Germany’s Bundesliga spine – Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Timo Werner – will be crucial as the world champions target a fifth FIFA World Cup crown. But how does each of those players fit into Joachim Löw’s jigsaw?
bundesliga.com runs the rule over how the key figures are approaching the tournament.
1) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
If he’s fit, he plays. If he plays, then few stand a chance of finding the net against a goalkeeper who will be on a mission to produce the sweetest of endings to a frustrating campaign. Neuer would never have expected to lift his sixth Bundesliga title after featuring in just 270 top-flight minutes in the recently concluded campaign, yet such is the life of a footballer, with unexpected injuries always holding the potential to put paid to season ambitions. There is, however, one giant task left on the 32-year-old’s to-do list for the year: captaining Germany to a successful World Cup defence in Russia.
That objective has driven Neuer to return to 100 per cent fitness, the determined gaze in the Bayern No1’s eyes reflecting a frightening eagerness to overcome a second unfortunate foot injury sustained last September: “I’m not holding back. The coaches [have] got me in great condition,” the 2012 UEFA Champions League winner said recently from Germany’s pre-World Cup training base.
Of Neuer’s 74 international caps, 13 have come at two World Cup finals (2010, 2014) with the Gelsenkirchen-born giant managing four shut-outs in seven appearances during Germany’s triumphant 2014 run. It’s as simple as this: With Neuer’s masterful footwork, pinpoint passing and imposing presence between the posts, the holders’ chances of making it two in a row are quadrupled.
2) Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)
Rapidly on his way to earning the moniker of Mr World Cup, expect Müller and his dogged, never-say-die expression to be one of the features of the forthcoming finals. In what will be his fifth major tournament at senior level for Germany, the svelte south-Bavaria born international goal-getter is getting ready to target a significant milestone in the coming weeks.
Just six goals shy of compatriot Miroslav Klose’s all-time FIFA World Cup chart-topping finals best of 16 goals, Müller is fired up and hoping to hit form from the opening whistle at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where Germany meet Mexico on 17 June.
A 2010 FIFA World Cup Golden Boot winner at just 20, Müller doubled his finals tally with a further five goals as Germany ran out tournament winners in Brazil. “Thomas can do it. He’s already got ten World Cup goals,” Klose said of the 28-year-old’s chances of hitting the summit of the goalscoring charts one day. With 13 attempts on target leading to five goals in qualifying and a further seven assists, Müller was the second most-used player by Löw en route to Russia – and those numbers augur well for a tilt at the big personal prize.
3) Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
If Müller is already at the pinnacle of the international game, then Leipzig striker Werner is merely getting started. Yet the man nicknamed Turbo is tipped to hit top gear and burst into action at the festival of international football. In just 12 internationals, the one-time Stuttgart star already has seven goals.
He scored three in four games as Germany won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup while his three goals in three qualifiers have helped the 22-year-old to seal a starting berth under a clearly impressed Löw.
The highest-scoring German with 21 Bundesliga goals in 2016/17, Werner racked up the same amount in all competitions this term to enhance his reputation on the global scene. “I’m really looking forward to the World Cup. It can’t come soon enough; we’ve got big things planned,” the striker said, displaying a confidence that should cause Germany’s opponents – who are surely already aware of Werner’s explosive pace and finishing – huge concern.
4) Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
The Bayern boy has grown into a footballing beast. Just witness the full-back’s roaring celebrations that accompanied his six club goals and astounding 17 assists across all competitions this season. Finding the net in back-to-back games against eventual UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid in 2017/18 provided further proof that Kimmich is now thriving where once Philipp Lahm reigned.
The same can be said of the 23 year old’s role with Germany, the Stuttgart academy product the only player to feature in every minute of the 2018 qualifying campaign in which he weighed in with nine assists, two goals and boasted an incredible 91 per cent pass accuracy rate.
Indeed, Kimmich’s determination to continue his dramatic drive toward international dominance can be found in his long-held desire to one day captain his club and country. “My aim is to become a leader at Bayern and with Germany; it’s a role I’m not afraid of,” Kimmich explained recently. His versatility stands to him, moving from his original role as a defensive midfielder to the wide position Lahm mostly occupied during his glittering career.
This may be Kimmich’s first World Cup, yet international success at Under-19 level, four appearances at UEFA Euro 2016 and forming part of the winning Germany squad at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup triumph have provided all the experience the three-time Bundesliga winner needs in order to excel this summer.
5) Mats Hummels/Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)
Between them, they have amassed 133 caps and although they haven’t always played alongside each other in central defence for the national team, it is this key role the Bayern duo will almost certainly feature in when Germany’s tournament kicks off against Mexico on 17 June. Team-mates at club level since Hummels returned to Bavaria in 2016, the pair have gelled to form a formidable unit that is rarely out of step. If communication is a crucial trait for any central partnership, then Boateng and Hummels have their own private line in the heart of defence.
Injury limited Boateng to featuring in just three of Die Mannschaft’s qualifiers for the 2018 finals, but he will be back to his assured best following injury. Brimming with confidence following a sixth Bundesliga title win and boasting a ‘none-shall-pass’ mentality with Russia on the horizon, it would take a brave soul to predict anything but a top tournament for the Berlin colossus.
For his part, Hummels scored twice at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, including a quarter-final winner against France. The man with the playing panache of Franz Beckenbauer was there to help ensure Germany conceded a measly four goals in qualifying and he will be on hand to provide an almost impenetrable wall with Boateng as the national team seek a fifth World Cup crown.