Much to the irritation of most club managers, another international break is now upon us. Some fans certainly consider it a bore as well, bemoaning a break that so often sees players return with injuries that affect a club’s run-in during the later stages of the domestic campaign.
For Germany, its fans, and manager Joachim Low, it is a break filled with certain expectations. With a friendly against rivals England, and then a World Cup 2018 qualifier against upstarts Azerbaijan, Die Mannschaft are expected to not only keep The Three Lions in their place, but build on a qualifying campaign that already sees them five points clear at the top of Group C as they take on Robert Prosinecki’s upstarts.
Blessed with one of the deepest talent pools in world football, Low truly is spoiled for choice during these times of the year. But it is that same talent pool that perhaps was not consulted enough this time around. Back in November for Germany’s away fixture against lowly San Marino, Low included eight players who were 21 years-old or younger. While the life balance of the Germany side remains a fine mix of youth and experience, there is still a hint of favoritism being played out; this is evident in Low’s latest call-ups.
While there is an argument to be made for familiarity—especially when it comes to a qualification campaign—such is the level of talent on offer for Germany that there will often be players who deserved a call that did not receive one. Here are five players who deserved a phone call from Herr Low:
Oliver Baumann (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
Germany has an abundance of talented players in all positions, between the sticks included. Though perhaps it is a moot point considering the sheer existence of Manuel Neuer, there is still something to (obviously) be said for having the best back-up(s) possible for arguably the world’s best shot-stopper.
Though you could do far, far worse than Bernd Leno and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, there is an argument that, on form, there is a better option for Neuer’s understudy: Oliver Baumann.
Gate keeper at Hoffenheim during the current Julian Nagelsmann revolution, Baumann has drawn plenty of plaudits this season as one of Hoff’s standout performers. Agile, good in the air when commanding his box, consistent in his performances, and a good communicator, Baumann cannot be given full credit for Die Kraichgauer’s impressive defensive record (second fewest goals surrendered), but he has played a very large part in their success.
Naturally he wouldn’t get the starting nod (neither will Leno or Ter Stegen), but sometimes it is just about recognition of form. In Baumann’s case, he is arguably the best keeper on form in the Bundesliga, and he should feel let down for having not been justly rewarded.
Benjamin Hubner (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
The second achtzehn99 player to feature, Benjamin Hubner’s form has been such that he must easily be considered one of the best center-backs in Germany over the past two seasons.
After being one of the standout performers for FC Ingolstadt in a season which saw them avoid the drop in their first ever Bundesliga campaign, Hubner moved to Sinsheim last summer in a €800k deal that flew under the radar. Since then, his blossoming partnership at the back with Niklas Sule and Kevin Vogt has seen Nagelsmann’s troops rely on three at the back with brilliant success.
Hubner’s capabilities in the center of defense go far beyond his strength in the air and astute ability in the tackle. His one goal and three assists this season make him somewhat of an offensive threat, but his ability to play out of the back makes him a key catalyst to launch counter attacks from deeper areas in similar fashion to Mats Hummels.
Out of all the center-backs Low called upon, only one stands out as a familiar pick: Shkodran Mustafi. Despite starting incredibly well in his first season for Arsenal, Mustafi’s form has dipped dramatically. It is true that he has performed well for Germany in the past, but on form he shouldn’t be anywhere near the national team. If both players continue to trend in their current directions, Hubner can, and should, be called upon soon enough.
Vincenzo Grifo (SC Freiburg)
Though the bearer of an Italian name and Italian parents, Vincenzo Grifo was born in Pforzheim. And despite being capped for Italy at the U20 level, he is still eligible to be called up by the nation of his birth…and rightly so.
Grifo has been one of the main attacking threats for an SC Freiburg side that are battling for a mid-table finish in their first season back in the Bundesliga. Together with Maximilian Philipp, Florian Niederlechner, and Nils Peterson, the quartet of attackers have scored 84% of the goals for Christian Streich’s side. But it is Grifo who is often the main catalyst going forward.
With his seven assists on the campaign being good for joint-fourth in the league (he’s also found the back of the net on five occasions), Freiburg heavily rely on his creative abilities from wider areas. His 2.16 key passes and 2.46 chances created per 90 minutes indicate not only how good he is at delivering service from the left flank, but also his threat from set-pieces. Grifo also averages a shade under three shots per match this season, adding a goal-scoring threat through the left channel that Germany could well miss in the absence of both Marco Reus and Serge Gnabry.
There was no better time for Low to, at least, see if Grifo was indeed interested in switching his international allegiance to Germany. As much as I will always love Lukas Podolski, surely Grifo could have been a better option.
Johannes Geis (FC Schalke 04)
It has not been a season to remember for Schalke and it’s supporters. Under the stewardship of former FC Augsburg boss Markus Weinzierl, Die Konigsblauen, despite on paper boasting a very capable first-team, have been in patchy form all season.
Currently sitting mid-table, Weinzierl’s men have been inconsistent, while his tactical approach used to great success at Augsburg did not fit the Schalke mold and has been forced to change. But despite the negatives, Johannes Geis has been one of the only players to stand tall for the duration of the season.
Though he has failed to register a single goal or assist on the domestic front, his importance as a holding midfielder/deep-lying playmaker cannot be understated. Despite often being the deepest deployed in midfield, Geis still averages 2.85 key passes and chances created per match, while also contributing 3 interceptions and 2.23 headers won in the same matrix. Even though he is not incredibly proficient in the tackle, his understanding of space when in defense means he is more than capable of locking down the area between midfield and the back four.
The only player in Low’s squad who Geis could replace is Liverpool’s Emre Can. Under Jurgen Klopp, Can has seen his increased faith and responsibilities, and he has put in quite a handful of good performances under the former Dortmund boss. But considering that Germany face off against Azerbaijan in their qualifier, and with Geis featuring prominently at all youth levels for his country, it wasn’t unrealistic to give him serious consideration this time around.