4 takeaways from Germany’s provisional World Cup roster

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 27: Toni Kroos of Germany controls the ball during the international friendly match between Germany and Brazil at Olympiastadion on March 27, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 27: Toni Kroos of Germany controls the ball during the international friendly match between Germany and Brazil at Olympiastadion on March 27, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images) /

Joachim Low announced his provisional World Cup roster on Tuesday. Here are four takeaways from the news.

Joachim Low had the option of naming up to 35 players as part of his provisional squad ahead of the World Cup. Instead, the German manager decided to name 27. Barring injuries 23 of the 27 players named will represent Germany in Russia this summer.

After winning the World Cup in 2014, Germany are looking to become the first team to repeat as champions since Brazil in 1962. Only 10 players from the 2014-winning squad were selected to the provisional squad, with several notable players being left out. Here are four takeaways from the announcement.

Tactical flexibility

Low experimented with a three-man defense at the Confederations Cup in 2017, but used a back four in the most recent friendlies. Germany are capable of winning with both formations, but likely have a higher upside playing a back four. However, they lack depth behind starting full-backs Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector. If either player gets injured, Low would likely switch to a back three.

Germany have used a lone striker under Low. That will continue in Russia. The question becomes how far forward Low wants to line up. Low could start a front three, with Thomas Muller and Marco Reus flanking Timo Werner, or decide to play them a bit further back beside Mesut Ozil in midfield.

There’s likely one certainty about Germany’s formation. Low will use two holding midfielders, likely Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos.

A surprising call-up

Traditionally Low has called up one young player with fewer than 10 caps that he views as having a bright future with the national team. While it’s unlikely that player ever plays in the tournament, Low values the time he gets to train with the veteran players. While Jonathan Tah and Niklas Sule qualify, they weren’t the most surprising call-up. That honor goes to Nils Petersen.

Petersen turns 30 in December, doesn’t have a cap for Germany and has never been called up to the senior team. However, he did star for Germany at the 2016 Summer Olympics, helping them win silver. Domestically, Petersen was the highest scoring German in the Bundesliga. His 15 goals were second to Robert Lewandowski overall. If Petersen does make the final roster, it will likely be because of his ability to come off the bench and score. Petersen holds the Bundesliga record for the most goals off the bench.

Notable players left off the provisional squad

Petersen’s selection was surprising in more way than one. It was also surprising because of who Low selected him instead of. Since the Confederations Cup, it appeared Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner were battling out for the reserve striker spot. However, neither player was selected. Stindl had a disappointing season with Borussia Monchengladbach and would likely have been cut even if he was named to the provisional squad. The decision not to select Wagner was more surprising. Wagner scored 12 goals in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich this season, although he performed poorly in friendlies against Spain and Brazil.

Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Benedikt Howedes and Shkodran Mustafi were all on the 2014 World Cup-winning team. Schurrle set up Gotze for the winning goal in the final. Gotze had a bounce-back season with Dortmund but is no longer the same player he was in 2014. Schurrle is far too inconsistent to deserve a call-up. Benedikt Howedes barely played this season with Juventus, struggling to stay healthy. He would, however, have provided valuable depth given his ability to play both full-back and center-back. Mustafi, meanwhile, had a rough season at Arsenal and was passed in the depth chart by Niklas Sule and Antonio Rudiger.

Injuries likely cost Emre Can and Serge Gnabry spots in Russia. Can hasn’t played since March because of a back injury. While unlikely to start, he did offer Low versatility. Gnabry scored 10 goals and added seven assists with Hoffenheim, but a late-season injury will prevent him from playing.

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The final four cuts

Low will have to make four cuts from his provisional roster on June 3. One of the four cuts is guaranteed to be a keeper. The decision will come down to Manuel Neuer’s fitness. If Neuer is healthy, he’ll go to Russia and Kevin Trapp will watch from home. Neuer has missed most of the past 18 months, undergoing foot surgery twice. With his return continually pushed back, it would be surprising for Neuer to retain his first-choice status even if healthy.

In the six major tournaments since taking over as Germany manager before Euro 2008, Low has selected at least eight defenders four times and taken seven defenders to the two other tournaments. While Low did select nine defenders at the last World Cup, history suggests he’ll cut one defender and only take eight to Russia.

The decision will likely come down to Matthias Ginter, Marvin Plattenhardt or Jonathan Tah. Cutting Plattenhardt would leave Low with only Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector at full-back, giving him an edge over Ginter and Tah, who are both center-backs. Ginter’s ability to play full-back could earn him one of the final spots. Tah is the third youngest player selected and the most inexperienced defender, but his athleticism and upside are greater than Ginter.

As Low’s tenure as German manager has continued, he has reduced the number of strikers he has taken to tournaments. That likely hurts Nils Petersen’s chances of going. Only Low’s squads in 2008 and 2010 had more than two strikers. Given Low’s stubborn nature, he’ll likely give Mario Gomez the role as the reserve striker.

The final battle will likely come down to Sebastian Rudy and Julian Brandt. Rudy was the last cut in 2014 and could again be the last cut in 2018 after he had a poor season with Bayern. While Rudy is a more than capable full-back, he has played almost exclusively in midfield recently. Julian Brandt was the youngest player selected, after a good season with Bayer Leverkusen, scoring nine goals. However, Germany’s positional depth on the wing might force Low to reconsider taking Brandt and select Rudy because he offers him cover elsewhere in midfield and at full-back.