A thunderous second half strike from Lukas Podolski proved to be the difference between Germany and Gareth Southgate’s England at the Westfalenstadion.
Joachim Low was forced to field a below par Germany side against England at the home of Borussia Dortmund. The hosts emerged victorious, thanks to a superb 30-yard belter from captain Lukas Podolski, who was treated a wonderful and deserved send off by those present in attendance.
Given the ‘friendly’ nature of this game, Germany weren’t exactly their ruthless selves, and they didn’t need to be as a young and experimental England side failed to capitalise on their chances. However, Gareth Southgate and the England fans will be pleased by what they saw.
We take a look at some of the major talking points and things we learnt from Germany’s 1-0 victory against England in what was essentially Lukas Podolski’s testimonial match.
Rooney Era Waning?
To put it quite simply, it does not seem like the 31-year-old has a way back into the England squad. He doesn’t have the pace to lead a front 3 and the ‘number 10’ role he prefers to feature in is now occupied by Dele Alli, and it doesn’t seem as if he will he displaced from it any time soon.
With younger and more in-form options ahead of him, it is difficult to see him break into Gareth Southgate’s starting XI, unless of course they suffer from an injury crisis. By not giving the Manchester United captain a call up, Southgate has established that things will work on his terms now.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s also a message to English players stating that reputation counts for nothing anymore and one will be picked solely on current form and merit. The selection of Michael Keane and Jake Livermore is proof of the same.
Despite the loss, Southgate’s methods have been received positively and at this rate, Rooney’s next and last international game might very well be a testimonial, much like Podolski’s.
Three Lions At The Back
It seems as if Southgate chose to take a leaf out of Conte’s book this season and experiment with 3-man defence. Chelsea’s Gary Cahill, Manchester United’s Chris Smalling and Burnley’s Michael Keane formed the three Lions’ defence on the night.
Tottenham’s Kyle Walker and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand started as wingbacks, while Eric Dier and Hull City’s Jake Livermore were deployed in the center of midfield. Ahead of them, Dele Alli and Liverpool’s Adam Lallana were deployed as attacking midfielders with Vardy as the sole striker.
This 3-4-2-1 formation was probably inspired by the success enjoyed by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur. 5 players in this starting XI have had the experience of playing in a 3-man defensive formation, with Chris Smalling only just getting used to it.
It made sense to try this out in a friendly, given that half the team had been playing with a formation that comprised of a 3-man defence and who better to marshall that defence than Chelsea’s vice captain Gary Cahill. He has been an integral part of Antonio Conte’s team and will likely be the same for Southgate.
England weren’t quite able to utilise the width of the pitch in the same way that Alonso, Hazard, Pedro and Victor Moses do at Stamford Bridge. That is likely because Alli and Lallana were given more central roles, but perhaps a slight tweak in the formation to a 3-4-3 can allow Southgate to include proper wingers in the squad like Lingard, Sterling, Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain.
This performance showed a lot of promise however, and Southgate can take away a lot of positives from this match, despite the scoreline. We can expect more of these tactical experiments from the new England manager going forward and it will be interesting to see how he lines his side up against Lithuania.
Dele Shines In Dortmund
The 20-year-old was easily England’s best performer on the night and it was a pity that he wasn’t kept on for the entirety of the match. Alli was at his sparkling best and seemed to be a perfect fit for Gareth Southgate’s new formation.
Alongside Lallana in that attacking midfield role, he put in a superb shift but wasn’t able to cap off his performance with a goal or even an assist. His positioning, touches and his presence of mind to get into space around the German defence were excellent.
However, he could have given his side the lead on more than one occasion and was guilty of making a mess of an easy chance. He had a clear shot on goal after being put through by Jamie Vardy but instead shot it straight at at a grateful Marc Andre Ter Stegen.
It proved to be costly as England went on to lose the game, but it was one of little consequence. However, the next one is not. The Spurs attacker can only get better from here, but he will have to be more clinical going forward. Alli will have to take more responsibility for his performances from here on out and the World Cup Qualifier against Lithuania would be a great place to start.
Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler – all players who missed out on being present in the matchday squad. Thomas Muller, Emre Can, Andre Schurrle, Benedikt Howedes and Shkodran Mustafi started on the bench.
Germany did, however, still manage to field a formidable starting XI full of talented young stars like Leroy Sane, Timo Werner and the two Julians – Weigl and Brandt. They balanced youth with with the the presence of experienced stars like Ter Stegen, Toni Kroos and Mat Hummels.
The Germans aren’t ones to take international friendlies and its results too seriously, and this game was no different. Even the daunting Signal Iduna Park was nowhere close to full capacity with only a little over 60,000 in attendance – a massive 20,000 short of full capacity.
It was clear from the performance of the hosts that their minds weren’t in it. It seemed as if they were playing out a mere formality for the sake of Lukas Podolski. It was clear to them that it wasn’t the performance that was going to be remembered or looked back upon and analysed, but the occasion.
Perhaps their laxity helped add more gloss to a promising England performance, but what is for certain is that Joachim Low will certainly want more from his boys in their next match and we can expect to see the true colours of the Germans when they head to Azerbaijan for their World Cup Qualifying match.
Gareth Southgate’s Striker Conundrum
Jamie Vardy started this game as expected and for the most part, the 30-year-old looked pretty sharp. He got into threatening positions and constantly kept chasing down loose balls, trying to make something out of the half chances that were made available to him.
It would have been a frustrating night for the Leicester City striker, who hasn’t quite been able to scale the heights of last season. With a mere 10 goals so far this season, he couldn’t add to that tally against Germany and the lack of proper service to the Englishman didn’t help his cause.
For all his pace, Vardy cannot keep chasing down every ball booted toward the opposition goal from his half. He needs quality service as a lone striker and those seldom came his way against the Germans, but that is an issue that can be dealt with as England get used to this new formation over time.
He was subbed off for Marcus Rashford with 20 minutes to go. However, the Manchester United youngster didn’t fare any better in front of goal. As things stand, they are England’s two main strikers. What is clear is that they are both far too inexperienced on the international stage.
Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane are currently recovering from their injuries, while Danny Welbeck has only just returned to fitness. Wayne Rooney has shifted to a deeper role over the past few seasons and isn’t the player he once was.
That leaves us with Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe. The 34-year-old is still smashing in goals at a stunning rate, having collected 14 this season. With 55 appearances to his name, he is the only English striker available with a good amount of experience and form on his side.
Having being called back to the England squad, Defoe is now in line to make his first appearances for England after being away for nearly 4 years away. Now may be the time for Southgate to give an opportunity to his most in-form striker to impress after being perhaps unfairly looked over for their past 2 major competitions. It should be interesting to see how Gareth Southgate manages the situation and who he plays against Lithuania.
Abschied, Lukas Podolski
And lastly, we address the topic of the man of the moment. What a fitting ending it was to a superb international career – a loyal servant to the German cause ever since he donned a senior kit for the first time just under 13 years ago, on the 6th of June 2004 against Hungary.
At only 31, he could certainly have continued playing for a few more years for Die Mannschaft, but he wished to shift his focus to other things and spend more time with his family. His legs aren’t quite what they once were and club and international duties combined, asks a lot of a player’s body.
It was by no means his best performance, as he seemed to be a mere passenger for large periods of the game. However, it was certainly one of the best goals he has ever scored. In the 68th minute, Andre Schurrle would lay it off for Podolski and after taking one touch, he would launch a 30-yard missile past a helpless Joe Hart into the top corner.
Podolski would later reveal that he was congratulated by the English shot stopper following that goal, when the two exchanged words. Hart described the goal as a ‘…brilliant shot’ and that statement was even preceded by a popular English expletive no less, to further emphasize its greatness.
While it wasn’t officially recognized as a testimonial, the match will certainly be looked back upon as such. The speech prior to the start, the banners around the stadium, pictures with the fans and being hoisted into the air by his teammates made it quite obvious that this night was for him.
He retires from the international game as Germany’s third most capped player and also their third highest goal scorer. After 130 appearances, 49 goals, countless semi-final heartaches and a World Cup trophy in between all of that, he was brought off in the 84th minute to a thunderous ovation from the Westfalenstadion, bringing the curtains down on what can safely be described as a legendary career.