Germany men’s national team head coach Julian Nagelsmann has a task ahead of him to get his team prepared for the 2024 EURO, to be played on home turf in Germany.
The former Bayern Munich manager is known for his prowess at coaching attacking patterns, but for years it has been Germany’s leaky defense that has been more in focus. The current crop of central defenders features a Borussia Dortmund trio: Mats Hummels, Nico Schlotterbeck, and sometimes right-back Niklas Süle.
In the latest Der Klassiker on November 4th, BVB were thrashed at home by a wounded Bayern side — and none of the three covered themselves in glory.
Bayern had just suffered the embarrassing setback of a last-minute loss to a third division side, Saarbrücken, to knock them out of the DFB-Pokal and end the season’s treble hopes early. The heat was starting to turn up, perhaps for the first time seriously under manager Thomas Tuchel. And when the going got tough, the cream of Germany’s defense...melted down.
Let’s break down the lowlights.
Starting with Bayern’s first goal (0:23). Schlotterbeck tried putting off Bayern center-back Dayot Upamecano with some cheeky verbal jousting prior to Leroy Sané’s fourth-minute corner, but lost his mark so thoroughly that Upamecano wound up nodding it down unmarked in front of BVB keeper Gregor Kobel. Somewhere between the sparring and the kick, Schlotterbeck forgot to mind his man and got caught ball-watching instead. Rarely does a corner look so easy, and this is not the lapse of concentration you want to see from a defender.
For Bayern’s second goal (1:30), in the ninth minute, it was Hummels’ turn to get posterized. Leon Goretzka charged upfield to run the Bayern counter, slipping it behind to Sané who squared across to Harry Kane for a tap-in.
Now there are some passes that are works of art: the lock-picking, inch perfect slide rule squeeze from a playmaker in the hole that just barely manages to find its target. Goretzka, however, laid it off softly down the half-space and Sané simply blew by Hummels like he was not even there. Hummels is a terrific veteran, but at this stage of his career lacks for pace. Still, it was his positioning that took him out of this one, as he fanned out wide and allowed Sané to brush past him on the inside.
Schlotterbeck does have some pace, though, and there was little excuse for the younger German defender to be still trailing Kane — nowhere near the lethal English finisher — as Sané sent in the cross. How much else is there to focus on, if not Bayern’s charging No. 9 on a counter?
At the opening gun of the second half (2:04), Hummels and Schlotterbeck combined to leave so much spacing between them that Kane found a slicing pass that played Jamal Musiala in behind. This one, at least, was a marvelous pass and tactical credit to Bayern; unmarked wide runner Kingsley Coman left the defense overwhelmed. Still, the partnership does not look solid. Hummels was once again seriously burned for pace while Schlotterbeck was left in no man’s land, covering neither the center nor the flank. A let off for BVB that this did not result in a goal.
Near the hour mark (3:16), Sané runs a Bayern counter and as Musiala cuts past Niklas Süle, who had been subbed on at right-back, Hummels takes two steps towards the young winger and leaves Sané unmarked at the top of the box. One fewer touch from Sané, and this is an easy goal. A bad judgment of where the danger was.
For the third goal (3:54), Coman and Musiala play a give-and-go down the right wing, with Schlotterbeck a step slow to recognize the danger of Coman’s run behind him. Dortmund are organizationally a mess, too, with Hummels stepping out of central defense to follow Musiala, but it is the sort of play that highlights Schlotterbeck’s deficiencies when drawn to the wing. As the left-sided center-back for Germany behind an aggressive attacking left wing-back, this looks like an area of the field ripe for exploitation. Süle, also, was nowhere near fast enough off the mark to get in position to defend anyone. Both Kane and Sané were unmarked to receive Coman’s cross.
Finally, the fourth goal (4:49) brings Süle’s qualifications as a defensive or inverting right-back into question. In such positions he will have to be involved in Germany’s build-up, and his stoppage-time layoff to Dortmund’s No. 6 was so soft and telegraphed that Bayern youngster Aleksander Pavlović pounced to intercept. Hummels challenged Pavlović, rashly and unsuccessfully, and neither Süle nor Schlotterbeck could close down to pick up the pieces.
Dortmund are getting burned in transition on the regular, and it is down to issues like these from a unit that may be playing together for Germany come the EURO.
Yet Hummels, Schlotterbeck, and Süle are likely among the best Germany has to offer. Hummels (34) and Süle (28) have won everything with Bayern while Schlotterbeck (23) is regarded as one of the game’s rising young stars. There is a chance that by playing on the same team for another year, they can gel into a more cohesive unit — compensating for their deficiencies and learning to trust one another more.
But if Julian Nagelsmann is going to run his asymmetric back four for Germany, he cannot be thrilled with what he just saw from this trio. And it is not promising that a year ago, the Hinrunde edition of Der Klassiker taught many of the same lessons.
Looking for more analysis of Bayern Munich’s 4-0 destruction of Borussia Dortmund? Check out our Bavarian Podcast Works — Postgame Show on Spotify or below: