In Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala, Germany have two of the brightest young players in world football to call upon. They also happen to be going head-to-head on Matchday 8 when Bayer Leverkusen take on Bayern Munich...
First, let's qualify that this pair are indeed wunderkinds by looking at some of the records they already have to their names.
Wirtz made his Bundesliga debut in a 4-1 win at Werder Bremen in May 2020, replacing Kai Havertz - who scored twice that day - as Leverkusen's youngest ever player just 16 days past his 17th birthday. Little more than two weeks later he was steering his first top-flight goal beyond Manuel Neuer no less, and although he was subsequently overtaken by Borussia Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko as the league's youngest scorer, Wirtz is now the greenest player ever to reach 10 Bundesliga goals, something he managed 208 days quicker than former Germany superstar Lukas Podolski.
Little more than two months older than Wirtz, Musiala has been just as quick out of the blocks. His Bayern debut came in June 2020 when he replaced Thomas Müller in a 3-1 win over Freiburg at 17 years, three months and 26 days of age, making him the champions' youngest ever player. His first Bundesliga goal was claimed in last season's opening day 8-0 drubbing of Schalke, and he added a UEFA Champions League strike to his collection in a 4-1 win over Lazio in February, making him Bayern's youngest goalscorer in both competitions. He is now the first 18-year-old to have five Bayern goals to his name.
What position do they play?
Whilst both are nominally attacking midfielders, Wirtz has evolved into something of a midfield string-puller this season, in this, just his second campaign of Bundesliga football. Last term, Wirtz lined up on the flanks - invariably the right one - in more than half of his Leverkusen appearances, but this season he is literally central to everything Die Werkself do, playing 369 Bundesliga minutes at No.10 with two from Moussa Diaby, Karim Bellarabi and Paulinho either side of him.
"He's a brilliant player, a different player to Havertz, but he's playing very well so far for Leverkusen," former Germany midfielder Didi Hamann told FreeSuperTips recently. "The only thing he lacks is a yard of pace, but I think he makes up for it with the positions he takes up. He's stepped up so far, you can see he's a leader in this team with his performances. I don't think I've seen a better central midfielder at his age in decades."
Watch: Wirtz under the tactical microscope
With Müller, Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich hogging the central midfield positions at Bayern, Musiala is still something of an impact sub who has taken up wide positions in the 193 minutes he has been afforded this season. His only start was the 5-0 win over Hertha Berlin on Matchday 3 - in which he scored, but in a squad which also boasts Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman as wingers, his game time is a feat in itself. That he averages 34 one-on-ones won per 90 minutes compared to Wirtz's 26 shows that Musiala is just as happy to dance past an opponent as he is to let the ball do the work for him.
"As Julian Nagelsmann said the other day, he plays as if he has a magnet on his foot," explains neuro-athletics specialist Steffen Tepel. "In terms of dribbling, you can't teach him that much even at 18; his imagination in one-on-one situations is simply a special gift. He has an incredibly good feel for where the ball is around him and what's happening in the zone he's in."
How prolific are they?
Shifting to a central role has simply upped Wirtz's goal-involvement. This season he has been directly involved in at least one goal in every single game he has played. His five assists are a Bundesliga high, and he also has four goals - plus another two in Europe. Wirtz's has either scored or assisted once every 41 minutes domestically, making him statistically as potent as Dortmund goal-fiend Erling Haaland.
Wirtz has a Leverkusen-high 14 shots on his opponents' goal in 2021/22, but his decision-making also sets him apart. Wirtz knows when to lay it on for a better-placed teammate, with UEFA Euro 2020 top scorer Patrik Schick a happy beneficiary after being assisted by Wirtz for all but two of his six Bundesliga goals this term.
Musiala might have been given slightly less time to shine by Bayern, but he does so just as brightly when he has the chance. The former Chelsea youngster is the only outfield player to have been in every Bayern matchday squad since the summer of 2020, and his two goals and two assists this season have come at a clip of one every 47 minutes he has featured. Even perennial top scorer Robert Lewandowski has needed 72 minutes for the same.
Musiala also couldn't be accused of tunnel vision: his first Bundesliga assist was for Müller when Bayern beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 6-0 last August, and so far this term he has laid on one each for Lewandowski and Sane.
Big game importance
Both players do it at the top level. Wirtz's first Bundesliga goal was against Bayern, and he has since found the target against Dortmund twice in the Bundesliga, and Celtic in Leverkusen's recent UEFA Europa League thrashing of the 51-time Scottish champions.
Musiala tallied a goal and an assist as Bayern beat RB Leipzig 4-1 last month for three career goal involvements against last season's runners-up, and with a Champions League goal to his name - something Wirtz hasn't yet had a chance to add to his record - he got the nod ahead of his potential career rival to go to the recent Euros under Joachim Löw.
Löw's successor Hansi Flick has called up both to his most recent Germany squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Romania and North Macedonia, and Bundesliga viewers will get to enjoy them both when Leverkusen take on Bayern next Sunday.
Who will come out on top next weekend is tough to call, but the conclusion that both will dominate their (mid)fields for the next generation appears to be increasingly unavoidable.
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