Germany's starting XI analysed: Nudge Neuer out? Give Gross a go? Sub in Sane? – Football News

Germany's starting XI analysed: Nudge Neuer out? Give Gross a go? Sub in Sane?

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Until Friday night, Germany’s preparation for Euro 2024 had been smooth. In fact, since twin victories against France and Netherlands in March, Julian Nagelsmann’s team for the tournament’s opening game against Scotland on Friday, June 14, had been as good as decided, with optimism surrounding its rise on a steady curve.

A bad first half against Greece seems to have changed that, however. Germany eventually won Friday’s preparatory friendly 2-1, but not before that set-in-stone starting line-up had shown its weaknesses. Germany trailed 1-0 at half-time, after 45 minutes of muddled possession play and blunt attacking, and had to be rescued by a change in system and personnel.

Overreacting to warm-up games is pre-tournament folly, but the impact of some of those changes was profound, offering a reminder that Germany are still a side under construction and full of sub-plots.

In fact, department by department, they are one of the most intriguing teams at this European Championship.

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Currently starting: Manuel Neuer

Neuer’s form is troubling. The late fumble that allowed Joselu to equalise for Real Madrid against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals last month was enormously costly, but also typical in the sense that it came in a game when, for all intents and purposes, Neuer had been Neuer. Strong, authoritative, impressive.

On Friday night in Monchengladbach, he made another string of good saves, but, again, another mistake. Neuer allowed a Christos Tzolis shot to squirm free, giving Giorgos Masouras an easy chance on the rebound. As stated above, Germany recovered to win, but this is a topic that will not go away, even with manager Nagelsmann doing his best to shut the conversation down.

“I won’t allow any discussion to arise (about Neuer),” he told the media after the game. “It doesn’t matter if anyone tries.”

Neuer holds his hand up after Greece’s goal (Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Neuer played well against Ukraine in Nuremberg four days before that Greece fixture. He has also had many more good moments than bad since recovering from the broken leg he suffered skiing on holiday after the World Cup 18 months ago. But at 38, every error he makes now brings dark mutterings about longevity, reaction speed and terminal decline. Even misplaced passes are being cited as examples of his dwindling confidence.

Changing goalkeepers is out of the question. Nagelsmann omitted Leon Goretzka and Mats Hummels for squad harmony reasons, and having a dropped and (therefore) disgruntled Neuer in the group during this tournament would be unwelcome baggage.

Not that dropping him is necessarily the right answer even in theory.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen has rarely been at his Barcelona best for Germany and his claim to be in the side is not as strong as it might seem. Nevertheless, leading tabloid Bild continues to run nearly daily pieces about the national team’s goalkeeping situation, most recently a poll showing that 72 per cent of readers favoured Ter Stegen starting against Scotland.



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Currently starting: Joshua Kimmich, Jonathan Tah, Antonio Rudiger, Maximilian Mittelstadt

Germany need to take risks with the ball to be successful. To play the way Nagelsmann wants, they have to invite pressure in their own defensive zone and put the ball in harm’s way.

That’s expected, but some of the understandings needed have not quite matured yet.

Jonathan Tah and Antonio Rudiger are certain to start at centre-back, with Joshua Kimmich and Maximilian Mittelstadt on the right and left of a back four, but the positioning between those players is not instinctive yet and, at its worst, some of the passing out of defence can be terrifying to watch. Tah is an excellent distributor. So is Rudiger. Neither is totally comfortable in this new environment yet.



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With good reason too. This is a symptom of the last few years and the decision by the DFB (Germany’s football federation) to change course, sack Hansi Flick and reinvent the national team on short notice.

Nagelsmann has not even been in this job for a year, while his defensive unit has only been together now for three and a half games. The consequence is a fragile cohesion that will have to develop as the tournament progresses, but which will keep pulses high from the start.

Rudiger, Tah and Robert Andrich arrive at training on Monday (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)


Currently starting: Toni Kroos, Robert Andrich, Ilkay Gundogan

The lack of width in Nagelsmann’s formation places particular emphasis on the mechanics at its heart. Toni Kroos will play the last few games of his career at the base of this midfield. Ilkay Gundogan will start as the captain. And, for now, Robert Andrich — who has evolved into much more of a ball-playing footballer at Bayer Leverkusen — will be the unit’s third member.

Is that balance quite right? Germany do not work without Kroos’ passing ability, that seems clear, But expect plenty of focus to fall on Gundogan’s captaincy and role.

His position is contentious because of his habit of drifting too far forward, into a No 10 role. He is not in his finest form at the moment and, as a result, is proving obstructive to moves.

The second issue is that he was Flick’s appointment as captain, not Nagelsmann’s, and that is proving an avenue for media mischief.

Gundogan has already received a light reprimand from former Germany skipper turned pundit Lothar Matthaus for applying too positive a spin on that Greece game and glossing over the chance-creation issues and the team’s inaccuracy with the ball. Gundogan urged the supporters to “stay with the team” and not dwell on the negatives. Matthaus disagreed, telling broadcaster RTL that Gundogan was being “too positive for me. As captain, he has to find a few critical words. There’s no need to assign blame, but he knows that we have to talk about (these issues)”.



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A more technical problem is balance. As was the case at the 2022 World Cup and more broadly during Flick’s time as coach, Germany suddenly look extremely vulnerable to transitions again. They can seem hurried with the ball and, when they lose it, much too eager to counter-press in a way that leaves them out of position and facing numerical mismatches.

Is this another chemistry issue and just a question of allowing these three midfielders to get used to each other? Or does it require surgery?

Pascal Gross has done well in reserve and was a difference-maker against Greece. Aleksandar Pavlovic’s forward passing would be a virtue in this system and take some of the pressure away from Kroos.

There are options, then, but they would all come at the cost of further instability or big political upheaval.

Gundogan and Jamal Musiala preparing for the Euros (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)


Currently starting: Jamal Musiala, Florian Wirtz, Kai Havertz

As recently as a week ago, Germany’s starting attack was beyond contention. Kai Havertz as a false nine, with Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz behind, as split No 10s. One of Nagelsmann’s great triumphs has been to fit Musiala and Wirtz into the same team without forcing either to adapt too much, and — alongside Havertz — the attack has best profited from his coaching.

Those three players have connected really well, creating space and opportunities for each other. Nevertheless, Nagelsmann’s side have little width, meaning opposition defences can make the middle of the pitch extremely congested and difficult to play through. Greece did that and it worked. And it was worrying.

Do Germany need something a bit more direct?

Nagelsmann is not without options here, too. Leroy Sane had a couple of thrusting cameos last week and Niclas Fullkrug certainly made the side more dangerous during his relief appearance against Greece. Hoffenheim’s Max Beier was unlucky not to score against Ukraine and, like Fullkrug, offers a more orthodox centre-forward threat. Stuttgart’s Chris Fuhrich is a bewitching ball carrier, with a low-socked Jack Grealish-type style, and can challenge a defence from the left.

The complication is that these alternatives all involve tactical adaption.

Accommodating Sane, for instance, would mean having to leave out Musiala or Wirtz, but also rebalancing the attack to make it symmetrical. And while Fullkrug is a fine and effective option, certainly capable of scoring goals, what would his inclusion mean for Havertz and the facilitating side of his game that Wirtz and Musiala depend on? Drop Havertz deeper and play him as a shadow forward and what is the consequence for the midfield? On and on it goes.

It makes Germany fascinating. Not because of politics or controversy this time, but because they are somewhere between a jigsaw and a Jenga tower.

They are definitely capable of excellence and could go a long way in this home tournament, perhaps even win it, but will have to find balance, and do that without disrupting the progress they have already made.

It’s delicate.



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(Top photo: Alex Grimm via Getty Images)

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