ESPN’s leading Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae talks about how the domestic league built the foundation for Germany’s World Cup squad, and looks ahead to the round of matches that will conclude the club calendar year.
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We’ve known for a while that Thursday would be decision day The National team manager Hansi Flick, but there were probably always heartwarming stories for some and unwelcome surprises for others.
In attack, Germany have been looking for a top-echelon solution for several years, and Flick decided to select two in-form players at opposite ends of the age spectrum who weren’t necessarily on the radar a few months ago .
At 29, Niclas Fullkrug does not cut the figure of a glamorous contemporary footballer, but has the ability in front of goal. That goes deeper than the 10 he has scored for Werder Bremen this season, with five of them coming in the final five minutes of games, while three were aerials. Fullkrug may not have any international experience, but he is a seasoned pro, a line leader, a focal point and frankly the type of fiery old player that Germany will need in certain situations at the World Cup.
Like Fullkrug, 17-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko wasn’t certain to make the squad at the start of the season, but the Borussia Dortmund starlet has perfected his form with a view to getting the nod from Flick. His scintillating strike in the 2-0 win over VfL Bochum last week boosted his case and there were other big Bundesliga moments, such as the late winner in the Revierderby and the decisive goal to bring Dortmund back in the 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich.
Injuries over the past few days to Timo Werner and Lukas Nmecha have helped solidify the verdict in their favour.
You’d have to be a philistine to rule out the inclusion of Mario Gotze, the man who etched his name in German football folklore with his goal to win the 2014 World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro. Gotze has gone five years without playing for Germany, with health problems at the root of his initial absence.
A game in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven boosted his confidence, but the summer move to Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt is what really boosted the 30-year-old. Frankfurt signed Gotze to help break down deep-lying, defensive opponents, and Flick noted his quality as well as his ability to play numerous games in quick succession this term and praised his big personality.
It is clear that Marco Reus would have been named in the squad if he could win his race against time on the fitness front. Reus has been the unluckiest high-profile German player of his generation, missing out on major tournaments in 2014, 2016, 2021 and now 2022.
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Flick also clearly explained the Florian Wirtz situation. The Bayer Leverkusen talent is only now back in training after missing most of the year with a torn ACL, and it would benefit him much more to be at the Self and prepare for the restart of January. A sound decision all around as chasing him back would have been an act of folly.
Opinion is divided on veteran defender Mats Hummels. The 33-year-old is enjoying a great season at Dortmund but has failed to deliver. Flick explained his reasons by saying the coaching staff generally believes in keeping an eye on the future. It is worth bearing in mind that Germany will host Euro 2024 and is expected to be among the candidates to win it. Tournament experience for a younger player can reap huge dividends later.
Antonio Rudiger is the defensive boss, in Flick’s own words, and in Nico Schlotterbeck (Hummels’ BVB team-mate) Germany have someone with pace as well as tenacity. Flick denied that Hummels’ tendency to issue blunt criticism on the back of poor team performances had anything to do with it. It’s a big call, but Hummels has lost speed and was set to be the fifth-choice central defender, and having such a senior figure with such a humble status makes little sense.
There are a variety of other good options in that position, although Southampton’s Armel Bella-Kotchap could be considered a surprise and likewise the inclusion of RB Leipzig’s Lukas Klostermann, who has not featured since matchday 1 due to injury. Klostermann’s versatility was the deciding factor here as right-back remains a position of relative weakness for Germany. The fact that Niklas Sule recently played there for BVB could also be useful.
There were no shocks on the goalkeeping front, with Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen joining Frankfurt’s Kevin Trapp. Flick said that, unlike other countries that have chosen four custodians, he feels in this case three is sufficient.
If there is one player who could be a wild card for Germany, it is Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi. His ability to cut in on his left foot from the right flank coupled with pace and finishing ability make him, in Flick’s words, a “weapon.”
Bayern’s Thomas Muller, in his fourth World Cup, will have a key role to play on and off the pitch, and although currently on the injured list, Flick hopes to have him on board for the pre-tournament friendly against Oman. Minus Muller, Germany Record master Bayern cruised to a 6-1 win over Werder Bremen on Tuesday with Serge Gnabry grabbing the headlines by scoring a hat-trick against one of his former clubs. Bayern is guaranteed to be in the winter break as table toppers, with Union Berlin having twice lost their advantage against FC Augsburg and having to settle for a 2-2 draw.
Dortmund fell to a 2-0 defeat at VfL Wolfsburg and are now overtaken on goal difference by Leipzig, who defeated third-placed SC Freiburg 3-1. Frankfurt remain fourth after an attacking feast against TSG Hoffenheim with outstanding contributions from Gotze, Randal Kolo Muani and especially the irresistible Jesper Lindstrom.
The seemingly never-ending action will finally stop on Sunday after three more days of Bundesliga action. Above all, Flick must hope that every member of his 26-man squad avoids injury this weekend.