ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator, Derek Rae, explains how the domestic league has built the foundations of Germany’s World Cup squad, and he looks ahead to the round of fixtures that will close the club’s calendar year.
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We have known for a long time that he will make a decision on Thursday Die Nationalmannschaft manager Hansi Flick, but there can always be heartwarming events for some and unexpected surprises for others.
In attack, Germany have been searching for a top-echelon solution for several years and Flick decided to select two in-form players from opposite ends of the age spectrum who weren’t necessarily on the radar a few months ago.
At 29, Niklas Fulkrug doesn’t cut the figure of a modern footballer, but he has flair in front of goal. That’s more than his 10 goals against Werder Bremen this season, five of which came in the last five minutes of the match and three in the air. Fulkrug may have zero international experience, but he is a seasoned pro, a line leader, a focal point and, frankly, the type of veteran player that Germany will need in certain situations at the World Cup.
Like Fulkrug, 17-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko was not believed to make the team at the start of the season, but the Borussia Dortmund star has timed his form perfectly to earn Flick the nod. His spell in the 2-0 win over VfL Bochum last week added to his tally and there have been other big Bundesliga moments, such as the late winner. Revierderby and a decisive goal to pull Dortmund back into the draw in a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich.
Injuries to Timo Werner and Lucas Nmeca over the past few days helped tip the decision in their favor.
You’d have to be a Philistine to talk about Mario Gotze, who etched his name into German football folklore with a winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro. Götze has been out of the Germany national team for five years, the reason for his initial absence being health related.
A spell with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands boosted his confidence, but a summer move to Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt really reinvigorated the 30-year-old. Frankfurt signed Gotze to help break down their deep-seated, defensive-minded opponents and Flick has praised his great personality, noting his quality as well as his ability to play so many games so quickly this term.
Of course, Marco Reus would join the team once he wins his race against time on the fitness front. Reus has been the unluckiest German player of his generation to miss 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 has only just returned to training after missing most of the year with a torn ACL and would benefit more from staying in the team. Werkself and prepare to start again in January. A smart decision all around, it would be foolish to reverse it.
Opinions are divided on veteran defender Mats Hummels. The 33-year-old is having an incredible season at Dortmund, but has failed to win. Flick said the coaching staff generally believes in looking to the future, and outlined the reasons why. Recall that Germany will host the Euro-2024 tournament and is expected to be among the candidates to win it. For a young player, tournament experience can pay big dividends later on.
Antonio Rüdiger is, in Flick’s words, a defensive boss, while Germany have someone with pace as well as tenacity in Nico Schlotterback (Hummels’ BVB team-mate). Flick denied having anything to do with Hummels’ tendency to be outspoken because of the team’s poor performances. It’s a big challenge, but Hummels has lost his pace and has become a fifth-choice centre-back, and having a senior figure of such low status makes little sense.
There are plenty of other good options in that position, but Southampton’s Armel Bella-Kotchap could be considered a surprise, as is RB Leipzig’s Lucas Klostermann, who has not featured since Round 1 due to injury. Klostermann’s versatility is the deciding factor here, as right-back remains a relatively weak position for Germany. The fact that Niklas Sule recently played for BVB could also be helpful.
There was no strike on the goalkeeping front, with Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen joined by Frankfurt’s Kevin Trapp. According to Flick, unlike other countries that opt for four defenders, he believes three is sufficient in this case.
If there’s one player who could be a wild card for Germany, it’s Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi. His ability to switch from right to left foot, pace and finishing make him a “weapon” in Flick’s words.
Bayern’s Thomas Müller will be key to his fourth World Cup appearance on and off the field and, although currently on the injured list, Flick expects him in the pre-tournament friendly against Oman. Minus Müller, Germany Rekordmeister Serge Gnabry scored a hat-trick against one of his former clubs as Bayern beat Werder Bremen 6-1 on Tuesday. Entry to Bavaria is guaranteed Winter break “Union Berlin” lost their advantage twice against “Augsburg” and had to draw 2:2.
Dortmund lost 2-0 at VfL Wolfsburg and now trail in-form Leipzig on goal difference after a 3-1 win over third-placed SC Freiburg. With excellent contributions from Frankfurt Gotze, Randal Kolo Muani and especially Jesper Lindstrom, TSG remain fourth after an attacking festival against Hoffenheim.
The never-ending action comes to an end on Sunday after three more days of Bundesliga action. Flick, above all else, will have to hope every member of his 26-man squad avoids injury this weekend.