Germany's "Next" XI: Julian Weigl, Serge Gnabry stars in the making

In the Bundesliga, the future is now. At 25.8, the average age of players in the 18 top-flight squads is lower than in any of Europe's top domestic competitions, thanks to a vertically integrated youth development system that delivers ready-made professionals and a surplus of young coaches not afraid to give young players a chance.

Some of the "next generation" stars featured below are so advanced that they're already on the fringes of the World Cup winners' starting XI; for others, their time will come after Russia. One thing is certain, however: Whoever takes over from Joachim Low after the 2018 World Cup can look forward to an abundance of choice for years to come.

Timo Horn | Goalkeeper | 23 | 1. FC Koln

"Timo Horn is a highly interesting goalkeeper," German goalkeeping coach and Euro 1996 winner Andreas Kopke said to Kicker magazine last week. Kopke's kind words were highly interesting. For a start, they could be interpreted as opening the door for Horn's inclusion in the national squad in due course. Germany are so overstocked when it comes to class keepers that Horn might never be capped -- he has Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre Stegen ahead of him, possibly for another decade -- but there's no doubt that he is turning into one of the most solid players in the league in his position. His performances at the 2016 Olympics, in which Germany won a silver medal, were outstanding.

Benjamin Henrichs | Right-back | 20 | Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Low was eager to cap the tall, converted midfielder to prevent the advances of Ghana, the country of his mother. Bocholt-born Henrichs featured in the 8-0 World Cup qualifying win against San Marino last November and has a chance to challenge Joshua Kimmich for Germany's right-back slot over time. Scouted extensively by a host of international top clubs this season, Henrichs isn't yet consistent enough but has all the attributes to shine in a position that has become very difficult to fill in world football.

Niklas Sule | Centre-back | 21 | TSG Hoffenheim

Chelsea came close to signing the tall, muscular defender a few months ago, but Sule opted to move to Bayern Munich next season instead. The Bavarians did well to secure his signature early for a reported £20 million too: his stellar campaign with TSG could yet lead to a sensational finish in the Champions League places, which would have made him much more expensive next summer. Sule excelled at the heart of Germany's Olympic team in Rio, earning a senior cap in August's friendly vs. Finland. He'll be very much in Low's thoughts for this summer's Confederations Cup if Jerome Boateng doesn't recover his form in time.

Niklas Stark | Centre-back | 21 | Hertha BSC

You might not have heard of him (or seen much of him), but a string of unfussy, technically adept performances have won Stark a growing list of followers. Southampton already came calling in the summer, while Hamburg offered €8 million for the versatile defender, who has also featured extensively in midfield for Pal Dardai's side this season. A polished U-21 international (and U-19 Euro winner as captain), Stark has decided to stay in the German capital for now, preferring the safety of guaranteed game time -- and a new extended contract until 2022 -- over a change of scenery. Like Sule, he might get a chance to prove himself at the next level this summer in Russia.

Felix Passlack | Left-back | 18 | Borussia Dortmund

"I could start crying knowing that I won't be coaching this guy," Jurgen Klopp said shortly before his departure from Signal Iduna Park in 2015. Passlack, a stocky but fast playmaker at the youth level, has been systematically transformed into a full-back, at which he addresses a pressing need. Although right-footed, he is equally happy playing on the "wrong side" (he cites the ultra-adaptable Philipp Lahm as his role model) and has already done well enough in a few cameos under Thomas Tuchel this season to warrant a closer look before long. Passlack is one of those guys who ooze fun on the pitch and are just as much fun to watch.

Leon Goretzka | Central Midfield | 21 | Schalke 04

The box-to-box player with strategic qualities has been tipped as the next big thing ever since he was awarded the Fritz Walter gold medal for the best U-17 player back in 2012. It's fair to say that his progress at Schalke, which he joined from second-division VfL Bochum four years ago, has perhaps not been quite as swift as anticipated, given their frequent managerial changes, but this season, Goretzka has come a lot closer to fulfilling his potential. It'll be interesting to see if he renews his contract this summer: Plenty of clubs would love to acquire his services.

Julian Weigl | Central Midfield | 21 | Borussia Dortmund

Thomas Tuchel saw Weigl captain TSV 1860 Munich as an 18-year-old and decided he had to have him at Dortmund come the beginning of the 2015-16 season. To say that the elegant, deep-lying playmaker, whose effortless style is reminiscent of Toni Kroos, was a success last season is an understatement. The current campaign started off in less spectacular fashion, but the young midfielder has found his form again after the winter break, providing balance, rhythm and direction one pinpoint pass at a time. Weigl is a superstar in the making both for Germany and beyond.

Kai Havertz | Attacking Midfield | 17 | Bayer 04 Leverkusen

It says a lot about Bayer's stellar youth department that they insisted on omitting Havertz from the second leg of the Champions League last-16 game against Atletico Madrid. After all, he had an A-level exam to sit, and academic education is taken very seriously at Bayer. The teenage wunderkind, who has something of Mesut Özil's languid but deceptively quick skill about him, has already seen plenty of game time in the Bundesliga in 2017; he'll progress further if Leverkusen modify the ultra-aggressive press, favoured by ex-coach Roger Schmidt, into something slower and more technical under Tayfun Korkut. Havertz is set to renew his contract this summer, and that will keep him at Bayer until 2022.

Julian Brandt | Attacking Midfield | 20 | Bayer 04 Leverkusen

By his own admission, it took the double-quick winger a little while to get going. His career at last kicked off midway through the past season, as the goals, telling dribbles and killer passes became regular occurrences, not isolated highlights. Even better showings in 2016-17 have brought him in contention as a successor to Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben on either flank at Bayern next season. Liverpool remain hopeful for his signature, but Bayern feel they're in the driver's seat. Brandt's fine club form has seen him called up by Low too. He started against England in Thursday's friendly and should be on the plane to Russia -- for the Confed Cup, at least.

Timo Werner | Centre-forward | 21 | RB Leipzig

Werner's first-team debut for Germany against England didn't go according to plan. He looked overzealous to make things happen, often made the wrong decision and hurt his hamstring. The young striker, a converted winger who thrives on those wide-open moments of transition, shouldn't be too despondent: With 14 league goals and six assists so far his season, he's the best German forward in the league, well ahead of luminaries such as Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez. The Stuttgart-born attacker is a good example of how German youngsters benefit from regular action. He has already played 120 league games at the senior level, looking better and better with each outing.

Serge Gnabry | Centre-forward | 21 | Werder Bremen

Like Werner, Gnabry came through the VfB Stuttgart youth system but opted to go to Arsenal as a 16-year-old. A rapid breakthrough into the Gunners' first team as a central midfielder turned into stagnation as injuries and a lack of playing time, first at Arsenal and then on loan at West Brom, saw him treading water. His mind was set on a return to Germany by the time he made waves at the Rio Olympics, and Werder Bremen's decision to pay €5 million for him in August -- with a bit of competition from FC Bayern -- has been a steal. Now thriving as a powerful centre-forward, Gnabry has netted 10 times to keep Werder afloat in the relegation battle and himself in the frame for future Germany duties.