Joachim Low’s side was an embarrassment at the 2018 World Cup. They did not show desire and throughout the tournament, they looked off the boil & bereft of ideas. Their demise from the group stage shocked the European nation – heads had to roll. In 2019 Low announced that the trio of Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Thomas Muller would no longer get call-ups for the Germans. Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan already burnt the bridges to the squad by appearing in a photo with Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
There was also a brief melee over the goalkeeping spot. Stalwart Manuel Neuer was still heady from the 2 long-term injuries that kept him out for a year. His World Cup performance did not help his case. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was in the form of his life and after the World Cup showing, Low was considering handing the baton to the younger keeper. There were a few jibes between the two goalkeepers in the media too. Stegen complained about game time while Neuer said his comments were disrespectful. Uli Hoeneß weighed in by threatening to prevent any Bayern Munich players from going to the national team if Neuer did not start – the former Bayern boss true to his loud and obnoxious self. Sometimes Hoeneß is so loud you almost forget he is a criminal who has done jail time.
The goalkeeping situation is calmer now with Neuer returning to form. However, the other three players might be key to the Germans establishing any sort of challenge at the European Championship.
NOT BEEN THE SAME
In the 18 games they have played since the World Cup, they have won 8, drawn 7, and lost 3. The opponents in the 8 wins are Belarus (x2), Northern Ireland (x2), Estonia (x2), Ukraine, and the Netherlands. They have drawn Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, Turkey, Argentina, Serbia, and France. They have lost twice to the Netherlands and lost to France too. Die Manschaft is not the dominating force it once was. The reason for this? The space between the midfield and defense.
Matthias Ginter, Antonio Rudiger, Robin Koch, Marcel Halstenberg, Lukas Klostermann, Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Sule and Jonathan Tah, etc. Low is trying different pairings along the way in different combinations. They look no closer to being as solid as they were during the 2014 cup run. The individual quality plus the pairings of the group is poorer. The midfield too has not helped either. Low is yet to truly get a stabilized pairing that provides creativity and defensive cover for the defense.
Toni Kroos never had the legs for all-round action but he is adept at controlling the tempo of the game like no other. Kimmich is the grafter close to him that provides the running and the tackling. This pairing is yet to find balance too even with the shift to a back three. Leon Goretzka is another option that is available to the team alongside Florian Neuhaus.
THERE IS VALUE
It must be infuriating for bigtime footballers like Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and even Thomas Muller watching players like Nicho Schulz (who cannot even start at his parent club) getting called to the national team. Hummels is back to his best in Lucien Favre’s back three at Borussia Dortmund and Jerome Boateng is at the heart of a Bayern Munich side that won the Champions League. They still have value to offer. Muller’s irrepressible pressing would also do the leggy midfield a world of good. Yet Germany has to endure banal games with a lack of chemistry palpable. Low can do himself a world of good by calling up good players, who already have a history together and are better than the band he is putting together.
Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner, Leroy Sane, Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, and Luca Waldschmidt is a decent crop of vibrant attacking talent so why not base it on an experienced midfield and defense?
WHAT TO COME?
It has been another international break where the Germans display good incisive football but show fragility in defense. Not like they had been basking in defensive glory, but the Germans aren’t spoilt for top class defenders at the moment – it is surprising seeing them do away with the good ones they have. Niklas Sule looked to be on the path to the top but a long-term injury stalled his progress. Antonio Rudiger also suffered an injury at Chelsea and has been wobbly since his return. So much so that Chelsea and Frank Lampard tried to move him on in the summer window. The experience of the older heads cannot be discounted, they can help this group. Low is throwing valuable points away by ignoring a group of players that are world-class even in decline.
It is surprising that Low still has a job despite his many tactical failings since the World Cup. The Germans need fresh ideas in the tactical department, a defined system, and a more meritocratic approach to calling up players. Germany has world-class players with enough experience to quell the defensive issues, Low needs to call them up.