Dilemmas aplenty for Low on the road to Russia
Will Germany adopt the same tactics as at the Confederations Cup?
Squad now has far greater depth
Competition for places in midfield and up front
After resting several first-team regulars at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, but nevertheless winning the tournament with a squad of talented youngsters, Germany coach Joachim Low now faces a selection headache. And not the bad kind.
The 57-year-old has so many options at his disposal that he must make some tough decisions ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. He is truly spoilt for choice.
"As much as we all enjoyed the successes of the summer, the titles won in the past play no role in my thinking right now," said Low, who named 17 Confederations Cup winners in his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying games away to Czech Republic on Friday and against Norway in Stuttgart on Monday.
"With the World Cup in Russia, an absolute highlight is waiting for us at the end of the season," he continued. "We want to win the title again and logically everything else is once again secondary to that in our thinking. The players know what I expect from them and they know we have great competition for places."
Points for Low to ponder:
Which system to play now? Following the 2010 World Cup, where a youthful Germany side captured the imagination with their counter-attacking style, Low changed his strategy. At the start of the 2012 European Championship qualifying campaign he switched to a possession-based system with a back four, usually only one holding midfielder, a high back line and aggressive counter-pressing. He tweaked a few things en route to lifting the trophy at Brazil 2014, but essentially the approach remained the same.
Even before Low's charges were beaten in the EURO 2016 semi-finals by France, who let Germany control possession before striking clinically at the other end, the coach had announced that he wanted his team to be even more unpredictable in future. During the Confederations Cup the reigning world champions adopted a 3-4-2-1 formation, put less emphasis on having possession and attacked their opponents much later than in previous years. And they ended up winning.
Did that tournament provide us with a glimpse of what we will see from Germany in the coming months? Or will the return of World Cup winning players to the squad mean they revert back to a more attacking style?
In truth, it will probably be a bit of both, depending on the opposition and the score in any given game.
Experimentation at centre-half? Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels usually start in central defence, as they did towards the end at Brazil 2014. However, both are coming off a difficult 2016/17 campaign in which they suffered dips in form and injuries, with Boateng still out of action due to a thigh complaint.
Antonio Rudiger, Niklas Sule and Matthias Ginter all featured regularly at the Confederations Cup, so perhaps one of that trio could play themselves into contention when it comes to defending Germany's crown in 2018.
Who to play up front? Mario Gomez returned to the spotlight at EURO 2016 in France, having slipped out of favour prior to the tournament, and his absence in the semi-final was sorely felt. Now, however, two more forwards have been discovered: Timo Werner, who finished as top scorer at the Confederations Cup, and Lars Stindl, who is more of a deep-lying attacker than an out-and-out striker.
It will be interesting to see who Low selects in Germany's next two qualifying games. Who will gel best with the preferred line-up that is gradually taking shape? Werner's electric pace would make him ideally suited to the deeper 3-4-2-1 formation that has recently been employed.
Which midfielders will keep their place? In recent years the choice has been obvious: Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira would all play in central midfield when fit.
Yet the Confederations Cup served to highlight the alternatives available to Low. Julian Draxler shone as captain in attacking midfield and was rewarded with the adidas Golden Ball, while the powerful Emre Can, the unspectacular but reliable Sebastian Rudy and the dynamic Leon Goretzka are all putting pressure on Khedira's spot in the team. Draxler can also play on the wing, where Julian Brandt impressed in Russia, while Mario Gotze is also likely to return soon.
Germany's potential midfield line-up is the most difficult area to predict, and it may well be that even the coaching staff themselves do not know who to pick at present.