The Germany U21 team is filled with Bundesliga talent that helped them beat Portugal in the European Championship final on Sunday. bundesliga.com picked out five to keep a close eye on.
This year's tournament was played in two stages, with Stefan Kuntz's team having qualified in second place behind the Netherlands in March after getting through their three group stage matches unbeaten.
bundesliga.com runs the rule over five players who had a key role as 2019 runners-up Germany became European champions for the first time since 2017.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Position: Attacking midfielder
The Bundesliga's fourth-youngest debutant continued his striking development in 2020/21, finishing with 25 starts and 29 league appearances in total to help Bayer Leverkusen to sixth. The former Cologne academy player is now only the third-youngest goalscorer in league history after his record was broken by Youssoufa Moukoko of Borussia Dortmund and surpassed by Bayern Munich prodigy Jamal Musiala as well.
Wirtz, though, continued to break new ground himself, heading home in the 5-2 win over VfB Stuttgart in February to become the first player under 18 to get five Bundesliga goals. The teenager's haul for the season also included a winner against Borussia Dortmund, and he ended the campaign with five goals and five assists in the top flight. Add in a DFB Cup goal and two UEFA Europa League strikes and it was a productive maiden campaign as a first-team regular.
Watch: Check out Wirtz's goal against Dortmund
"He does the whole club good," said recently retired Leverkusen team mate Lars Bender after the Dortmund game in January. "Just look at what the lad can do with the ball. He's so fresh, lively, and nonchalant."
In October 2020 Wirtz made history at international level too, beating a record previously held by Julian Draxler. At the age of 17 years and 159 days, the Leverkusen player became the youngest player to line out for the Germany U21 team. He missed the group matches in March because he was called up to the German senior squad, although he watched those three FIFA World Cup qualifiers from the bench. Having turned 18 at the start of May, however, Wirtz was recalled by the U21s to boost their chances of being crowned European champions for a third time. He certainly did that in the semi-final. A quickfire double inside eight minutes in the win over the Netherlands included the fastest ever goal - after only 29 seconds - in championship history. He was also influential in the final and hit the bar early in the game.
Position: Right-back/right wing
Baku is another player who enjoyed an excellent campaign at club level. Having moved from his home town of Mainz late in the summer transfer window, he swiftly hit the ground running with Wolfsburg. He made an equaliser on his second appearance for the Wolves before scoring one against Hertha Berlin on his fourth, and he was rewarded with a call-up to Germany's senior squad last November.
Baku was a key contributor to Wolfsburg's fourth-place finish, and was in particularly good form from December on after Oliver Glasner began using him in an attacking role on the right flank of a 4-2-3-1 system. The energetic wide man, who can also play centrally, led the league for both sprints (1,061) and intensive runs (2,829) as the Wolves sealed a place in next season's UEFA Champions League.
"He is such a modest but ambitious guy, so I have no doubt that he'll continue to improve in the coming years," Glasner said. Baku started all three group stage games in March, helping his side to qualify for the last eight with two goals in the 3-0 success against Hungary. He made a goal in both the semi-final and in the final against Portugal, being at his rampaging best in the latter match in Ljubljana.
Schlotterbeck took the path travelled by his older brother Keven in 2019/20 when he joined Union Berlin on loan from Freiburg in July 2020. Like with his sibling, it proved a worthwhile switch for the 6'3" defender. He netted a vital goal on his league debut for the capital club, with his late looping header earning a 1-1 draw at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 2.
Schlotterbeck missed 13 matches from October to January due to hamstring problems but - usually playing on the left of a back three - he finished with 16 league appearances as unfancied Union ended in seventh. A regular in the second half of the campaign, he started in the dramatic 2-1 win over RB Leipzig on the final day that saw Union book a place in next season's UEFA Europa Conference League.
"I feel really good at Union," Schlotterbeck, who lived near the club's stadium in the Köpenick district of east Berlin, told Bild in May. "Apart from my injury, I had a great time here."
A sign of a successful season for Schlotterbeck is the fact that Freiburg made clear to Union they would be taking him back over the summer. He has also been an important part of Germany's U21 team so far, starting alongside Arminia Bielefeld's Amos Pieper at centre-back in all three group games against Hungary, the Netherlands, and Romania.
Germany conceded only one goal in those matches, before getting past Denmark on penalties in the quarter-finals and looking a lot more solid defensively against the Dutch and Portugal.
Burkardt had already shown promise last season - scoring in a 2-0 success at Dortmund in one of his eight league appearances - but he went up a notch in 2020/21. The youngster featured in 29 Bundesliga matches including 16 that he started.
His two goals both came against champions Bayern Munich, the first of which was the opener away from home in January. Bayern came from 2-0 down at half-time to win that game 5-2, but the 05ers had better luck in the return fixture on Matchday 32. Burkardt once again put the home side in front - this time after three minutes - before Mainz held on for a 2-1 victory.
Eleven of the Mainz academy graduate's starts came in 2021, meaning he contributed to his side - once seemingly in relegation trouble - having the fifth-best record in the division in the second half of the campaign. A pacy attacker - he had a top speed of 21.76 miles during the season - he has also been improving at a rapid rate.
"I'm in better shape physically and I'm also just finding my bearings better at this level," Burkardt said by way of explanation after his star turn in the second Bayern game. In the group stage the Darmstadt native started once and appeared twice as a substitute, coming off the bench to make the crucial levelling goal against the Netherlands. He fired home another big goal in extra-time of Germany's quarter-final tie with Denmark, and also featured for the final quarter against both the Netherlands and Portugal.
Raum will join up with the national team on a high, having helped Greuther Fürth return to the German top flight with a dramatic final-day win over Fortuna Düsseldorf in Bundesliga 2. In 2020/21 he played a part in all 34 league matches for Fürth - starting 32 - but the Düsseldorf game was his last for his first professional club.
The attacking full-back, who finished with a league-high 13 assists in the second tier, had long since agreed a summer move to Hoffenheim.
"David is a highly gifted and extremely fast player who possesses a strong left foot and has developed into one of the most sought-after full-backs in Germany this season thanks to his outstanding performances," Hoffenheim director of football Alexander Rosen said when Raum's switch was announced in January.
The Nuremberg native, who played further up the pitch until the 2018/19 season, made his debut for Germany's U21 team in November 2020. He started two of their three group matches - featuring off the bench in the other - and set up a goal for Baku in the victory over Hungary as well as Burkardt's strike in the last eight. His reputation was further enhanced in the crunch encounters against the Dutch and Portuguese.
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