Germany entered UEFA Euro 2016 edition full of confidence as reigning World Cup champions and cruised through the tournament until they meet France in the semi final and from there everything went south. An era which was supposed to bring glory and prosperity to them after their World Cup triumph became a desperate fight for relevancy and survival.
A hard fought victory over a mediocre Italian side in the Euro 2016 quarter final exposed the vulnerability of Joachim Loew’s Germany side, which was feeling the effect of losing stalwarts such as Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger through retirement - three of their biggest big match players. There was also a sense of mental fatigue, having dominated the international scene since 2012 both on the club and international stage.I
n the semi final, France capitalised upon the stagnation at the heart of Germany's campaign. Germany dominated the ball for most of the first half in that semi final but looked impotent without Klose, unable to breach through a very compact French defence. This kept France in the game and a Jerome Boateng mistake in the penalty area led to a France penalty which gave them lead before the first half and a Griezmann goal in the second half sent the Germans packing.
2 years later and Germany were in a transitional state, with the need to integrate younger players into the first team recognised. Players like Kimmich, Werner, Goretzka and Brandt who were tearing it up in Bundesliga were expected to mark the dawn of a new golden era but this ended in a nightmare as defeats to Mexico and South Korea in the group stages meant that the defending champs were out of the tournament in the first round.
Germany were playing attacking football and were creating chances but a lack of a certain striker, a goal scorer meant that those chances always went begging. This was also the case in the UEFA Nations League were they finished bottom of their group and it looked like time was up for Loew. But a change in formation to 5 at the back and the further introduction of new faces caused a little resurgence for Germany and they made it out of their qualifying group with just 1 loss out of 8 games.
Going into this tournament, the German's seem to have regained their sense of self again. Bayern have arguably been the leading club side of the past few years and old heads such as Muller have found a second wind. Players such as Kimmich have blossomed to become leading players in their positions in a global sense and there is belief that this team is deserving of its status as one of the favourites. Let us delve deeper into these claims...
Germany’s squad mainly consists of Bayern Munich players (8 out of 24), most of them being forwards. They have a good mix of youth and experience on their side and most of these have not even hit their prime and are still in their mid 20’s. In midfield they have a wealth of players with Champions League experience, and what at one stage looked an inexperienced attack - now has several players who are Champions League winners.
One lineup could be 3-4-3 which has been used recently by Loew in the recent qualifying games. This also allows players like Gnabry, Werner and Havertz have some free space to operate and also give players like Goretzka and Gundogan who are potent scorers for their clubs some assurance to move forward without worrying much about the back. It also gives them natural width with the two fullbacks moving forward.
Can, Hummels and Rudiger at the back flanked by Gosens on left and Klostermann/Halstenberg on the right who move forward and join the attack at times providing that width. This allows Kimmich to play a little forward and means Gundogan can make those late runs without the fear of getting outnumbered during attack. It does however leave them without a natural defensive midfielder and leaves the back three exposed to central threats.
In this set up, expect to see Muller up front as a false 9, flanked by the likes of Gnabry, Havertz, Werner or Sane. These wider players will be given the freedom to cut in and roam, or run in behind as Muller drops deep. Germany lack a world class centre forward, but the fluidity in their attack will be a sight to behold.
Their alternative lineup is a 4-3-3. Kimmich tucking between two centre backs would provide the defensive stability when the fullbacks push ahead. He would be accompanied by the likes of Goretzka and Gundogan who can bomb forward and get back in equal measure. This would arguably be the most balanced midfield of the tournament.
The issue Germany has with this formation is that they lack a world class left back. Gosens is too attacking to play as a natural full back and they have resorted to using Emre Can here. When you consider the wealth of options England has here, it is disconcerting.
Further afield, Serge Gnabry would replace Werner in this system alongside Havertz as a false 9 and Muller on the left. All 3 of them would change position and play as a striker whenever needed, especially Muller and Havertz exchanging their position at times. Likes of Sane and Werner will also compete for places in the wider roles.
Loew has selected a bunch of experienced defenders. All of them have been around for at least 5-6 years and their experience will come in handy in those close crunch games. They have experience of Mats Hummels whose role would to be lead this defence and hit long passes into the likes of Werner, Sane and Gnabry. Rudiger has been a crucial figure in Tuchel’s defence. If Loew switches to 5 at the back, he can use Rudiger as a false left back to free up Gosens.
Other than that they have Emre Can who has played as a right sided centre back for Dortmund and Germany. This can be helpful in breaking those first line of press without much mess because of his control of possession and passing he has developed playing as a midfielder. He can also fill out at left back in a 4-3-3. Other options Loew has at his disposal is Matthias Ginter (an established figure within the set up) and Christian Gunter.
In the fullback area, Loew has selected wingbacks in Halstenberg, Klostermann and Gosens. With Loew possibly going to 5 at the back, all of these have experience playing as wingbacks for their clubs. This can help Germany possess that natural width on the pitch without pushing players out of their position. On the flip side, if this formation does not work out - Germany will be found wanting defensively in a 4-3-3.
Expect to see... Loew go for 5 at the back with Hummels, Can and Rudiger as the centre backs, flanked by Kloosterman and Gosens.
The one department that Germany and Loew have plenty of options is the creative aspect or more precisely in the 'Regista' role. With the likes of Kroos, Kimmich and Gundogan in the squad they can control and pass between the lines, or create against any side in the world. Most top nations struggle to find one player of this ilk, they have 3.
Kimmich has turned into a prolific goal provider in recent years and even managed to get 14 assists in 33 games, last season for Bayern playing as a defensive mid. He averages 6.5 accurate long balls per game which highlights the fact that teams cannot push forward and maintain high line if Kimmich is playing.
Another important stat is key passes per game which is around 2.5 for Kimmich and it rises up to 3.6 key passes per game if we consider only Champions League stats for this season. These numbers shows that opposition players cannot afford to give Kimmich much time on the ball and that if anything, the bigger the occasion - the more likely he is to want to make his mark on the game.
Kroos' stats are pretty much similar to Kimmich but his accurate long balls per game stat is 8 which is a little higher than Kimmich. His passing % is also higher than Kimmich but it is due to the fact that Kroos takes less risks with his passing than Kimmich does. Another key difference between the two players is that at Real Madrid Kroos is surrounded by Casemiro who gives him extra leisure in the midfield whereas Kimmich has to do defensive duties on his own with Goretzka constantly moving forward.
It’s a tough choice to choose between Kimmich and Kroos, but given Kimmich’s defensive work he might get the nod over Kroos and with 5 at the back it is really difficult to accommodate both of them. One way could be to go with Kimmich at RB and Kroos in the midfield. Kimmich does not favour this role, but has expressed a willingness to play there if asked by Loew.
Goal Scoring Midfielders
Goretzka and Gundogan are really good goal scorers and can make a difference in a losing situation where they can be pushed forward in pursuit of a goal. Goretzka is like a tank built to destroy opposition plays in a strategic way. He has the aerial superiority which also gives him edge while taking set pieces as well as winning those long balls in their own half.
Gundogan brings more stability when it comes to controlling possession and slowly dissecting through opposition defences. His pass completion % is around a staggering 91 in all competitions. He is also one of the players who played a key role in Manchester City’s comeback this season where at one stage they had a run of 21 consecutive wins. Gundogan would score 12 goals in 11 consecutive games.
Expect to see... Kimmich at RB, with Kroos partnered by one of Goretza/Gundogan to begin with. If this does not work, Kimmich will start and Kroos will be sacrificed for Goretzka and Gundogan if they go 4-3-3.
Muller was left out of the Germany squad after the World Cup with the reason being Loew wanted to freshen up the team with new players. He clearly took offence to this and cleansed his soul of any mental fatigue. Cue a mammoth 29 G+A in 31 Bundesliga appearances. He has scored the most amount of goals compared to his squad mates (the next best is Volland who has scored 16 goals in Ligue 1).
Muller's ability to find and exploit spaces in between the lines is incredible, hence the name Raumdeuter or Space Investigator in English. This time he probably has to tuck into the striker position from his usual CAM position at times if they go with Werner or Gnabry as the no. 9. He has to be the leader of this fresh faced attacking unit in international terms. The question is does Loew play Havertz alongside or instead of him?
At one stage, Werner and Havertz probably had one of their worst seasons of their career. But after a rough start under Lampard to their Chelsea life they have had a new lease of life under compatriot Thomas Tuchel. With the tactics and strategy now more aligned to their strengths both ended up being pivotal players in Chelsea's victorious Champions League winning campaign.
Havertz operating as a false 9 can be a great holding player who has the ability to fend off defenders and hold up until help arrives without giving away the ball. He can also bring back glimpses of Mesut Ozil, in the sense that he can roam around and pick out passes which no one else can. At times he has been deployed out wide by Loew in order to keep Muller in the side, but one has to question if that is a viable long term solution.
Tuchel's ability to exploit Werner’s off the ball movement down the left half space has been integral in Chelsea's revival. If Germany play 4-3-3, it is very difficult to see how Werner will thrive as Germany lack any natural left back who bombs forward and holds the width. However in a 3-4-3, Gosens would do this and Werner can focus on the left half space, just as Chilwell did at Chelsea.
Similarly the likes of Gnabry and Sane, were at crossroads in their careers before moves to Bayern resurrected their careers. Gnabry has become one of the most deadly wide forwards in the game, with his express pace and bullish balance, close control and ability to unleash off either foot. Sane is not quite in the same form he was in during his peak City days but is demonstrating greater versatility and is on the cusp of recapturing greatness.
Elsewhere, Kevin Volland's transfer out of Germany to play for Monaco has been instrumental for him and earned him a Germany call up which wouldn’t have been the case if he had stayed at Bayer Leverkusen. He has 16 goals to his name this season and is going to be the target man that this Germany side desperately need if Havertz is injured and they need a Plan C.
Expect to see... Looking at current things it looks like Muller, Gnabry and Havertz would start for Germany in the first game with all of them drifting in and out of the striker position but do not be surprised if further down the tournament it ends up being Werner, Muller or Havertz and Gnabry.
This Germany side is more stronger than their Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 side in midfield and attack. Players who looked wet behind the ears in previous tournaments have now established themselves on the elite stage of European football and some of them will be riding on the back of success at Champions League level.
The issue Germany have however is that their quality and experience is mostly in the final two thirds of the pitch. Defensively they are lacking the star quality and they're still relying on ageing players like Neuer and Hummels to hold it together. At full back, they lack versatility and are at times shoehorning players like Can at left back in order to give them different tactical options.
For this reason, whilst I expect a strong tournament from the German's and some beautiful football - they may come up short against a fellow powerhouse. I can see them getting to the semis or the final, but would not be surprised if they fell once again to a France whose attack may prove too much for their backline.