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Five observations from Germany’s 1-0 opening game loss to France

All the expected flaws in the German system came back to haunt Joachim Low.

France v Germany - UEFA Euro 2020: Group F Photo by Markus Gilliar/Getty Images

Germany’s midfield experiment falls well short

Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan are both great midfielders, but it’s painfully apparent that they can’t be in a pivot together. Joachim Low probably thought that starting the duo would help the Germans control the midfield against their French counterparts, but it backfired spectacularly.

While Kroos and Gundo often enjoyed a lot of time on the ball, they were completely unable to link offense and defense. France allowed the Germans to have safe possession in the first two thirds of the pitch, and then quickly bullied them off the ball once it entered their third. Deschamps congested the play around the French box so that Kroos and Gundo were unable to find any passes to the attack, while players like Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante quickly dispossessed the German midfielders to launch counterattacks that left the defense exposed.

It’s back to the drawing board for Joachim Low. This midfield can’t work — it shouldn’t be used again. If Leon Goretzka stays injured, give Florian Neuhaus another chance. Move Kimmich back centrally and put Niklas Sule at right-back. These were experiments that should’ve been done before the tournament started, but now the coach will have to rush and find a solution before the team kicks off against Portugal.

The back-three still can’t justify its existence

Playing with a 3-4-3 is costing Germany a lot. The formation takes away an extra midfielder and lacks true wingers, meaning you’ve lost the ability to do overlaps in the final third. Add to that extremely sub-par performances by the German wingbacks (especially Robin Gosens, who plays in a back-three with Atalanta at the club level) and you have a tactical system that simply doesn’t justify its tradeoffs.

The defense has not gotten better by adding defenders. Germany cannot keep a clean sheet, even with Manuel Neuer in goal. France were barely aggressive in the final third, but even so Kylian Mbappe took the German defense for a ride. It doesn’t make sense to stick with the back-three considering all its shortcomings. Especially given the next point of concern.

France v Germany - UEFA Euro 2020: Group F Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Offensive problems come back to haunt Germany in the final third

Three attackers isn’t cutting it for Germany. Yes, Kai Havertz had an uncharacteristically poor game. Yes, Thomas Muller could’ve done more. Yes, Serge Gnabry should’ve converted that one chance he got. But still, Germany can barely create anything.

The offensive phase is so disjointed, it’s hard to know where to begin. The crossing is trash, the through balls are slow and inaccurate. There’s no team chemistry and the attackers are always outnumbered in the box. People keep saying that someone like a Robert Lewandowski would fix this German offense, but it’s not that simple. The basics just aren’t going right at the moment. The midfield and fullbacks barely offer any support, and the passing isn’t up to snuff. Meanwhile, all the forwards seem to be in a funk — completely different to their club form. Joachim Low simply cannot harness this group of players. It’s worrying to watch.

France don’t play like a superstar team

While they have loads of attacking talent, France don’t play the way their reputation suggests. Against Germany, Deschamps adopted an extremely conservative setup, and the French team didn’t really do much to bring the hammer down when Germany were listing. The 2018 World Cup champions almost played like they were the underdogs — letting Germany have the possession, occasionally probing with counters, but prioritizing defensive stability above all.

The scoreline makes it look like an even game, but honestly France didn’t give Germany a chance. Low was comprehensively out-coached. Maybe a more courageous manager than Deschamps would have squeezed a drubbing out of this game, but it’s clear that the French team cares more about winning than notching up big scorelines. The Germans on the other hand ... it’s hard to see where the priorities lie.

Germany don’t play like a German team

Germany can’t get anything right at the moment. The team is unrecognizable to anyone who follows these players at club level. Where is the gegenpressing? The positional play? Overlapping runs? Why is the passing so haphazard? Why can’t the team create any chances?

This squad has no identity at the moment, and it’s hard to say whether Low can salvage it. He had a working blueprint with the Bayern Munich players on his roster, but wasted it. Now, it’s the middle of a tournament, and he faces the prospect of another course-correction with no prior setup. It’s really not looking good for the Germans.

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