From bogey ground to bogey team

It’s time to forget about the “annoying” 3-2 defeat against England, and the continuation of the Berlin hoodoo that saw Germany extend their winless record against the Three Lions at the famous old Olympiastadion. In another prestige friendly (or is that pre-Euros warmup?) the Mannschaft now take on Italy, a team that they have continually struggled against. Once can say that the challenge no longer involve a bogey ground, but a bogey team.

Germany’s tournament record against Italy is well known, and has been covered at length both here and elsewhere. The two most recent tournament defeats have been particularly painful; there was the World Cup semi-final in 2006, when “Fortress Dortmund” was overrun by the men in blue with two last-minute extra-time strikes, and another semi-final at the Euros in Warsaw six years later, when a highly-favoured German team threw their tactics out of the window in falling by the odd goal in three against an Italian side inspired by temperamental centre-forward Mario Balotelli.

If the German record against Italy in tournament play is dismal (zero wins, four draws and four defeats), their numbers in less-important fixtures are not much better. Their record against the Azzurri sits at seven wins, six draws and eleven defeats, with the last of the positive results coming back in 1995 – when most of the current German squad were still in buggies or attending infant school.

Since that 2-1 win in Zürich (part of a series of matches marking the 100th anniversary of the Swiss Football Federation), the two old rivals have met four times in non-tournament encounters, with Germany’s result reading at zero wins, two draws and two defeats – including the painful 4-1 thrashing in Florence in 2006 that almost resulted in the sacking of Jürgen Klinsmann.

The last two friendly meetings have resulted in 1-1 draws – though in both cases Germany were the better team and should have won at least one of them. But this is Italy, a team that Germany appeared to be pre-programmed to struggle against – even if they are not on form.

Coming into this latest encounter in Munich’s Allianz Arena, Italy’s form is arguably as bad as Germany’s. While Joachim Löw’s side have suffered defeat in three out of their last four matches, Antonio Conte’s men have failed to register a win in their last three outings – losing 3-1 in Belgium before securing draws with Romania (2-2) and reigning European Champions Spain (1-1).

While it is “just another friendly”, as a warmup this game is as big as it gets. Italy are the team every German side wants to be beat – for obvious reasons – and the Italians will be just as keen to get a result and get their own preparations for the upcoming Euros back on track.

In terms of team news, Sami Khedira is set to lead the team out again (his fourth time as captain) while Manuel Neuer has pulled out of the squad with a stomach bug. The absence of the FC Bayern München ‘keeper means that one of Marc-André ter Stegen or new boys Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp will get the spot between the sticks.

While Barcelona’s ter Stegen is the only one of the three with previous international experience, the form guide is pointing to the twenty-five year old Trapp, who has been in fine form for French champions Paris St. Germain this season.

There are likely to be more changes made to the defensive unit as the Nationaltrainer continues to look for the right formula. Emre Can is favourite to make way at right-back for Matthias Ginter, and Shkodran Mustafi looks set to join Antonio Rüdiger in the centre of the defence in the absence of Mats Hummels.

If Sebastian Rudy gets a start, he is likely to slot in at right-back while the versatile Ginter switches across to the left in place of Jonas Hector. Just in front of the defence, skipper Khedira and Toni Kroos look set to start again.

Looking further up the field, Mario Götze is set to start – winning his fiftieth international cap – and perhaps the biggest question is where he is going to fit into the starting eleven. Is he going to be given a midfield role, or will he take up a “false nine” position with Mario Gómez on the bench? If so, this would be particularly unfair on Gómez given that he was Germany’s best player by a considerable distance against England.

The decision to play one or both of the Marios will have a massive influence on the shape and style of the forward unit. If both start, Götze will in all likelihood start in the centre of the pitch with Thomas Müller and Marco Reus out on the flanks and Mesut Özil on the bench. However, if Götze is picked instead of Gómez – not my choice given Gómez’s excellent form and my preference for a traditional number nine, but more than likely the coach’s – he will start up front, with the same midfield trio that started against England.

After this evening’s friendly, there are just two more warm-up matches against Slovakia and Hungary (both at home) before the Euros. Before then, Jogi Löw will have named his final twenty-three who will be on the plane (or train) to France.

From bogey ground to bogey team
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