Champions League: Germany′s top central midfielders do battle in last 16 | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 12.02.2018
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Champions League: Germany's top central midfielders do battle in last 16

The Champions League returns on Tuesday, with Bayern Munich the only Bundesliga team left standing. But there's plenty of German interest, with four of the country's top central midfielders clashing in the next two days.

German football is in a peculiar position. The national team are world champions with unparalleled strength in depth but the domestic league appears to lack such pedigree. Bayern Munich are not only streets ahead in the Bundesliga but were the only one of four German sides to make it to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Even they finished second in their group.

The flipside of this disparity is that Europe's top leagues are packed with German talent, a point proven by the return of the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Each of the four ties is likely to feature a German international at the heart of their midfield, most -if not all - of whom are likely to make Joachim Löw's squad for their World Cup defense. Let's take a look at how things are going for the engine room of Die Mannschaft.

Sami Khedira - Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur, February 13

A Löw favorite almost certain to be on the plane to Russia, Khedira (top, right) has been enjoying a productive season for the serial Italian champions. The signing of Blaise Matuidi from PSG has, to some degree, released the shackles on former Stuttgart man and he's responded with six goals already, just one short of his best ever season return.

A player who makes a virtue of consistency, Khedira will have his work cut out against the in-form Mousa Dembele, who has been dominant in Spurs' recent wins over Manchester United and Arsenal. Though he famously missed the final through injury, Khedira has a World Cup winners medal, titles in three countries and a variety of cup wins. He'll be desperate to win the Champions League, the one major title that eludes him. 

Ilkay Gündogan - Basel vs. Manchester City, February 13

Fußball Ilkay Gündogan Manchester City (Getty Images/AFP/O. Scarff)

Ilkay Gündogan's influence is growing at Manchester City

Having overcome the serious injury that blighted his first season in England, Gündogan has grown in stature as City's deeply impressive season has progressed. His nous and passing ability have recently been used alongside the more prosaic talents of Fernandinho, in order to offer protection and supply to the majestic Kevin de Bruyne.

While the former Dortmund schemer's talent is not in doubt, his fitness is a constant question mark - a back injury forced him out of the 2014 World Cup and he's never played 30 games in a league season. The absence of David Silva and Leroy Sane has given Gündogan a run in the team of late and, while City will expect tougher challenges than Basel ahead, the 27-year-old will need to kick on in the home stretch to ensure he makes up for lost time this summer.

Toni Kroos - Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain, February 14

As close to a World Cup certainty as there is, Kroos (top, left) has continued to impress even as Real's La Liga campaign has fallen apart. The 28-year-old is close to his peak and, at his best, conducts both Real and Germany. Kroos scored a sublime curling effort in Real's 5-2 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday and his four league strikes this season put him on track for his best goalscoring campaign since his breakthrough season on loan at Bayern Leverkusen from Bayern in 2009/10.

With a 17 point gap to Barcelona and a quarterfinal exit in the Copa del Rey, completing a hat-trick of consecutive Champions League wins is Real's only hope of salvaging their season. As they showed in topping Bayern's group, PSG are formidable opponents and Kroos will need to be on top form against the likes of Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot to keep the Spanish side's hopes alive. 

Emre Can - Porto vs. Liverpool, February 14

Champions League - Playoffs - Liverpool vs TSG 1899 Hoffenheim Can (Reuters/C. Recine)

Emre Can could leave Liverpool in a free in a few months' time

Whether it's a reflection of his improvement this season, or an attempt to get the player to sign a deal that extends beyond this summer, Jürgen Klopp has made Can his captain in several recent games, including Sunday's 2-0 win over Southampton. The Liverpool boss recently described Can as "important and impressive" and hopes to pair him with Naby Keita, when the Guinean joins from RB Leipzig at the end of the season. Löw also seems to be a fan, with the 24-year-old racking up 20 appearances including starts in the semifinal of Euro 2016 and every game of Germany's 2017 Confederations Cup win.

He's already impressed in Europe this year, with a brace against Hoffenheim in Champions League qualifying and another goal in the group stages. But his presence in that Confederations Cup squad, largely comprised of fringe players, suggests he still has work to do to book his seat on the plane. Wednesday night seems a good time to start.

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