How many of Germany's stars this summer will feature at the World Cup?
When Joachim Low pores over his Mariana Trench of talent, you wonder if perhaps, sometimes, he'd prefer to have a little less choice. Depth is great and depth matters a lot for a club side over the course of a season. But when you're talking a short tournament -- seven games, if you get to the semis, over a month -- can it sometimes be a hindrance? Does having too many choices increase your likelihood of making the wrong choice?
This is the footballing equivalent of what you might think is not a bad problem to have, like when there are only three bars on the 4G or when you really want a Diet Coke but all they have is Coke Zero. But as we're seeing in this Confederations Cup, Germany can easily spot the opposition seven or eight starters and still sail effortlessly to the final. And that means competition for places is going to be as intense as ever.
This tournament has opened up a realm of possibilities and combinations for Low. If the purpose was to test the "second tier" in true-to-life conditions -- certainly more so than coming on as a substitute in a friendly -- as a group they've passed with flying colors regardless of what happens Sunday.
Assuming (and it's a big assumption) everybody is fit, you can count a fair few guys from this Confederations Cup campaign who have a legitimate shot not just at the 23, but at challenging for places in the starting XI.
At left-back, Jonas Hector is already a starter while on the right, assuming he plays there most of next year for Bayern. Joshua Kimmich would appear to have the position nailed down. Manuel Neuer and his center-backs, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, look impossible to dislodge. (Again, provided everybody is fit and there is no loss of form: it's a disclaimer I won't be repeating but bear it in mind). Niklas Sule likely won't get starter minutes at Bayern, and Matthias Ginter doesn't seem a natural fit, but a strong season from Antonio Rudiger might (stressing the might) tip things his way.
In central midfield, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos are coming off stellar seasons. And then you have Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gundogan, both of whom will be returning from injury. None of those guys were at the Confederations Cup, but you'd expect to see them come back next summer.
That said, anybody who has seen the way Low's face positively lights up when discussing Leon Goretzka may wonder whether he has a shot to elbow his way in, possibly in a three-man midfield. His size, strength and the uncanny Frank Lampard-esque timing of his runs make him a nightmare match-up for opponents. The likes of Emre Can and Sebastian Rudy, both of whom have played well in this tournament, look like long shots to crack the starting lineup but have a legitimate chance at making the 23.
Skipping over attacking midfield (Germany's deepest position) and turning straight to the strikers, Timo Werner certainly seized the day at this Confederations Cup. Center-forward has long been one of Germany's few thorny issues. Werner scored 21 Bundesliga goals last year and another three, in three starts, at the Confederations Cup. His competition at center-forward basically consists of Thomas Muller, playing in a role he doesn't play for his club, and Mario Gomez, who is 33 next summer and means going the target-man route.
Then you get into attacking midfielders and wide men, where it's truly anyone's guess.
You'd assume Muller, Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane and Marco Reus (among those who missed out this summer) would all be in the mix for what could be two slots, if he goes 4-3-3, or possibly three if it's a 4-2-3-1. Given the way Low spoke of Julian Draxler and the way he has performed this summer, you'd think he'd be a prime candidate to start. (Again, it depends too on how Paris Saint-Germain use him.) Draxler has thrived in a free role, been rewarded with the captain's armband and shown plenty of personality and leadership.
The best chance for Julian Brandt -- who, lest we forget, only turned 21 in May -- to start might be if Low opts for two roadrunners out wide, with the other flank being manned by Sane. It's an intriguing proposition, though perhaps not the most likely. Still, you'd easily expect him to be back next summer.
If you were to guess -- and yes, this is way premature speculation -- you could see anywhere from four to seven players from the Confederations Cup squad start Germany's World Cup opener in a year's time.
Russia 2018 will mark Low's 12th season as Germany coach, though in fact, he goes back longer than that: he was Jurgen Klinsmann's "tactician" in 2006. He may not appear it sometimes, but we can confirm that he's human: flesh and blood and that terrifyingly intense shock of jet-black hair. It means loyalty becomes a factor because great managers can't help but build human relationships too.
Low's rapport with many of these players goes back nearly a decade, which is why some guys have kept their place even during periods of loss of form (like Muller and Ozil last season). Chemistry and loyalty matter too, particularly when you take 23 young men and squirrel them away for six weeks every four years. And asking a World Cup winner, a guy who's proven he can do it for you, to step aside is tough.
That said, Low took this squad along for a reason: to build experience, to get a chance to impress him in a competitive tournament and, yeah, to win some silverware. Whatever choices -- and they will be tough choices -- he makes next summer will be far better informed than they would otherwise have been.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.