With Germany bidding to qualify for the World Cup when they play Ireland on Friday, DW looks at how Joachim Löw’s squad is shaping up. Whose stock is rising, and who needs to raise their game for a ticket to Brazil?
Joachim Löw is a coach who is known, and quite often criticized, for his loyalty to certain players - and his refusal to be impressed by others. So it was hardly a massive shock he did not call up Leverkusen striker Stefan Kiessling to face the Republic of Ireland in Cologne, despite the fact that Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez are both out injured.
Contrary to what some fans fear, though, Löw's squad is not set in stone, and there is room in particular for young players to sneak their way aboard the Nationalelf's plane to Brazil. Case in point: Max Kruse.
Only two years ago, the 25-year-old, who curiously enough considered becoming a referee before deciding to become a player, was playing in the second division. Now he could win a third cap.
Kruse's advantage is that, as a relative newcomer to football at the top level, he does not represent a true rival to Klose or Gomez. The 30-year-old Kiessling, by contrast, was the Bundesliga's top scorer last season, and were he included in the squad, there would be calls for him to be given playing time.
But that doesn't mean Kruse cannot have an impact. Bayern's Thomas Müller showed that he is not really a center forward against Leverkusen on Saturday, while Kruse drew and converted the penalty that put Mönchengladbach on the road to victory against Dortmund. And he's already notched up five goals and five assists for the Foals this season. Those numbers are almost as good as another player drawing attention to himself.
Sam becoming Mr. Reliable
Leverkusen midfielder Sidney Sam has long been known as one of the Bundesliga's prodigious offensive talents. His problem was consistency - he'd often go from top to flop from week to week, or sometimes even from first half to second.
This season, however, with the exception of Leverkusen's loss to Schalke, Sam's performances have been good-to-great. It is no accident that the 25-year-old scored in Leverkusen's miraculous 1-1 draw against Bayern on Saturday. It was his sixth of the season, complementing his four assists.
Based on current form, Löw will most likely favor an attacking midfield featuring Mesut Özil, Müller and one other to replace the injured Marco Reus. Speaking in Sam's favor as far as Germany are concerned is the fact that he's capable of manufacturing unusual goals and can play anywhere in midfield. That makes him an attractive option as a late substitute when something special is needed to crack games open.
With the glut of midfield talent Löw has at his disposal, some major names may have to be content with minor roles. Lukas Podolski will have to come back from injury and reclaim his starting spot for Arsenal. Mario Götze must overcome his fragility and break through at Bayern. And André Schürrle needs to establish himself at Chelsea.
Otherwise, their trips to Brazil could be unsatisfactory - assuming they make the trip at all.
Competition at the back
Unusually for Germany's national team, the Achilles heel of the squad Löw takes to Brazil could be its defense. Philipp Lahm is, of course, one of the best players in the world, but the rest of the line-up has something of a makeshift feel to it.
Left back will probably go to either a Marcel or a Marcell, Dortmund's Schmelzer or Hamburg's Janssen, but Löw isn't particularly thrilled about only having them as options.
Lahm can switch sides to cover that position, much as he seems to dislike doing so. And even if he did again move left, that would just open up a fresh hole on the right of defense. Several established players could theoretically deputize there, but none would be in their preferred position.
Perhaps a more pressing concern for Löw is who to play in central defense. Based on current form, he is likely to pick Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, often regarded as too slow physically, and Jerome Boateng, often regarded as too slow mentally.
That's because of a decline by Mats Hummels. The offensively minded man from Dortmund has perennially had trouble performing in the Nationalelf, and it is impossible to overlook his inconsistency this season and last. His blackout against Gladbach on Saturday, conceding a penalty and getting himself sent off for bringing down Kruse, was typical of Hummels' recent frustrations.
Benedikt Höwedes is a clear back-up option and nothing more. Unfortunately, for Löw, there's no one else on the horizon at the moment.
Perhaps Stefan Kiessling should think about a change of position. Then the lanky Leverkusener might finally get a look-in from Löw.