Many observers and commentators have been sceptical about the new-fangled UEFA Nations League, but for Germany these matches have become more important than ever. After the summer’s failure in the World Cup, there is a desperate need for team to rediscover their form and strength. While the worst memories of Russia 2018 are slowly starting to fade, much of the fallout still remains.
Key players are badly out of form, and once again there has been a slew of mysterious injuries. Picking an international squad immediately before a round of domestic fixtures always carries a risk, but there is a strange atmosphere surrounding the Nationalmannschaft in the lead up to the two away fixtures against the Netherlands and France.
Having started last week with a full squad of 23 players, Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw now has 21. With five players having dropped out, the German coach felt that not all of them needed replacing. Or perhaps what was left was not good enough.
Having decided to stay on in the hot seat, the pressure is firmly on the Maharishi Jogi. Many of the the coach’s old critics have resurfaced, including Michael Ballack. The former team captain makes plenty of solid points, and it is now up to the coach to get his team to deliver. Should he fail, it could be the beginning of the end of an era.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) October 11, 2018
First, the goalkeepers. This is an area where Germany remain strong. As soon as Eintracht Frankfurt ‘keeper Kevin Trapp withdrew with an undisclosed ailment, Arsenal’s Bernd Leno was brought back into the fold. His chances of playing are close to zero, but it is all about the pecking order behind Manuel Neuer.
The former Leverkusen Torhüter has only played five times for the Gunners since his summer move to the Premier League, but appears to have got a lucky break at the expense of Petr Čech. Until the Czech veteran injured himself against Fulham, Leno was destined to be Arsenal’s cup tie specialist.
The defence, in stark contrast, is a bit of a mess. On paper, there is enough in Löw’s locker, but as far as current form is concerned there is not much to speak of. With the withdrawal of Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger, the Nationaltrainer has just eight specialist defenders to choose from.
FC Bayern München’s Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels would be any coach’s dream pairing, but neither player has set the world on fire this season. Or for a good while, for that matter. Hummels is unhappy with his being pushed to the fringes by Bayern coach Niko Kovač, while Boateng has had a series of horrible, error-ridden moments. Are these two really the guys to take on the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé?
1. FC Köln’s Jonas Hector is clearly Germany’s most experienced left-back, but playing the likes of Arminia Bielefeld and MSV Duisburg in the 2. Bundesliga is hardly the best preparation for taking on high-calibre international opposition. Niklas Süle has bags of promise and will surely add to his thirteen international caps, but has been in and out of the Bayern team this season.
Then we have the two players with one cap each. Nico Schulz is dependable and versatile, but – at the moment at least – nowhere close to being world class. 22-year-old Thilo Kehrer is another rising star, but like many others is not a fixture at his club. Since signing for PSG in the summer, the former Schalke 04 man has played most his matches off the bench. Not ideal.
The one positive after the last round of matches was Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Matthias Ginter, who delivered a solid show against France in Munich. The problem is whether he can repeat the trick on a more consistent basis.
Moving Joshua Kimmich from right-back to the defensive midfield has taken a big chunk out of already weak defensive unit, and we may well see the FC Bayern youngster shift back at some point. But not for now.
Germany’s midfield is packed with talent, but again we have a mix of experienced players who are badly out of form and inexperienced players who cannot get a run for their clubs. This is where where injuries have struck the worst, with Marco Reus, Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz all pulling out for some medical reason or another. The loss of three sees the arrival of two, in the form of Serge Gnabry and Emre Can.
While all current factors are taken into account, nobody really stands out from the crowd. The loss of Reus, who is in form for an in-form Borussia Dortmund, is a major loss, as is Havertz, who has been one consistently bright spark in a Leverkusen side that has made a stuttering start to the season.
As well as FC Bayern stalwart Kimmich, Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt has played in all of his club’s matches this season, and is one of the few who is close to any sort of decent form. After a slow start, RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner also appears to be picking up the pace.
Elsewhere, there are issues.
Julian Draxler has finally managed to get some starts for PSG this season, but has never really been fully fit. Toni Kroos is a seasoned performer, but his Real Madrid side have made a particularly poor start to the season. Then there is Thomas Müller, a player who has struggled for consistency for a while.
These are the more experienced players.
As for the rest, the majority have been on the fringes for their clubs. One of the players of the season in 2017/18, Manchester City’s Leroy Sané has been anything but a permanent fixture this term.
Emre Can has played in all of Juventus’ matches this season, but has played out a full ninety minutes just once. Serge Gnabry has spent most of this season on the bench in Munich.
The story has been even less pretty for the two Schalke 04 players in the squad. Sebastian Rudy has struggled to get into the starting eleven in Gelsenkirchen since his summer move from FC Bayern, while new boy Mark Uth has not even hit the target for die Königsblauen.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) October 10, 2018
Nothing against Uth, who had a great 2017/18 with Hoffenheim, but his selection pretty much sums up the problems faced by the German coach. With no other strikers available, he has picked a player who has drawn a complete blank all season. Ten matches, with just one solitary assist.
Time to roll the dice
Perhaps it is time for Jogi to roll the dice. Forget old methods, and take the game to the opposition. Fight fire with fire. Throw in the new boys, and see how they go. Forget the stale old tactics. Try to kill the French and the Dutch with pace. Gnabry and Sané on the wings, Werner up top, potential Klose-clone Uth playing a link role, and the busy Brandt given the role of playmaker.
Who knows, it may all come together. Or simply crash and burn.
The time is ripe for getting rid of some or all of the old rolling stock, and putting more faith in the younger players. What we want to see next is more integration with the Under-21 and Under-20 squads. Throw these guys into the mix and see how they do. The result can really be no worse than what we saw in Russia, or for most of the last friendly against Peru.
If I have criticised Löw for gambling too much in the past, I am giving him a free pass now.