I t doesn’t feel right to enter a World Cup without Germany being amongst the favourites. Many speculators have rarely mentioned Germany chances during the build up of the tournament, such is the position Die Mannschaft are in at the moment. This may be a blessing in disguise. A free hit for new manager Hansi Flick to build the foundations for future tournaments with a new core of German talents coming through.
Hansi Flick is an interesting coach. After spending numerous years as Joachim Löw #2 for both club and country, also undertaking a variety of other roles in football like German Sporting Director, he finally went out on his own, taking the reins at Bayern Munich after the sacking of manager Niko Kovac. What followed was an incredible treble, which saw Bayern deploy an incredibly aggressive playstyle. Looking to press high up the pitch with the highest of high lines, it was football’s rendition of reckless abandon. Flick went on to win all the trophies available in a matter of 12 months and became one of Bayern’s most decorated managers overnight. What is quite unique and somewhat strange about Flick is his lack of wanting to stay at Bayern. By April 2021, 18 months after his appointment, Flick wanted out and was already eyeing his dream job, Germany national team manager.
In the short time Flick has been at the national team, he’s overseen a general improvement in the atmosphere amongst the German’s. They breezed through World Cup Qualifying, which saw the introduction of new talents to the side and some much needed fresh ideas with Flick’s switch from Löw’s lacklustre tactics to the swashbuckling football seen under his Bayern side.
Despite a promising start, Germany’s recent form in the Nations League has been underwhelming. With only 2 wins in the last 8 games, many of them playing out as 1-1 draws, the feelgood factor of a new manager that Flick has brought has started to wear off. This isn’t necessarily a bad sign but just an indication of where Germany are at in their development cycle. This tournament could very much be played with training wheels on.
Hansi Flick has moved Germany on from Löw disastrous 3-4-3 experiment, using the 4-2-3-1 nearly exclusively. Germany deployed a 3-4-3 against England in the Nations League, so it’s still a tactical weapon they can use, should they want to go like-for-like with the opposition. Flick has also continued his Bayern tendencies of playing narrow playmakers, with bombing fullbacks eitherside.
Intensity of Press/Shape
Germany likes to be extremely assertive in the press. Expect them to be the most aggressive team at the World Cup without the ball, with winning the ball back as quick as possible being a core tenant to their style of play. They tend to engage the opposition high up the pitch and the defensive line follows, as to compress the playing space. This means Germany will also be one of the teams with the highest defensive line.
In defensive transitions, Germany will counter-press, rather than holding their shape. Often the player’s will circle round the ball winner, like hawks, forcing rushed and inaccurate passes. This causes chaos in the opposition's ability to build efficient counter-attacking opportunities. Other teams will have to be confident on the ball, otherwise they’ll get swallowed up by the German pressing machine. A weakness in this structure is that in chaotic situations like a corner or free kick, where the players positions are shuffled, Germany’s press can be bypassed much easier, leaving them vulnerable at the back. Given set pieces are ever present across 90 minutes, the Germans may want to indulge in the dark arts to avoid being caught out.
Aerially, Germany is dominant across the board. Niklas Süle, Nico Schlotterbeck, Matthias Ginter and Antonio Rudigar rarely lose a battle in the air. David Raum and Lukas Klostermann are also very respectable at full back. Further forward they have the likes of Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz, both of which can provide enough cover on set pieces, ensuring Germany are one of the more superior teams in the tournament with respect to their aerial ability.
On the ball, the defenders are solid. Schlotterbeck is the most accomplished defender on the ball, with the ability to drive with it forward and be progressive in his passing. Rudiger is similar in this regard, albeit less efficient with his touches being clunky at times. Süle, Ginter and Raum are also comfortable with the ball and will help get Germany up the pitch. On the other hand, players like Thilo Kehrer and Klostermann aren’t as comfortable on the ball. Considering both could be likely to start for Germany, it could impact them in the build up.
The goalkeeping position is stacked for Germany. Legendary goalie Manuel Neuer is both Germany’s #1 but captain and leader on the pitch. His ability to command his box, sweep and elite shot stopping ability still means he’s still one of the top goalkeepers in the world. Backing him up are Marc-André ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp, both great keepers in their own right and who will provide solid cover in case of an injury. All three goalkeepers are adept with their feet and so can all support the short passing build up Flick demands of them.
With Flick favouring a back four but Germany having many players suited to a back three, there is definitely a debate as to who is the best personnel for the defence. At centre back, Flick has rotated between Schlotterbeck, Süle and Rudiger.
On Rudiger, he is the most experienced of all the defenders but still at the age 29 is in his peak period. Rugider is better off deployed as a wide centre back, where he has the freedom to bring the ball forward. His mobility will be important for Germany’s ability to deploy a high line. Furthermore, if caught in transition, Rugider has great recovery pace to disrupt a fast counter attack. Where Rugider can be unstuck is in the penalty box. He’s most always the best at picking up the attackers’ run and elite level strikers will take advantage of this.
With him, Süle is likely to be his CB partner and is also blessed with having incredible pace, despite being an absolute unit of a defender. Similar to Rudiger, he is comfortable with the ball and will give Germany a good foundation to play out of defence. It will be interesting to see how he fairs against nippy dribblers. While he is rapid in the straight line, he’s not got the quickest turning circle and could be outdone by players good with their feet.
It’s not entirely clear whether Nico Schlotterbeck will start but if he does, he would give Germany a good level of forward thrust from defence. Nominally a wide centre back, Schlotterbeck has been getting to grips playing in a back four for Dortmund this season and that should put him in good stead come the World Cup. He excels at dribbling and progressively passing the ball into dangerous areas from defence. He is also very strong in the air and has good mobility, both of which will aid the high line Germany will deploy in Qatar. What may hold him back is his tendency to be overaggressive with his tackling and overindulging in his ability on the ball. This is probably why he is likely to be on the bench to start the tournament, with Flick favouring the more experienced duo of Rudiger and Süle.
Left back is a position that is certain to the Raum’s for the tournament, with Christian Günter unlikely to trouble his place in the team. Raum is a marauding full back who loves an overlap and delivering early crosses into the box. This ability to take up deeper crossing positions is a great tool to break down low blocks. Defensively, Raum is active in terms of being aggressive in the tackle but it’s an area of strength for him.
On the contrary, right back is far from a certainty. It’s a position up for grabs between Thilo Kehrer, Lukas Klostermann and potentially the converted winger, Jonas Hofmann. Starting with Kehrer, he is a very average defender, not offering much in terms of going forward or backwards. Expect him to be targeted if he starts for Germany. Klostermann, whilst defensively better than Kehrer, is again a weakness for Germany. He possesses incredible recovery pace but isn’t a fantastic defender 1v1. This is why there’s a great chance that Hofmann will be preferred over the other two defenders. Hofmann, who is naturally a winger, will bring some much needed skill on the ball for the Germans. Defensively, he’s not a world beater but relative to his competition at right back is good enough to merit a starting berth.
Elsewhere, Germany don’t have many options. Ginter is a solid CB who boasts a decent amount of international experience but is unlikely to get in over the three main options Germany have at centre back. Armel Bella-Kotchap is the youngest of all the defenders at the tender age of 20. He’s also arguably the most athletic CB in this Germany side. Built like a tank, he’s an aggressive but clean defender, who can cover the channels as well. However, on the back foot, he is very suspect at the moment. In transitions, he can get caught out with his poor positioning and lack of awareness of which runs to pick up, leaving him in no man's land. Currently, he is too focused on what’s ahead of him and not behind. This is why the World Cup should serve as a learning experience, rather than an opportunity to start.
Expect to see... Sule and Rudiger take the central berths, with either Hoffman/Klostermann down the right and Raum favoured down the left.
With the ball, Germany are one of the most possession orientated sides in the World. This carries true for games against other elite sides as the Germans like to dominate proceedings. Despite this, Germany struggle to break down teams that sit off them and it often exposes their, at times, lifeless sequences of passes.
Often, we assume that a team who dominates possession is most likely the more technical side also. Whilst Germany do boast a great level of skill on the ball, a lot of the time their possession numbers are due to their ability to win the ball, not necessarily their prowess with it. This was evident in their struggle to break down some of the elite sides in the Nations League. Furthermore, Germany aren’t the most fluid and dynamic side in possession. Unlike the Dutch, whose midfield rotate constantly looking for space to receive and pass, Germany are very static in possession. Their rigid system means that the ball isn’t progressing fast enough to take advantage of any potential gaps in the opposition. There’s such a contrast to how fluid they are in transition. On the counter, Germany can play fast, free-flowing, one-touch football but we don’t see that once the opposition defence is set. Their current structure may be simple and effective against lower sides but against the elite, they need something more.
At the heart of the midfield is their linchpin, Joshua Kimmich. Both defensively combative and possessionally brilliant, Kimmich will be tasked with running the game for Germany. Without the ball, he has a penchant for intercepting the ball and will be key for Germany in their counter pressing. The World Cup presents a chance for Kimmich to shine as Germany’s standout player, an opportunity that previously hasn’t been available to him, being relegated to playing as a fullback or wing back.
Alongside Kimmich is likely to be Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan. He will offer an extra threat going forward compared to Kimmich and together they’re a solid partnership to keep the play ticking over. The one drawback is that, if Gundogan isn’t aggressive enough getting forward, both him and Kimmich end up doing the same job. Both can take up similar positions on the pitch and while that gives Germany a constant numerical advantage in the midfield of the park, it’s unnecessary. Add to that the fact that there’s not much positional roaming from other players, the possession phase can be very predictable and stale.
Goretzka would be a great option for Germany to add physicality and dynamism in the midfield. In place of Gundogan, he would provide an extra thrust going forward, allowing Kimmich the space to run the build up phase. Gortezka is also adept at getting on the ball, so can help out Kimmich if he’s being overrun in midfield. Furthermore, Gortezka’s aerial prowess would benefit Germany’s counter press, whether that be winning possession or heading opponent clearances back from where they came.
Outside of these options, Germany doesn't have many other choices. Flick’s decision to only take three central midfielders means, whilst they boast incredible quality, they lack options beyond that. Many of their other midfield options are attacking players, expected to contribute in the final third and not necessarily in the first two. Mario Götze could work as part of a midfield three but Flick is unlikely to make any drastic changes.
Expect… Kimmich to be a certain starter and initially paired up with Gundogan - although we hope to see Goretska back in the lineup.
With the 4-2-3-1, Germany can boast a presence on both wings but this is very dependent on the personnel they deploy, especially at fullback. With a mix of attacking and defensive right backs, it will be interesting what combination of wide players Flick with favour.
This potentially an area of weakness for the Germans, as Flick will be looking for the right full back to complement Serge Gnabry. The latter is a fantastic winger, who can go down the line or cut in on his left foot. What is underrated about Gnabry is his footballing IQ and timing of when to pass and when to dribble. Since he’s a player that prefers the ball being played to feet, he should be a constant fixture in the wide areas for Germany. Furthermore, this playstyle means that Flick will benefit from picking a full back that is aggressive on the overlap. This may be the reason Hofmann has been tried out at right back. Being a natural winger means Flick can replicate the desired effect of having an overlapping right back, despite not having.
The stronger of the two sides, Germany’s left is held down by the presence of Leroy Sané and David Raum. The former, despite being out for the opening game, will be an important presence for Germans. With a lack of a striker, Germany will be reliant on Sané’s verticality to have any level of penetration, especially if they are starting the likes of Havertz as a false nine. Furthermore, Sané at times can be a one man wrecking crew in the transition, which is handy for a team that excels in counter-pressing. One worry with Sané is his tendency to play so narrow. He’s a far cry from the nimble, touchline hugging winger from his City days.
However, this is mitigated by the presence of Raum at LB. The 24 year old will provide much of the width for Germany on the left hand side. With Sané tucking in, Raum is afforded the space to own the left flank. His crossing ability, especially from the deeper positions will give the Germans a deep ball threat to push the opposition back. Should a proper #9 like Fullkrug start, Raum’s delivery could prove to be a fruitful tactic to exploit. However, without a recognised striker or at least someone who will lead the line, these crosses could go to waste.
Expect... Musiala to feature from the left or Sane if he is fit, and expect Gnabry to take the right flank slot (or possibly Sane).
In the final third, Germany boast a good range of top tier creative players, especially at #10. Should Kimmich and Gundogan be chosen as the preferred midfield duo, then the creative onus will be on the attacking midfielders to provide the spark in the final third.
A man who needs no introduction is the legendary Thomas Müller. What may be his last World Cup, Müller sits on 10 goals and will be looking to add to that to cement his place in the illustration history of the tournament. We know about Müller’s legendary off the ball movement but what is often underrated about Müller is his creativity in the final third. He may not be the flashiest passer, but due to his incredible footballing IQ, he always gives the right pass at the right moment. This has variety as well, whether a cutback, cross or through ball.
Despite all these qualities, Müller is likely to find himself benched for the brilliant talent that is Jamal Musiala. The former Chelsea academy player made his home in Bayern, making his debut in 2020, aged 17 and now his meteoric rise has seen him ascend to the one of the first names on the sheet for the national side. His enormous confidence will set him apart from the other wonderkids in the tournament. Expect Musiala’s magical dribbling and off the ball movement to have a profound impact on Germany’s success in the final third. Although his passing isn’t fantastic, his best game is geared towards assists and goals. Furthermore, his workrate is an important part of Germany’s high press.
It’s come full circle for Mario Götze, who’s injury laden career has relegated the once wonderkid to a forgotten man. After moving Frankfurt, after a two-year stint for PSV, he has managed to sneak his way back into the national side. While nowhere near the level that saw him be winning goalscorer for the Germans in the 2014 World Cup Final, he still has a fantastic creative mind and can serve as an extra creative body off the bench should Germany be in search of a goal.
Kai Havertz may well be deployed as a striker but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a creative impact on the side. Havertz has an excellent footballing IQ and, like Müller, his attacking movement can give teammates space for others to run into. Technically gifted when playing in tight spaces, Havertz can also excel at being a backboard to bounce the ball off when deployed as a false nine. He’s not a dribbler, so is unlikely to drive past players and be that focal point for Germany, but as long as he has runners off him, Havertz should have a good World Cup.
Elsewhere, Germany can find creative elements from their wide players, especially Sané and Gnabry, both of which have fantastic dribbling that can take defenders out of the play. Julian Brandt is another, technically gifted player, who’s one touch playing ability could be very handy in scenarios where the opponent is sitting deep, plugging most of the available gaps. Goretzka and Gundogan from midfield can provide some level of creative threat from deep, but this depends entirely on how aggressive Germany wants to play in possession.
Expect… Havertz to drop deep and be the main source of creation whether he is at number 10 or as the false 9.
Definitely the weakest area of the squad, it will be interesting to see how Flick approaches this headache. Werner’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time and leaves a gargantuan sized hole up front.
In past games, Kai Havertz has been favoured as the striker whenever Werner hasn’t started. His excellent movement will mean that he can be a constant thorn in the opposition but only if Havertz is willing to be more vertical than he is for Chelsea. At times, Havertz can be caught behind the play, so when the ball is ready to arrive in the box, he’s nowhere to be seen. This can be frustrating, as when he is in the box, his aerial ability and shooting ability can do some serious damage.
Nicals Füllkrug has timed being in the form of his life to perfection. Werner’s vacant space has meant Germany are in desperate need for a new #9 and what better story than a chance for a 1 cap 1 goal 29 year old to become a national hero. Starring for newly promoted Werder Bremen, Füllkrug is a proper number nine, who will be a battering ram for the Germans. He’s an absolute demon in the air, and with players like Raum capable of delivering a quality ball into the box, Fullkrug should be on hand to cause chaos for the backline. Whether it’s a shot on goal or a knockdown, Fullkrug could potentially be Germany’s Giroud.
Backing up the aforementioned players are the youngsters Karim Adeyemi and Youssoufa Moukoko. Adeyemi is incredibly fast and a strong dribbler. He can carry transitional attacks as an advanced forward. Like a cruise missile, he loves to constantly run in behind and spearhead attacks. The drawbacks with Adeyemi, is due to his speed, his feet can sometimes move faster than his head. This often makes him look clunky in possession, especially his first touch. Furthermore, despite having a rocket shot, his shooting can be erratic and isn’t at an elite level yet.
Having said all of this, he still provides an interesting end-game option. Moukoko, similar to Adeyemi, is an advanced forward who can spearhead attacks. Where he differs from Adeyemi, is his shooting prowess and the sheer volume of shots he gets off. Furthermore, his range is tremendous, with the ability to shoot off both feet. The only worry is that because he’s so young, this tournament may be a bit early for him. He looked nervous the other day against Oman, and the last thing you want to do is throw an 18 year old into the world spotlight, with the weight of a nation on his young shoulders.
Expect… Havertz to be tried in the first instance and perhaps Fulkrug utilised as the main alternative. Moukoko as a wildcard option.
Defences win championships and as we have seen with Argentina, a less than stellar defence tends to not handle the pressure of World Cup Football. As much as we like Rudiger, we see him as a 'secondary' defender and not a primary centre back in the mould of a Van Dijk in his prime. Full backs wise this is a far cry from a German side which has a history of players like Vogts, Breitner, Brehme and Lahm.
The attack on paper (ignoring the striker position) looks top class but is Muller slightly over the hill? Is Havertz still finding his way, is Gnabry the same player he was a few seasons back? arguably the only player on the up is Jamal Musiala. We are also unsure of the 'legs' in midfield, and a Gundo-Kimmich double pivot doesn't look convincing.
Verdict: Round of 16/Quarter Finals