For Germany , Euro 2020 will be the end of an era. It could also be a new dawn for Die Mannschaft , depending on whether or not their generation of emerging players make their mark.
It will be Joachim Low’s last tournament as manager, with the man they call ‘Jogi’ set to step down whatever the outcome. He will be replaced by former assistant Hansi Flick, who won a sextuple with Bayern Munich last year and added another Bundesliga title this season.
Low has been in charge since 2006, winning the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and becoming a national hero in the process. Things have gone downhill since then, however, with Germany reaching their nadir at Russia 2018 when they crashed out at the group stage.
That led to much introspection and soul-searching, with Low taking an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new approach ahead of this tournament. Results have been mixed, with Germany showing signs of improvement during their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign before losing 6-0 to Spain in the UEFA Nations League last November – the heaviest defeat of Low’s tenure – and suffering a shock 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia in March.
Germany’s inconsistent form has led Low to grant a reprieve to Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels , despite sidelining them from the national team set-up in 2019 .
With a 1-1 draw against Denmark and a 7-1 win against Latvia in their warm-up friendlies, they have passed muster going into the Euros. Still, while Low has an impressive array of talent at his disposal, it’s fair to say his side look more fallible than usual.
Style of play
Germany’s approach still reflects the priorities of a team who are used to dominating games. They look to monopolise possession, go on the attack and break opponents down using the passing range of Ilkay Gundogan and Toni Kroos in midfield, the pace of Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane, Thomas Muller’s runs and the mercurial skills of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Given that they aren’t quite as dominant as they once were – especially not against the top sides – it will be interesting to see whether that approach works. Low has received fierce criticism for his tactics in the German press over the last few months, with many objecting to his use of a back three over the 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3) formation which brought Germany so much success during his heyday.
Low likes to push his full-backs high up the pitch and flood the final third, but he has struggled to strike the right balance between attack and defence recently. Before losing 6-0 to Spain last autumn, Germany also registered 3-3 draws against Turkey and Switzerland.
That is why Low has recalled Hummels, whose experience could be invaluable. He started in a back three alongside Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter against Latvia, though Low could still relent and go with a back four.
Germany will face much sterner tests in the next couple of weeks, of course, with France, Portugal and Hungary awaiting them at the group stage. Low needs to right the wrongs of Russia 2018, where Germany looked horribly asymmetrical from the start, as opposed to repeating them.
One of the main drawbacks to coaching a team for 15 years is that it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate changes to the tactical landscape.
He may be a World Cup winner and widely respected for his achievements, but many in Germany feel that Low’s outlook on the game has become outdated.
While the national team has inevitably been influenced by the prevailing tactical philosophy of the Bundesliga, Low’s approach to pressing is not as methodical or structured as that championed by the younger generation of German coaches influenced by Ralf Rangnick.
Naturally, he will want to prove his detractors wrong and go out on a high by taking Die Mannschaft to the latter stages of the tournament.
Expectations are lower than they were at the World Cup and, even if Germany don’t win the Euros, the most important thing is that Low leaves a legacy that Flick can build on.
After his dramatic recall to the squad, all eyes will be on Muller this summer.
He made himself impossible to ignore with his performances for Bayern last season, scoring 15 goals in all competitions and topping the Bundesliga assists chart with 18.
At 31, he will bring a certain worldliness to an attack which is otherwise defined by the youthful energy of Gnabry, Sane, Werner and Havertz.
Muller is still the ultimate Raumdeuter (or ‘Space Interpreter’) and his movement will be crucial in creating chances for those around him.
“I want to spur on every player and I need teammates to spur me on,” he said last week. “I want to be the catalyst and the one who can switch into turbo mode.”
One to watch
He may only be 18 years of age, but Jamal Musiala has already made a big impression at Bayern.
He comes into the Euros on the back of a breakthrough season, having scored seven goals in 37 appearances and impressed both out wide and in attacking midfield.
His versatility may work in his favour in the coming weeks, with Low likely to use him as an option from the bench. Wherever he slots in, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on him.
He could, in theory, have been lining up for England instead of Germany this summer. Born in Stuttgart to a British-Nigerian father and a German mother, he declared for Die Mannschaft earlier this year, telling The Athletic : “In the end, I just listened to the feeling that over a long period of time kept telling me that it was the right decision to play for Germany, the land I was born in. Still, it wasn’t an easy decision for me.
“I have a heart for Germany and a heart for England. Both hearts will keep on beating.”
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