With German national team director Rudi Völler watching on from the stands, he couldn’t have failed to be impressed with VfB Stuttgart’s players as they were involved in an absolutely cracking match with Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB Pokal quarter-final in midweek. The Swabians were unlucky to lose 3-2, but yet again their German contingent once again performed superbly and when questioned after, Völler insisted that “some” would be included in Julian Nagelsmann’s squad to face France and the Netherlands in March.
Having enjoyed a fantastic season this far and with the Bundestrainer showing every sign that he is prepared to reward form players rather than just go on past international reputation, it could be argued that up to six VfB players deserve a call-up.
Let’s take a look at the candidates……
The left-sided attacker was called into Julian Nagelsmann’s first squad for the trip to the United States back in October and got to make his international debut as a late substitute for Jamal Musiala against the US. Speaking at the time Nagelsmann explained the Stuttgart players nomination was a reflection of the excellent club form he had shown in the Bundesliga.
“He’s an excellent player one-v-one, and has been involved in many goals for Stuttgart, who are doing really well,” the Bundestrainer said. “With the national team, it’s always important to call up players with momentum, those at their peak, to give them their chance. It’ll be good for us to have new faces in training whose eyes light up at the idea of playing an international match.”
Führich wasn’t in the squad for the November defeats to Turkiye and Austria, but his club form has continued to be superb and there is every reason to believe he could get a recall if Nagelsmann is picking on form. He has been an ever-present for the Swabians this season and had seven goals and six assists to his name.
Deniz Undav arrived at Stuttgart this summer on an initial loan from Premier League side Brighton with the intention of acting as an understudy to Serhou Guirassy and when the Guinean started the season in amazing goalscoring form (14 goals in 8 games), Undav’s place on the bench seemed set.
However, when he scored twice as a substitute in the matchday 6 win at Köln, he played himself into the side and when asked to compensate for the injured Guirassy, he hit the goal trail himself. Thirteen goals in seventeen matches so far makes the 27-year-old the highest scoring German in the Bundesliga (Füllkrug and Ducksch both have nine). Such has been his impact that Guirassy’s absence at the African Cup of Nations has not been felt too badly.
Born in Varel (north of Bremen), Undav was released by Werder Bremen as a youngster for being too short and then moved on to TSV Havelse and Eintracht Braunschweig II. He moved to Belgium with Meppen before joining Union St. Gilloise where he really came to the fore with 35 goals in 51 appearances.
Brighton signed him for €7 million in January 2022, but he found regular game time hard to come by and signed his current loan deal with the Swabians in the summer. He is qualified to play for both Germany and Türkiye, but has recently made it clear he would like to represent his country of birth. Can Nagelsmann ignore him if his current form continues?
There are ‘bigger names’ at ‘bigger clubs’, but few of them can match the defensive consistency and solidity that Waldemar Anton has shown this season. Of the Bundesliga based centre backs he is up there alongside Jonathan Tah as the stand-out defender this season.
Nico Schlotterbeck always looks to have a big mistake in his game, Mats Hummels’ time may have come and gone, Nikals Süle doesn’t convince 100%. Malick Thiaw at Milan is going to be a contender as is Frankfurt’s Robin Koch, but Nagelsmann must surely at least be considering Anton as a potential partner for Antonio Rüdiger.
He did gain eleven U21 caps for Germany between 2016 and 2019, but has since been off the radar at international level. This season’s surge at Stuttgart has put him back on that radar.
Hansi Flick called the right back into the national team squad for the first time for the post- World Cup friendlies against Peru and Belgium in March 2023. The 23-year-old made his debut in the last ten minutes of the 3-2 defeat to Belgium, but has since been omitted from the German national set-up.
His consistent displays this season however must have been noticed and a potential second call-up is a possibility. He has probably moved ahead of Dortmund’s Marius Wolf in the pecking order so is really competing with Leipzig’s Benjamin Henrichs as the league’s top performing right back.
The left wing back has really come to the fore this season with Stuttgart following his summer departure from relegated Hertha Berlin. The 26-year-old personifies the transformation of VfB this season from relegation prospects to Champions League hopefuls. He has become a first-choice on the left with his performance levels at a consistently high level. It is not without good reason that he is being mentioned as Germany’s best left back this season.
While at Hertha he was capped by Germany from U18 level up to U21 level, but he must surely have one eye on a full international call-up based on his form this season. He’s scored one (a beauty against Freiburg) and provided two assists. It may be a long-shot, but a phone call from Julian Nagelsmann is not totally beyond the realms of possibility. Is he really playing worse than either David Raum or Robin Gosens?
This is probably an even longer shot when you consider the goalkeeping riches available to Julian Nagelsmann with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Kevin Trapp and Oliver Baumann all established ahead of Alexander Nübel, but he is on top form this season and won’t have given up on an international cap.
Long-seen as the heir to Manuel Neuer at Bayern, his career has taken a circuitous route with the Munich number one seemingly going to play at the highest level forever. He returned to Germany this summer after two years at Monaco and has added an extra layer of security to Stuttgart’s defensive line.
When Bayern signed him back in 2020, his career path looked destined to eventually lead to the German national team. It hasn’t happened yet, but you can never say never in football.