Germany's World Cup squad a tough decision for Joachim Löw
Victory for Germany in the Confederations Cup and at the U21 Euros has made life harder for Joachim Löw. The Germany head coach faces a tough task of deciding who to take to Russia in 2018.
Joachim Löw has a problem. Thirty does not go into 23 but after a summer with no major international tournament delivered two trophies, the 57-year-old's squad selection for the 2018 World Cup is now almost as big as the challenge of defending the title.
With qualification nearly over, Löw's focus turns to picking the right squad to retain the World Cup title. To do that, he doesn't just need the 23 best players but the best group.
No one knows how to do this better than Löw. The man who made Germany learn from their defeats and become a force, has only lost nine times in 96 competitive fixtures as national team head coach. Löw knows how to win and who he needs to do it.
The average age of Germany's most recent World Cup qualifying squad was 25 - only Sami Khedira (30) and Mario Gomez (32) were over 30. Impressively, other than Manuel Neuer (31), none of the other likely call-ups are in their 30s. Löw hasn't stood still. He has retained the core of his team, while simultaneously integrating new, suitable talent.
Form and injury will play a role throughout the season but, Löw already has 30 players good enough to make the final 23.
One of the keys to Germany's success will be balance, regardless of formation, and that is why perhaps Löw's toughest choice will come in holding midfield. In that position Germany have Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Emre Can, Sebastian Rudy, Leon Goretzka, Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gündogan. And that's forgetting outsiders Diego Demme and Kerem Demirbay. All of them have the quality to start - but Löw can't take them all. Khedira and Gündogan may have struggled with injuries, but the former plays a key role in the dressing room and the latter brings a dynamism in transition that has often taken Germany to the next level.
Movement in the final third was the key difference between Germany's tepid win against the Czech Republic and the rampant display against Norway. The men to provide that will be key. Amin Younes impressed and retain a spot in the squad after the Confederations Cup, but Andre Schürrle, Karim Bellarabi and Julian Brandt have lost early ground.
In attack, Timo Werner might now be first choice, but where does that leave Mario Gomez? And what about the effective Sandro Wagner and intelligent Lars Stindl? And then there's Mario Götze, a Löw favorite who needs one good, healthy season for Borussia Dortmund to definitely make it into the final 23.
There's a bond between Löw and his players after Brazil
Jerome Boateng's injury issues would be a concern for most teams, but Germany's "replacements" are perfectly poised. Antonio Rüdiger has just moved to Chelsea, Niklas Süle now plays for Bayern and World Cup-winner Matthias Ginter is certain of more game time at Gladbach. Whichever way you look at it, there is a greater quality in Germany's depth across the position than in perhaps every previous tournament under Löw.
Germany's head coach knows what his best team is, but his best squad remains a work in progress. Schürrle might not be a sexy winger built for YouTube compilations, but he does the hard work that Löw appreciates and he has been there before. Erik Durm made the 2014 World Cup squad even though he was never going to play - but having a 22-year-old wingback who is delighted to be there and works tirelessly in training can only be a positive for squad atmosphere.
That is at the core of what makes most great international teams successful - the sense of team. Thomas Müller is a different player in national colors, certainly of late. The same could be said of Mesut Özil. Löw continues to create the right environment for his team to excel. Now he just has to pick the right pieces.