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Four observations from Germany’s 6-1 demolition of Northern Ireland

Germany’s inexperienced and injury-hit squad performed to near perfection as they advanced to Euro 2020 as group winners behind Bayern players Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka. What does that mean for Germany’s chances?

Germany v Northern Ireland - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Serge Gnabry is world class

Bayern Munich’s stellar winger has transformed into an amazing all-out-attacking player over the past year. Gnabry was almost perfect against Northern Ireland, scoring three goals, and each one of them shone like the star he is. The first was a lovely touch-and-turn followed by a powerful shot into the top corner. The second was another lovely touch and a precise arrowed finish into the bottom corner. His final goal was a result of his resilient dribbling, shaking off a Northern Irish defender even though he was off balance, and smoothly sliding the ball home. Gnabry’s touch and finishing have improved dramatically in his first season at Bayern, and it definitely showed today.

Gnabry’s attacking flair was not the only thing on show, however. According to Whoscored, Gnabry played 42 passes with a 95.5% success rate, opening up attacking channels for his teammates. This might be a tad early to say, but playing Gnabry as a false 9, as Jogi Löw did today, may not be the worst idea. Wherever Gnabry plays, he delivers for both club and country, and hopefully he can keep doing that for as long as he’s on the pitch.

A Kroos-Kimmich-Gundogan midfield is surprisingly effective

Germany played the same midfield in their last two games, and both times, that setup worked wonders. On paper, it may have raised eyebrows. Three central midfielders who are known more for their ball-playing abilities than their aggressiveness? As modern football has proven countless times, simply playing the ball in midfield is no longer enough, especially as midfield pressing has become ever more prominent. However, what fans saw in Germany’s midfield against Belarus and Northern Ireland was a healthy mix of passing and pressing.

Joshua Kimmich has developed well while playing in midfield under Niko Kovac and Hansi Flick, being as much a defensive presence as an offensive one. His pressing was spot on in the Rückrunde last season while playing alongside either Thiago or Leon Goretzka, and he came back to life in Bayern’s last two games against Olympiacos and Borussia Dortmund. Because of this, both Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gündogan were able to advance further forward without worrying about getting caught on the counter as they did at the World Cup last summer. Playing in a freer midfield role, Kroos was able to play some outstanding passes forward, which resulted in a fair few goals.

The only change that I would make in said midfield is probably Gündogan, considering the number of passes he missed passes today, but who am I to judge for one game, right? The bottom line is that this midfield could be the key to a winning formula.

Fullbacks are so important in modern football

Trent Alexander-Arnold. Andy Robertson. Joshua Kimmich. David Alaba. A few years back, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo. Hey, a few more years back, Philipp Lahm. There is no doubting the importance of the fullback position in the modern game. Without quality fullbacks, a team has considerably less chance of building up any sort of attack down the flanks, which is crucial due to the chaos in central midfield nowadays. Thankfully, Germany’s fullbacks have shown that they can deliver and that the fans should not worry too much about wasting Kimmich’s talent in midfield.

Lukas Klostermann and Jonas Hector were outstanding going back and forth today. Both players were rarely caught out, a common mistake among inexperienced full backs. Not only was their defensive work on point, but their attacking was vital to Germany’s win. With three assists between them both (one for Klostermann, two for Hector), Germany’s fullbacks contributed their fair share to today’s victory. Considering the fact that Nico Schulz and Marcel Halstenberg, two other very prolific fullbacks, are also available for selection, it is safe to say that Germany is, well, safe in that department. Since quality full backs are hard to come by nowadays, that is highly encouraging.

Germany are still not favorites for Euro 2020

Despite a nearly perfect record in a tough qualifying group, it is too soon to say whether Germany will perform well at next year’s tournament. Yes, they beat the Netherlands in their own backyard, they only conceded one goal against their other three opponents in six games, they maintained a 100% winning record away from home — but really, the process was not exactly smooth. Narrow wins in Belfast and a ten-man scare in Tallin, not to mention the Dutch drubbing in Hamburg, highlighted Die Mannschaft’s shortcomings.

The final tournament will be even more difficult. Germany could face the likes of France, Poland, Switzerland, and Croatia in their group, with the possible inclusion of Portugal, Sweden, or Wales among others. Even though Germany will play all three group games at home (in our very own Allianz Arena), it will be an uphill struggle. Germany are out to prove they are still here after the 2018 World Cup debacle and have a talented, albeit inexperienced squad. Germany will probably face their most challenging international tournament in the 21st century, and the normal expectations of reaching the semifinals, let alone the final, will be going way out the window.

But then again, this team has nothing but motivation, and not much to lose yet. It remains to be seen how well Germany’s up-and-coming stars will perform on the biggest stage. Who knows? Maybe they’ll give us a pleasant surprise. After all, this is football. Weirder things have happened.

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