Joachim Löw’s World Cup Left-Back Conundrum

Bundestrainer Joachim Löw is spoilt for choice as he starts to think about his squad ahead of next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia. In many positions he is going to have a real headache choosing which players to leave out of the final 23-man squad.

There are of course some dead-certs like Mats Hummels in the centre of defence, Toni Kroos as the metronome in midfield and then Joshua Kimmich at right-back. However, it is on the other fullback flank that the German national team coach is going to have a particular headache.

While Bayern Munich’s Philipp Lahm heir is the obvious option on the right and the centre-back pairing can be permed from a number of variants, Löw doesn’t have an obvious equivalent on the left-side. Köln’s Jonas Hector for a time was the only real choice, but with an ankle injury ruling him out of pretty much the entire Hinrunde, other options have had to be considered.

Hertha Berlin’s Marvin Plattenhardt has been tried, RB Leipzig’s Marcel Halstenberg got a run-out in the friendly against England, while this season has seen the emergence of an unlikely candidate in Augsburg’s Philipp Max.

My colleague, Abel Meszaros has written extensively about their seasons, putting Plattenhardt on the honorable mentions of the Hinrunde, with Halstenberg making the second team and Max getting first team All-Bundesliga honors.

So just who will be running out to occupy the left back slot when Germany take to the field for their World Cup opener against Mexico on June 17th? Here we run the rule over the players to see which one has the best chance of being Germany’s first-choice next year.

Jonas Hector                                              

Club: 1.FC Köln

Age: 27

BL apps: 99 (3 goals)

Caps: 35 (3 goals)

The retirement of Philipp Lahm from international football left a huge hole to fill in the German national side and with options rather limited, Köln’s Jonas Hector stepped in to fill the breach even though at the time he had only played ten games in the Bundesliga for the Geißböcke. He made his debut as a second half substitute in November 2014 in a friendly against Gibraltar and was handed his first start in a September 2015 European Championship qualifier against Poland impressing with two assists in a 3-1 win.

Hector was a rather late developer and doesn’t really fit the profile of a German star (young talent developed through the youth ranks and schooled from U-15 level in the ways of die Mannschaft). He was still playing in the fifth tier for SV Auersmacher aged 20 and didn’t debut for Köln in the Bundesliga II until he was 22.

However, Joachim Löw is a big fan of Hector’s calm, unflustered style and ‘Mr Reliable’ has never let down his coach and was a member of the 2017 Confederations Cup team that beat Chile in the final.

You would think he remains the first-choice option, but having played just three games this season, he has seen others come into the frame. Ankle ligament damage suffered in the Europa League tie at Arsenal in September ended his Hinrunde, but it is hoped that he will be available once again when the Rückrunde starts.

He will then have 17 games to prove to Joachim Löw that he deserves his ticket to Russia.

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Marvin Plattenhardt

Club: Hertha Berlin

Age: 25

BL apps: 155 (7 goals)

Caps: 5 (0 goals)

Having played for the German national team at every level from U-17 onwards, it seemed only logical that Marvin Plattenhardt would make the ultimate step and play for Nationalmannschaft at full level. He was a member of the U-17 side that won the 2009 European Championships (a side which contained Mario Götze and Marc-Andre ter Stegen).

Plattenhardt made his debut in a friendly with Denmark in June 2017 and made one appearance during last year’s Confederations Cup. A regular at Hertha Berlin he has the added weapon in his arsenal of taking free-kicks and all of his seven Bundesliga goals to date have come via the dead-ball situation.

He’s very comfortable on the ball and is just as happy going forward as he is defending meaning he fits in well to a three-man back line with wingbacks pushed on. This season he ranks 6th in the entire Bundesliga for passes into the box (113), 12th for crosses (47) and 14th for total passes played (895).

With Jonas Hector out injured, Plattenhardt played against both Northern Ireland in the World Cup qualifier and France in the recent friendly.

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Marcel Halstenberg

Club: RB Leipzig

Age: 26

BL apps: 45 (2 goals)

Caps: 1 (0 goals)

Having only made his debut in the friendly with England in November RB Leipzig’s Marcel Halstenberg may seem like an outside bet compared to his more experienced rivals, but Joachim Löw has shown in the past he is not bothered about experience (see Jonas Hector).

If you looking purely at the stats for this season’s Hinrunde, then Halstenberg probably has his nose ahead of the others based on his individual performances so far. INSTAT statistics have him down as the Bundesliga’s best left-back with two goals scored, 23 shots on target, and an 83% pass completion rate.

The 26-year-old has come a long way since failing to make the grade at either Hannover of Borussia Dortmund. A place in Germany’s World Cup squad would not be a complete surprise if he keeps playing like he has been for Leipzig.

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Philipp Max

Club: FC Augsburg

Age: 24

BL apps: 70 (2 goals)

Caps: 0

Augsburg’s Philipp Max has literally come from left-field this season and taken his game to a different level with his performances in the Hinrunde. That he is now being touted as a potential pick for the World Cup squad shows just how much he has improved this season. The former Bayern Munich youth player has come a long way since failing to impress at Schalke and it now delivering on his huge potential.

Max, whose father Martin made one six-minute substitute appearance for Germany against Argentina in a 2002 friendly, would dearly love to emulate his dad and bag himself a seat on the plane bound for Russia

The first half of this season has seen the Augsburg fullback provide a whopping ten assists, while adding a goal against Eintracht Frankfurt. He leads the league in passes into the box, crosses, as well as corners and free-kicks into the opposition box. In short Philipp Max will deliver the ball for the attackers to score.

This time last year, any thoughts of the World Cup would have nothing more than a pipedream, but now……Maybe, just maybe.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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