Germany was everything between dismal and brilliant; even when on the front foot, they looked out of ideas against France; the same lackluster Germany appeared against Hungary but managed to find a way to qualify. In the middle, they had a marquee performance against Portugal, a win which saw them qualify in second in Group F.
I have rarely been so unsure going into a Germany match as I am ahead of their tie against England. Joachim Löw was forced to change things in the last half hour against Hungary to go through — the question now is whether he will stick to some of those changes.
Either way, here are five things we learned from the group stages:
Leon Goretzka needs to start; he is the key
It was a difficult choice for Bayern Munich fans this season to decide whether Joshua Kimmich or Leon Goretzka is more important to the success of the Bavarians. Bayern felt Goretzka’s absence in some vital games when he was out; apparently, so did Germany.
When Goretzka came on at a time in the game against Portugal when the game had gone stale, he instantly injected strength into the attack. Goretzka’s physicality, positional sense, ability to play box-to-box when needed and most importantly, ability to shoot and find the target from literally anywhere on the pitch mean he is the key to Germany moving forward in the tournament.
Goretzka is the key to turn a stale offense into a dynamic one. The group stage proved this; if they are to move forward, Goretzka must play!
Thomas Müller’s and Jamal Musiala’s stocks continued to rise
In stadiums which are not fully packed, Müller’s voice and coaching abilities are more apparent than ever. Against Portugal, he was directing Robin Gosens and Kai Havertz. Against Hungary, he was in discussions with a coach who unceremoniously threw him out of the national team, about the events on the pitch; eventually, that coach had to send him out to the pitch to have an impact. Müller wasn’t match-fit for this game and yet, he managed to direct matters on the pitch.
As for Jamal Musiala, after having been left out of the squad altogether, he got his chance yesterday, and, my goodness, in ten minutes, he did what all of Leroy Sané, Kai Havertz (despite the goal) and Serge Gnabry did in all of their time on the pitch together. I doubt Löw will start the youngster against England; however, he is miles better than the wing options Löw has available to him currently, at least judging by current form.
The jury is still out on 3-4-3 (and Robin Gosens)
The 3-4-3 limits Joshua Kimmich, who seems unsure about how to play as a wingback; the formation leaves the back three isolated; this formation does not use Thomas Müller’s best strengths; the attackers are not able to play in the manner in which they can in a 4-5-1. Everyone is unsure — the team seems slow and labored. It worked against Portugal; but it might not work moving forward.
This also brings up Robin Gosens who had a great performance and two very abject performances. However, he seems to be a favorite of the coach and maybe, the 3-4-3 will stand because Löw must play Gosens for a reason unbeknownst to the fans.
From where I am standing, a switch to a 4-5-1 is sorely needed right away.
There are huge question marks surrounding Germany’s young attackers
What has happened to Serge Gnabry, the same Gnabry who combined with Robert Lewandowski in the 2019/2020 season to form the most deadly Champions League duo over a single season of all time?
What has happened to Sané, a high profile transfer to Bayern Munich and once upon a time, the PFA Young Player of the Year in England for Manchester City?
What has happened to Kai Havertz, a star at Bayer Leverkusen in the 2019/2020 season?
What has happened to Timo Werner, a number nine who once tore up defenses as a part of RB Leipzig?
How can everyone be out of form at the same time? Perhaps, the answer is simply that is has been an extremely long season impacted by COVID-19; but something is really wrong. Havertz has a few goals to his name but his performances have seemed languid. Gnabry and Havertz both had one high quality game and that was against Portugal. They became their lackluster selves again against Hungary.
How can Joachim Löw fix this?
Joachim Löw got it wrong, but also got it right
I have been very critical of Joachim Löw to date; however, he did get a few things right so far. Firstly, swallowing his pride and inviting the Raumdeuter back has reaped rewards so far; Müller’s voice and coaching ability has been vital to Germany so far.
Secondly, Löw got it right against Portugal; Nelson Semedo was there to be exploited and Germany did so repeatedly. The 3-4-3 was appropriate for that match. Bringing on Leon Goretzka and throwing every attacker, especially Musiala, on against Hungary, thirdly, was brave but necessary and it paid off. I think sticking to Matthias Ginter and Mats Hummels due to the former’s solidity and the latter’s ball-playing abilities are also correct decisions.
At the same time, the stubbornness to stick to a 3-4-3 which does not benefit his players, the stubbornness to stick with Joshua Kimmich as a wingback and instead play the duo of Toni Kroos and a misfiring Ilkay Gündogan in midfield, the stubbornness to play with a false nine instead of Kevin Volland, is mind-boggling.
Germany is in the Round of 16 in spite of, not because of, Joachim Löw, although Löw has gotten a few decisions right.
What do you think were the biggest takeaways from Germany’s group stage performances? Let us know your thoughts below and, as always, thank you for reading!