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Germany’s coming midfield crisis

Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka are a strong starting pivot. Behind them, who do Germany have?

Spain v Germany: Group E - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

Germany are facing a potential crisis in the center of the park, and it’s one that men’s national team coach Hansi Flick would do well to address early on. Bayern Munich’s double pivot of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka form a compelling starting duo, but behind and around them the well is starting to run dry.

It begins with squad selection. While Hansi Flick loaded his 26-man World Cup roster with youngsters in defense and in attack — to give the likes of Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi and Southampton’s Armel Bella-Kotchap a taste of the tournament experience — he brought only three central midfielders, and by the final game was starting one of them, Kimmich, at right-back. Manchester City’s İlkay Gündoğan might be contemplating international retirement — if not, he’ll be nearing 34 by the time the 2024 EURO rolls around.

Gündoğan, like Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos in the Men’s EURO of summer 2021, turned in a class performance for Germany — all while being derided by a fair portion of the fanbase. It’s a curious divide, perhaps born of tactical preferences. By TIFO Football’s reckoning, for example, both players were among Germany’s top performers in the respective tournaments. Is a little bit of La Pausa fundamentally antithetical to Hansi-ball? Is the purportedly Bavarian-led schism real?

Whatever the case, Germany’s midfielders are dropping tournament by tournament. They’re still missing Bastian Schweinsteiger’s steel. Kroos and perhaps Gündoğan may join a list that is difficult to replace. The persistent need for Kimmich to fill in at right-back and Goretzka’s injury history may really complicate matters.

The problem is really about defensive midfielders. Where Kroos and Gündoğan have filled such duties, few candidates are on the horizon. Mainz 05’s Anton Stach didn’t merit inclusion in Flick’s 26 and barely played in the Nations League call-ups before that. Dortmund’s Emre Can has fallen off the radar, while the likes of Julian Weigl (Gladbach), Christoph Kramer (Gladbach), and Robert Andrich (Leverkusen) all seem a lot further away from contention than, say, one of Germany’s many versatile 8s — like Dortmund’s Mahmoud Dahoud.

Under the present tactics, is it conceivable for any of these players to work their way into the lineup? Can Flick adjust his style of play so that they might?

If he’s able to do so — or if a candidate emerges in the coming season-and-a-half — it could provide Germany an unlikely key to success at the 2024 EURO. Look at what Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina) has achieved at this year’s World Cup as a no-nonsense six — and what they’ve accomplished with two dynamic full-backs. If Germany can find an approximate to that, perhaps they’ll solve their right-back issue as well, for good.

If you’re interested in the blame game, check out our latest podcast episode. We discuss who should be held responsible for Germany’s World Cup elimination, and what effect it could have on Bayern Munich. Listen to it below or on Spotify.

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