All eyes were on Niko Kovac as the BayArena crowd erupted at fulltime. The ease at which Leverkusen had sliced through his defense, on four occasions, won’t be tolerated in Munich. It was always going to be a difficult day for the Croatian coach but he had unlikely company in that regard.
Joachim Löw isn’t dealing with the scrutiny of a big money move to Bayern, but he’ll be nursing his own headache after some stellar performances from a trio of the Bundesliga’s best young talents this weekend. Kevin Volland’s hat trick showed his pedigree in front of goal, while youngsters Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz added a goal and two assists between them. Some 320 kilometers away, Serge Gnabry compounded matters with a performance of grit and goalscoring determination for Hoffenheim.
While it’s probably too late for Volland – the former Germany U21 captain hasn’t played for Löw since November 2016 – the other three are, to varying degrees, all in with a chance of going to Russia.
Brandt, perhaps the likeliest to get the nod, was at his devastating best against Frankfurt. He opened the scoring with a composed header and was key in the build-up to Volland’s first strike. A precocious talent, the 21-year old is beginning to add end product to his intelligent movement and eye for a pass. With seven goals and three assists from 22 starts, this has been his best season yet, statistically speaking. And there are still four games to go.
Julian Brandt celebrates scoring against Eintracht Frankfurt
He’s already collected 14 caps, no mean feat for a player in the most talent-stocked area in the Germany squad – namely the front four. Clearly, Löw trusts Brandt but whether or not he plays, or even goes, to Russia, could depend on Löw’s desire for greater experience in attack. While Marco Reus’ injury clouds his World Cup dream somewhat, it’s clear if the inclusion of a fit Marco Reus hangs in the balance then so too does Brandt’s.
Havertz is the least likely to require rubles this summer but his two assists against Frankfurt showed once again how spoilt for choice Germany are when it comes to creative midfielders. It was the second of the two that showcased his devastating unpredictability; an instinctive flick that bewitched the entire Frankfurt defence and presented Volland with the simplest of finishes.
Kai Havertz has never played for Germany’s senior side
Just 18-years of age, Havertz is regarded as a future star. The teenager made history against Frankfurt too, becoming the youngest player in Bundesliga history to make 50 top-flight appearances. While it’s surely only a matter of time before he wears his country’s colors, Russia will likely come too soon for Havertz.
Serge Gnabry, meanwhile, was making a case for his own Russian adventure as his goal, the first in a 2-0 victory over Hamburg, was a blend of balance, skill and determination. The on-loan Bayern man is also enjoying his best season yet, with eight goals and four assists in 17 starts. More impressive than the numbers, however, is the range of goals he has scored. The 22-year old has a poacher’s instinct, but few will forget his halfway line stunner against RB Leipzig in December.
That goal was indicative of a young forward high on confidence and, if Julian Nagelsmann is to believed, he owes this upswing in form to hard work as much as talent. In an interview with kicker, the Hoffenheim coach explained that Gnabry had been placed on a tailored training programme to improve his fitness. It’s clearly working too, as the man who last featured for Germany in 2016 has played himself back into contention.
One thing potentially holding the trio back from becoming Germany regulars is Löw’s focus on personality. His players need to prove themselves reliable performers, capable of handling the pressure who are also the right characters for the group dynamic. It’s the reason why some players, Marco Reus for instance, remain in Löw’s thoughts despite lengthy spells out through injury.
Everything could still change. Four matches is a long time in football. Enough, even, to convince a head coach as cool and considered as Joachim Löw to throw caution to the wind. If Brandt, Havertz and Gnabry can maintain their form and continue to exceed expectation, there may only be one way for Joachim Löw to shake his headache.