Since the World Cup is only 84 days away, some of us (me!) are already catching World Cup fever, which means its time to really start scrutinizing die Nationalmannschaft squad selection, as the Bundesliga season pauses for its final international break. This upcoming Friday and Tuesday, Germany hosts Spain then Brazil in a pairing of “prestige friendlies.” Given these glitzy opponents—both World Cup favorites in their own right—as well as the relative nearness of the summer of the World Cup (I’m not letting six inches of Western Pennsylvania snow outside my window fool me!), it’s time to begin playing the fun game of guess-who-Jogi-Löw-will-select-for-the-World-Cup-roster.
During this final Bundesliga pause, playing the Mannschaft guessing game really starting with scrutinizing the roster Löw selected for the prestige friendlies, scouring it for clues about who might be in and who might out for the World Cup in June-July.
First, for a full breakdown of the roster itself, please read Rick Joshua’s post over at his famed Schwartz und Weiß website. Joshua cheerfully observes that Jonas Hector and Leon Goretzka are back in the squad, while Marcel Halstenberg and Amin Younes are out since last time. Of course, many of the usual suspects are on the roster: your Müllers, your Kimmichs, your Draxlers, your Boatengs, your Hummels, your Khediras, etc. Meanwhile, as we wait for Manuel Neuer’s full recovery, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Kevin Trapp, and Bernd Leno are the three keepers. So far, standard stuff. No surprises.
The guessing game fun, and my first talking point, begins by considering Sandro Wagner’s continued selection for the roster. Bayern’s towering understudy for Lewandowski, clearly remains Löw’s favorite hulk/brute/towerdude striker. In Germany’s two previous friendlies against England and France, Wagner was the late game substitution at striker, while Gomez didn’t even make the squad. Meanwhile domestically, Wagner is steadily getting more playing time whenever Bayern rests Lewandowski, thanks to deep Pokal and Champions League runs. For example, Wagner has played in almost 3 full matches in Bayern’s last 5 Bundesliga matches, and scored Bayern’s only goal against RB Leipzig on Sunday.
So the big question at striker for the prestige friendlies is how Löw uses Wagner and Gomez, who are both on the roster. Will one of the big men get more playing time? Will they split time? Will neither play? And, finally, can Löw afford to carry both strikers on the World Cup roster, especially with RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner surely guaranteed the spot at starting striker, and given Germany’s stunning depth at the attacking midfield position?
The next talking point concerns two BVBers: Marco Reus and Mario Götze, who were not picked for the roster. In the case of Reus, Löw’s recent comments imply that the coach is simply giving the winger an extended break, and that Reus will probably make the World Cup squad, barring another injury. Reus himself is very confident about making the squad, and he’s probably correct: on current form, Reus continues to flash the electric brilliance of his play-making instincts and skill since returning from a long injury layoff this Rückrunde. Basically, Reus has arguably been BVB’s best player these past couple months. At worst, Reus makes the World Cup roster and cedes playing time to someone like Leroy Sané, who’s been sensational all season for Manchester City. Curiously, this situation would mirror Reus’ role in the 2012 Euro tournament, his only big international tournament to date, when Reus was a young substitute. At 28, Reus probably won’t have another chance to represent Germany in a big tournament.
He’ll be there.
Mario Götze’s Mannschaft fate, however, is an entirely different question. Currently, Götze is injured and been given relatively limited playing time under Peter Stöger anyway, which is too bad, since the prodigal son, in my estimation, was BVB’s best player during the Hinrunde. Given Götze’s diminished role at BVB, as well as the wealth of midfield stars on the Mannschaft roster (Gündogan, Kroos, Goretzka, Özil, Draxler, and Stindl), I just can’t imagine a scenario in which Götze claws his way back into Löw’s midfield. As Götze has transitioned into a deeper midfield position, thanks to his age and health struggles, he’s paradoxically become less valuable for Germany, who now have Goretzka, Gündogan, Kroos, or Khedira locking down this territory.
(Speaking of BVB, anyone else notice that not a single BVBer was selected for the current roster? I’m of two minds about this absence. On one hand, BVB won’t need to worry about injuries for the likes of Schmelzer, Weigl, Reus, Max Philipp, or Andre Schürrle. On the other hand, BVB is clearly no longer a central node for die Mannschaft, as Bayern clearly dominates the squad, while Schalke 04 and Borussia Mönchenglad have two players apiece.)
Our next talking point is the “I can’t quit you” issue that always dogs Jogi Löw squads. The boss has his favorites. Although old-timers like Lulu Poldolski, Miro Klose, and Basti Schweinsteiger are at least long gone, favorites remain, like Mario Gomez, Matthias Ginter, Kevin Trapp, Bernd Leno, and Khedira. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with any single player I just listed; however, their continual inclusion means that, currently and over the years, Löw excludes others, who are sometimes more deserving. For example, Sven Ulreich is making a strong case as a backup keeper, while Nils Petersen is a long-standing castaway, and someone like RB Leipzig’s Willi Orban or FC Augsburg’s Philipp Max (especially!) can’t gain any traction with Löw. Besides, one line of thinking is that this final international break before the summer was Löw’s last chance to experiment with a late bloomer like Max, et al. Oh well.
Finally, Joshua Kimmich himself is a talking point—at least for me. In some ways, he is Löw’s most valuable player. Thanks to living off the fumes of his tutelage under Pep Guardiola, Kimmich is one of those consummately “contemporary” players, utterly caught up with the times, capable of playing nearly anywhere on the pitch—and playing at a world class level wherever he’s put. I see him able to pull a “Philipp Lahm” by playing excellently as a holding midfielder or even along the attacking right flank. So far, Löw mostly uses Kimmich as a rightback, his permanent position at Bayern under first Ancelotti and now Heynckes. However, Löw has also used Kimmich as a deep midfielder on the right side. Naturally, Kimmich is Löw’s starting rightback, but he’s the perfect player to move around the pitch, adding unpredictability and dynamism during a match, or filling in for an injury at, say fullback, holding midfield, or even attacking winger. Kimmich is a insurance policy during a knockout tournament, given his usefulness and flexibility. So I’ll be keeping my eye on him during these two friendlies for indications of these traits, and his ability to influence parts of the pitch aside from his right flank haunt.
Given these talking points, I know I’m actually looking to a couple international friendlies for change. World Cup fever is striking me early.