It was supposed to be the easiest group to top, with Poland being the toughest opposition that Germany could possibly face. The reigning World Cup champions were supposed to swat aside sides like Ireland and Scotland and qualify for the Euro 2016 championships with ease.
Instead, we are three games into the Euro 2016 qualifiers and Germany only have one win to show for themselves. Poland and Ireland top the group currently, and with only 7 more matches to go, Germany are already playing catch-up.
Germany next face Gibraltar on November 14, and desperately need three points to get their qualification back on track. After all, it was only months ago that this team demolished Brazil in their own backyard.
So what are the issues plaguing this Germany side? What does Joachim Low need to do to address those concerns?
How To Rouse The Troops
Winning is a habit, a drug. The more you have it, the more you want it. But what happens when you have enough of it? A hangover, that’s what happens.
This Germany side is currently going through the post-World Cup winning hangover, and it has shown in their ponderous and lax manner of play. The same intensity and hunger that they showed in Brazil has been replaced by a sense of complacency. It is entirely possible that the same set of players that played their hearts out to win the Jules Rimet trophy are expecting to simply turn up and be awarded with a win.
It’s a dangerous position to be in. Teams like Ireland and Poland sensed that complacency and rightfully took points off Germany.
Low needs to make sure the team gets back to the way they once were – intense, hungry and motivated. Dropping some of the under-performing superstars might be one way to get the team to find its focus again.
The Attacking Trident
Following the inevitable retirement of Miroslav Klose and the lack of genuine striking options, Low turned to Bayern Munich star Mario Gotze to lead the line for the national team, playing a false nine role. That ploy has more or less worked, with the versatile Gotze slotting into the tactical shift with ease.
Behind him is the trio of Muller, Reus and Schurrle, with Monchengladbach whizkid Christoph Kramer also finding game-time. It’s a solid, creative and potent attacking force, with constant interchanging and understanding.
But late injuries have scuppered Low’s plans. Marco Reus is out for 3 weeks, and Andre Schurrle pulled up in training and is out of the match against Gibraltar with a slight niggle. To further complicate matters, Christoph Kramer’s confidence is at an all-time low after the youngster scored a disastrous own goal against Dortmund. And veteran Lukas Poldolski has struggled to get game-time at Arsenal as well.
For all the talk about Germany’s squad depth, the late withdrawals of two first-teamers suddenly leaves the manager with little or no options of the same calibre. How Low manages his way around this problem will be interesting to see.
The Back Four
In the three qualification matches so far, Low has tried out six defenders – Hummels, Durm, Howedes, Boateng, Ginter and Rudiger. While it is good to see youngsters coming through the ranks to add to the problem of plenty that Low faces, the flipside of fielding different backlines is the lack of understanding in the defense.
Philipp Lahm’s retirement has left a gaping hole in the back line – there is very little leadership and communication and players like Hummels and Boateng – experienced but still learning – have had to lead from the front despite having average seasons themselves.
It is imperative that Low figures out what his first-choice back line is before it gets too late. There is a fine line between promoting youngsters and having an erratic, under-performing back four.