After much speculation, debate and untimely final squad poster leaks, Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw has make the final tweaks to his German world cup squad. The 27 is now down to the final 23 who will be on the plane to Russia, and as expected it has created quite a stir.
First up, let us look at the squad, which was released earlier this morning.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) June 4, 2018
Overall, this looks a well-balanced Kader. But we all knew that was going to be the case. Löw has oodles of talent at his disposal, and the Confederations Cup victory last year showed that even a second-string German squad could win a major international trophy. It is fair to say that any of those who were going to be cut at this late stage could consider themselves unfortunate.
Leno left trapped at home3>
Let us start with one of the more soluble selection questions. Until very recently, Manuel Neuer’s place in the World Cup squad was by no means a certainly. It meant that four goalkeepers were selected in the preliminary 27: Neuer, Marc-André ter Stegen, Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp.
Apart from a fit Neuer, the one definite was ter Stegen. As the number one for the past year following Neuer’s foot injury, the Barcelona number one had pretty much cemented his place in the final 23. He will consider himself unlucky not to be between the sticks in Russia, but will be ready to step into the breach should anything go wrong.
The big selection debate was always going to be between Leno and Trapp, and the Leverkusen man was largely expected to follow his selection for the 2016 Euros with another bench spot in Russia. In the end, Löw plumped for PSG’s Trapp. Of course, it is pretty much a minor point in the overall scheme of things. The third ‘keeper is unlikely to go beyond being the drinks guy anyway.
Selected as a potential defensive cover, Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah was always going to be surprise selection. He must have known the score from the very start, more so after his not being given any minutes on the pitch in the first warmup match against Austria.
Tah had made it in the Euro 2016 squad, but this was only as a result of the late withdrawal of Antonio Rüdiger through injury. A fit Rüdiger, as well as the rapid development of Niklas Süle, meant that Tah was only ever going to have a chance if there was an injury.
Tah is still young, and will be looking at building towards a place in the squad at the Euros in 2020.
No place for Petersen
Until the bit that is coming next, the biggest story until now was that concerning the selection of Nils Petersen in the preliminary 27. For many pundits, the inclusion of the SC Freiburg striker was a genuine and somewhat pleasant surprise, while for others it was a slap in the face for the more established FC Bayern München poacher Sandro Wagner.
For the most part, many were thinking just what the coach’s strategy was. Was the uncapped Petersen going to be a secret weapon? Was it a polite way of excluding Wagner with the aim of picking the experienced by recently injury-prone Mario Gómez anyway? Did his selection have anything to do with his playing for SC Freiburg? OK, the last question was not really that serious.
Petersen did have an opportunity to force his way into the reckoning when he was given a start against Austria, but failed to make his mark. There is an argument that he was provided with little service, but this will be little comfort to a player who is now likely to join the long list of international one-match wonders.
In the end, the result is what most Mannschaft-watchers pretty much expected. Gómez is in, and Petersen will be watching at home.
Most of comments that have been posted to say concern what was the biggest surprise. The omission of Manchester City starlet Leroy Sané.
This season, the nimble young winger has made a mark in the Premier League for Manchester City. Voted as the PFA’s young player of the year, the former Schalke 04 man was seen as a shoo-in for a place in the final 23. A player with bags of talent, a world-beating match winner in the making.
Then, the bombshell. The final 23 is named, and Sané is one of the four that have been left out. For some commentators on Twitter, this was absurd as it was inexplicable:
— Michael Ballack (@Ballack) June 4, 2018
For more analytical sources, it was nothing more that making a logical conclusion based on all of the available numbers:
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) June 4, 2018
In all of my previous discussions about the final 23, I never for a moment considered that Sané might be one of the unlucky four. My money was on Julian Brandt to miss out. However when you break everything down and apply a more logical approach, this may be a case of Jogi being smarter than the average bear. As opposed to the Maharishi Jogi, the master of the squad selection curve ball.
First, we have the statistics. Sané: 12 matches, zero goals, one assist. Brandt: 15 matches, one goal (against San Marino) and eight assists. First point to Brandt.
Watching both players in the Nationaltrikot, Brandt has not really impressed me that much, and one big thing I tended to notice was his losing the ball far too much, and then disappearing completely. But he has had his bright moments. Eight assists in 15 matches, many off the bench, is pretty decent. Sané, meanwhile, has promised much but failed to deliver. So many mazy runs, neat dribbles and bursts of pace, but nothing on the end of it. For a player of his quality, the numbers are pretty shocking. Second point to Brandt. Just.
Brandt is more dependable. He is a lot better defensively. In a World Cup, you need players who can be relied on to show up and muck in. So, a third point to the Leverkusen man.
But then we have a player that has the raw talent. Sané has show this year for Manchester City that has has what it takes. PFA awards are not given for nothing. For many, the edge Brandt may have in terms of pure numbers and reliability are trumped by Sané’s ability to change a game with a moment of magic. He is a player that has that X-Factor.
— Wade Sargent ☯️ (@Wade_Sargent99) June 4, 2018
In short, if you were going to name a player who could win the World Cup with a moment of sublime magic, Julian Brandt would not be on your list. Leroy Sané almost certainly would be. One could say that he has the same glow about him as Mario Götze had four years ago.
This is one hell of a debate, isn’t it?
The Reus stuff
In doing the selection mathematics, it is more than just a playoff between Brandt and Sané. One key difference has been the resurgence and return to fitness of Marco Reus. For so long the unlucky man, it finally looks as thought the Borussia Dortmund winger is going to play in a major international tournament for the first time.
If Reus was not in the picture, there would be no debate here. Both Brandt and Sané would be in the final 23. But a fit Reus creates a selection conundrum. It becomes a matter of picking two from three. Of the three, a fit, functioning and in-form Reus is always going to be a first choice pick; he has the experience, and the numbers to back it up.
With one flair player already in the mix, logic suggests that you back him up with a more reliable reserve like Brandt. Sané then becomes surplus to requirements. A simple case of having one nimble speedster too many.
We will soon know if Jogi Löw has made the right call. Either way, it could not have been easy. But overall, when you weigh up all of the options, study the pros and cons, study the stats and do the relevant calculations, the decision is pretty sound. It is a sad moment for Sané, and one hopes that he will step up to earn a place at the Euros in two years time.
A Rudy surprise
When FC Bayern’s Sebastian Rudy was named in the preliminary 27, there were more than a few raised eyebrows. His form had dropped considerably since the start of the season, and was not even a regular in the Bundesliga. Even with my being a Bayern fan, I had lined Rudy up for the cut. If both Sané and Brandt had been picked and Rudy had been dropped, I would not have been surprised.
Yet, here he is, in the final 23.
Again, it is a case of weighing up the options and looking at the permutations. In the initial 27, there are five players who could be called defensive midfielders. Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, İlkay Gündoğan, Leon Goretzka and Rudy. Of these five, three are attack-minded. The other two, Rudy and Khedira, offer a much-needed physical presence.
The best combination is one defensive player with another that keeps things ticking over while providing that little bit of flair. All things being equal, this means Khedira and Kroos. The problem? Khedira being an injury risk. On paper, there should be no need for Rudy to be there. But in reality, the midfield being shored up by two of Kroos, Gündoğan and Goretzka has never really worked.
Then there is the tournament experience factor. Apart from Bayern team mate Joshua Kimmich, Rudy was the only player who started in all five of the Mannschaft’s Confederations Cup matches last summer. He did a pretty decent job too.
You can get the full detail on the final squad here.