Khedira with 72 thus far. But the true heir to Schweinsteiger’s throne must surely be Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka who, like Schweinsteiger before him, will soon pull on the red and white of Bayern when he completes a move at the end of the season. Goretzka is a midfield engine who orchestrates the team and has 4 goals and 3 assists in an injury hit season this term. That number will surely grow when he joins Bayern. In attack Timo Werner has emerged as the leading German striker having found the net 39 times in 69 RB Leipzig appearances adding 14 assists.
The Premier League Contingent
Being able to replace the stand-out players of a generation would be enough for some national sides to feel confident heading into a big tournament. But a significant group of talents have emerged to challenge the current starting side and many of them ply their trade in England’s top division. Mesut Özil of Arsenal will be looking to defend his starting berth in the team, but you have to look no further than Pep Guardiola’s impressive Manchester City side for two further possible starters.
Ilkay Gundogan has had serious injury problems over the last few seasons but has still managed 4 goals and 7 assists along with a pass completion rate of over 90%. Yet more impressive has been the rise of winger Leroy Sane who has flourished under Guardiola’s tutelage to become the second highest assist provider in the Premier league behind Kevin de Bruyne. In addition, the Essen born player has added 12 goals in 40 appearances and will be near irresistible if he finishes the season well.
Liverpool’s Emre Can has had another fine season under compatriot Jürgen Klopp becoming the archetypal box-to-box midfielder. He wins the second highest number of tackles per match on average in the Liverpool squad and has also added 6 goals and 5 assists. Chelsea defender Antonio Rüdiger completes the Premier League contingent and will be the fourth-choice defensive option behind Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Bayern giant Niklas Süle.
The Confederation Cup Winners
Germany’s run to success in the 2017 Confed Cup was seen as a chance for players on the fringe of the national team to have their 15 minutes of fame. But since winning the competition key members of that squad have made the transition into the main squad. Scorer of the winning goal in the final Lars Stindl has become captain and star player for club side Borussia Mönchengladbach including 5 league goals from attacking midfield.
Julian Brandt remains an exciting talent at the age of 21 and has scored 9 goals with 6 assists this season in a revitalised Bayer Leverkusen squad. Sebastian Rudy has become a very reliable utility player since joining Bayern after proving his worth in the winning team. Finally, captain of the team Julian Draxler continues to get the backing of Löw despite a frustrating season with Paris Saint-Germain in which he has still created 9 goals.
The 4 Goalkeepers for 3 Slots
Germany has long been known for it’s excellence in goalkeeping and alongside number one stopper Neuer three other keepers are vying for places in the squad. Barcelona number one Marc-Andre ter Stegen has 18 clean sheets this season for his club team. Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno will likely fight it out for the third spot in the squad after both impressing for leading sides in their respective leagues.
The Fringe Players
The strength in depth of the squad can be measured by the number of players who could still miss out on the trip to Russia. The Borussia Dortmund trio of Götze, Schürrle and Marco Reus are all considered outsiders even with their team riding high in the Bundesliga. Fellow World Cup winners Shkodran Mustafi, Benedickt Höwedes and Christoph Kramer have all struggled to make it into recent squads.
With such incredible resources to call upon, Löw and his side will travel to Russia this summer as one of the clear favourites to win the competition. All over the pitch the German coach has luxury problems and will have to be highly selective in who he takes with him. The German squad will be able to adjust and pivot to different styles of play, while also being able to react to any injuries to important players.
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