Joachim Löw has an unfit captain who he has to try and squeeze in to this summer's plans. Or does he? DW's Stefan Bienkowski wonders whether the midfielder is still worthy of a spot in the starting lineup.
Germany kicks off their Euro 2016 campaign on Sunday with an opening tie against Ukraine. Several players may not be fit for the contest, but there will be a notable absence in Joachim Löw's starting lineup: Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Following constant battles with injuries and his general fitness at Manchester United this season, the German captain recently ruled himself out of the first game of the competition. Yet should the senior midfielder walk straight back in to Löw's side?
Speaking ahead of the game, Schweinsteiger was quick to point out that he feels as though he's in better shape than he was ahead of the 2014 World Cup campaign, but his fitness record and recent form does not back up his optimistic demeanor.
"He doesn’t have any playing rhythm at the moment," lamented his coach after Germany's 2-0 win over Hungary on Saturday, suggesting that the former Bayern Munich midfielder still wasn't ready for the tournament ahead. Even if Schweinsteiger is able to pull his fitness back to an acceptable level, there's still a wealth of options that Löw really should consider before opting to throw his trusted midfield lieutenant back in to the fray.
In Schweinsteiger's absence, Toni Kroos has moved into a more pivotal midfield role than before. He pulls the strings at the heart of Germany's midfield and pops up to score important goals when needed. Just weeks after winning his second European Cup, the 26-year-old has quickly established himsef as one of the most compitent midfielders at the biggest club in the world.
In many ways, this summer's competition could prove vital in Kroos' international career, for he may finally be in a position to knock Schweinsteiger off his pedestal and take over his role at Germany.
Joachim Löw's embrace of Bastian Schweisteiger was one of the iconic images of the 2014 World Cup, but that love may not be the same at Euro 2016
The 2014 World Cup will always be remembered through that timeless photo of Löw and Schweinsteiger embracing one another with tears of joy after the final whistle in Rio. However, any success found in France this summer may instead be portrayed through the sight of Löw grinning with an arm around Kroos, his new midfield general.
Similarly, Löw has kept his options open by bringing both Julian Weigl and Joshua Kimmich along in his 23-man squad should his midfield need reinforcements later in the competition. Although neither of the fledgling talents is expected to start for Germany this summer, they should be up to the task. As both have proven at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern respectively, they have all the talent and composure to play at the very highest level.
Löw is no stranger to throwing young players in when needed as he did with Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze during the previous World Cup. Although neither was ever considered a starter in the competition, they both offered goals and assists off the bench and combined to win the winning goal against Argentina. Rather than relying on a half-fit Schweinsteiger, Löw could get better results ultilizing his young talents and using their enthusiasm at the appropriate times.
Germany wouldn't have won the World Cup in 2014 without the determination and leadership of Schweinsteiger, but the midfielder hasn't been vintage Schweini since he returned from Brazil to play for Bayern and then at Manchester United.
It's time Löw and Germany turned to the next great German midfielder, beginning with this coming clash with Ukraine.