Who starts in Bayern's Germany contingent?

Posted by Susie Schaaf

Patrik Stollarz/Getty ImagesPhilipp Lahm, who captains both Bayern and Germany, talks with German coach Joachim Loew during training this week.

Selection in attack for Joachim Loew and the German national team has suddenly become more difficult as the Bayern Munich trio of Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger have returned to the fold, joining team-mates Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Mueller and captain-of-all-things Philipp Lahm. Which Bayern players will start? And who will come off the bench for these next two matches at home to Ireland (Friday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN3/WatchESPN) and away to Sweden?

It would be strange days, indeed, if the defensive trio of Lahm, Boateng and Neuer didn't grab caps here. Although Lahm has been used of late by Pep Guardiola in defensive midfield -- to devastating effect, mind you -- Loew has no intention of playing his captain out of his right back position for the national team. Especially because, when all are healthy, he's got a wealth of options to choose from in holding midfield -- kind of like Guardiola.

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Jerome Boateng and Arsenal's Per Mertesacker seem to have grown into tge first-choice pairing for Loew. And for good reason -- Mertesacker has put in solid shifts for the Gunners, while Boateng's confidence and skill have increased greatly in the short time Guardiola has been at Bayern.

The three defenders, with Germany's No. 1 Neuer between the sticks should be joined by ex-Bayern-current-Hamburg defender Marcell Jansen on the left as Borussia Dortmund's Marcel Schmelzer was a late scratch.

It gets a little trickier in holding midfield as Schweinsteiger's long national-team absence -- his last match was March 22 in Kazakhstan -- has caused Loew to use Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan and Real Madrid's Sami Khedira in those two spots.

With Gundogan out, and Schweinsteiger certain to start, to whom does Loew grant the other spot? Khedira seems the obvious choice, but when you look at the incredible form of Kroos to open this season, one wonders if Loew can get over his misplaced lack of confidence in Kroos to grant the excellent midfielder a spot beside Schweinsteiger.

The options at the top get even more complicated. With first-choice strikers Lazio's Miroslav Klose and Fiorentina's Mario Gomez out, Loew chose to call up one lone striker in Borussia Moenchengladbach's Max Kruse. In the traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, one might expect to see Mueller on the right, Arsenal's Mesut Ozil as playmaker, Chelsea's Andre Schuerrle at left with Kruse up top. But what if that proves ineffective?

Loew experimented with the strikerless 4-3-3 formation against lowly Kazakhstan in March, deploying Gotze in a forward role, and to good effect as the Bayern forward captured a goal and an assist on the night. While it's a formation that would probably work against Ireland, would it work against Sweden? If Germany can directly qualify for next summer's World Cup with a win over Ireland Friday, it doesn't make to much sense to use what is still an experimental lineup. So, this means that Gotze will likely start on the bench for the opening match.

It's been lonely days at the Saebener Strasse with 15 of Guardiola's men on international duty -- it would normally be 18 but for injuries to Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber -- but crunch times lie ahead for the non-German stars.

While Arjen Robben's Netherlands and Dante's Brazil have already punched their tickets, David Alaba's Austria, three points behind Sweden in Germany's group, will be fighting for their lives.

Franck Ribery's France have a slim chance of directly qualifying, but are likely headed for a play-off spot along with Mario Manduzkic's Croatia. The Croatians sit behind Daniel van Buyten's Belgium, who look likely to top their group, as well as Xherdan Shaqiri's Switzerland. Only, sadly, must Claudio Pizarro sit home as the Peruvians were eliminated in the last round of South Americanmatches.

All in all it's exciting times for the Bayern boys over the next week, but for me personally, I always miss the Bundesliga when it's gone. These first two international breaks really put a damper on the flow of the season. Just when one thinks Bayern has got it sorted out... You have to wait two weeks to find out whether that's the case.

Good luck to all! And as always, come back uninjured, bitte!

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