I have always been in two minds about the international season starting so early, particularly during a World Cup year. Despite it being almost two months after the Nationalmannschaft’s triumph in Rio there is still something of a sluggishness, with a number of players out through injury despite the summer break.
While the retirement of Miroslav Klose was largely expected – though the striker did go on to say that if he would have gone on if he felt he could complete with younger, faster opponents – the team would be slightly shaken by the relatively early retirement of skipper Philipp Lahm and centre-back Per Mertesacker. The defence would have to take on a whole new look – a problem that has been excerbated this week with the withdrawal from the squad of Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng, both of whom were high on the list of the many positives in Brazil.
The showcase opening fixture of 2014/15 has been billed as a “premium” friendly fixture, but even the meeting of the two sides that had battled it out in the Maracanã threatens to be a damp squib – at least as far as German fans are concerned. Of the eleven World Cup final starters, only five look set to take to the field in Düsseldorf: Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Christoph Kramer, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller.
In contrast, of the Argentina side that would start in Rio only one is missing from their visiting squad: Lionel Messi.
In the last week, we have seen no fewer than four regulars drop out of contention through injury. Hummels, Boateng, Mesut Özil and the latest name to join the list of walking wounded, Sami Khedira who is replaced by TSG 1899 Hoffenheim’s Sebastian Rudy. On the other hand, Marco Reus is back in the mix after recovering from the injury that would keep him out of the World Cup squad.
The defence is arguably the most worrying thing. With the withdrawal of the experienced Boateng and Hummels the five remaining names have just thirty-seven international appearances between them, with twenty-eight of those belonging to Schalke 04 skipper Höwedes. While it is clear that Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw and his new assistant Thomas Schneider need to look to the future a Viererkette with fewer than forty caps is quite a scary prospect.
According to kicker, the starting four is likely to consist of Höwedes (28 caps), Matthias Ginter (2), Antonio Rüdiger (1) and Erik Durm (1).
The defensive midfield will also have a new look to it, with Kroos dropping back in to join Borussia Mönchengladbach startlet Kramer. With newly-announced long-term skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger out of contention and Khedira joining him on the injury list this week, the struggle to have two fit starters in front of the back four continues. With İlkay Gündoğan and the Bender brothers Lars and Sven still out of contention, Rudy – another player with just the one cap – gets his opportunity.
Further up the field there are fewer problems with the return of Reus making up for the loss of Özil in the attacking midfield trio alongside Müller and one of André Schürrle or Lukas Podolski, while up front we should see one of the two Marios – World Cup winner and “false nine” Mario Götze or the returning Mario Gómez, who looks set to make his first appearance in the Nationaltrikot since August last year.
We look set to see a competitive encounter against Argentina, who will be out to get some small measure of revenge against the world champions. The Nationalelf will certainly be looking for a better result than the disappointing 3-1 defeat in 2012, which should hopefully provide a springboard for the altogether more important fixture against Scotland on Sunday in Dortmund.