The second edition of the UEFA Nations League kicks off this week as Germany face off against Spain in one of the most high-profile fixtures on the opening day.
International football returns to our screens after nearly a ten-month break as the UEFA Nations League 2020/21 kicks off this Thursday with a revamped format. And Matchday 1 will see one of the most hotly-anticipated encounter play out at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, with Germany playing hosts to Spain in Group A4, that also features Switzerland and Ukraine.
The previous Nations League was a major disappointment for Joachim Low’s men as they finished bottom of their group that also had France and Netherlands. However, a change of format has meant that they were spared from relegation.
But Die Mannschaft have recovered well from the difficult phase, racking up seven victories in their last eight competitive games. In their most recent fixture, Germany hammered Northern Ireland 6-1 in the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers.
Spain narrowly missed out on the UEFA Nations League finals last year after finishing second in their group behind England. And they will be gunning to correct that this time out. Since their 3-2 defeat to Croatia in the Nations League, La Roja are on an eleven-game unbeaten run, with their latest fixture ending in a 5-0 triumph over Roma in the Euro Qualifiers.
This game will also mark the first game for Spain in Luis Enrique’s second stint as the manager of the national team. The former Barcelona boss returned in the hotseat last November, five months after having vacated the spot, much to the dismay of former assistant Robert Moreno. He will be hoping to kickstart his second reign with a victory.
Ahead of this blockbuster encounter coming our way from Stuttgart, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
Joachim Low has decided to leave out key players from his squad that were involved in the final stages of European football in the 2019/20 season. That means, the likes of Maneul Neuer, Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg miss out. Niklas Sule and Bayern Munich’s new signing Leroy Sane do make the cut, however.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) August 25, 2020
There have been first-time call-ups for Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Florian Neuhaus, Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann and Atalanta left-back Robin Gosens. Borussia Dortmund left-back Nico Schulz has withdrawn from the squad due to injury.
Low is expected to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Arsenal’s Bernd Leno likely to slot in between the sticks in the absence of Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who misses out with an ankle injury. PSG’s Thilo Kehrer ought to be the right-back, while Gosens is in line to make his debut on the left side. Sule and Matthias Ginter should pair up at the heart of the defence.
The two-man midfield unit for Germany will ooze class and quality as La Liga title winner Toni Kroos should partner up with Ilkay Gundogan. The manager can also call upon the likes of Neuhaus, Emre Can and Suat Serdar. Kai Havertz, who is closing on a transfer to Chelsea, ought to take up the No. 10 slot for Germany.
Sane, who will be playing just his second competitive game for club and country in over a year, ought to slot in on the right flank, while Julian Brandt will provide the creativity and guile from the left. Spearheading the attack for Germany should be Timo Werner, with Luca Waldschmidt providing cover from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Kehrer, Sule, Ginter, Gosens; Kroos, Gundogan; Sane, Havertz, Brandt; Werner
Enrique, in his first squad selection since returning at the helm, has gone for a good blend of youth and experience. There are as many as eight uncapped players in the Spain squad, including Barcelona starlet Ansu Fati and Wolves’ winger Adama Traore. At the same time veterans such as Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and David de Gea find a place in the squad.
Mikel Oyarzabal has had to withdraw from the squad after testing positive for Covid-19. Traore, too, is likely to miss out, as he awaits results on his test, after they came out inconclusive the first time out. Alvaro Morata, Saul Niguez and Dani Ceballos are some of the notable absentees from Spain’s last set of fixtures in 2019.
David de Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga had ordinary seasons at their respective clubs. So, we may see Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Simon, who was one of the standouts in La Liga, make his debut in goal.
He should be shielded by the centre-back partnership of captain Sergio Ramos and Pau Torres, who was a major influence in Villarreal’s successful campaign, although Diego Llorente is also an option. Sevilla duo Jesus Navas and Sergio Reguilon, coming on the back of their UEFA Europa League triumph, should edge out Dani Carvajal and Jose Gaya for the full-back slots.
It will be interesting to see if Enrique throws his weight behind Sergio Busquets for the holding midfield role after Barcelona’s 8-2 mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich. The 32-year-old might be pipped to the starting spot by Manchester City’s Rodri. He will have Fabian Ruiz and Champions League winner Thiago Alcantara as his partners in the middle.
Gerard Moreno, who was the third-highest goalscorer in the 2019/20 La Liga should lead the line for Spain. The Villarreal man is likely to be flanked by Marco Asensio and Rodrigo Moreno, who recently joined Leeds United. The uncapped duo of Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati will provide options from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Navas, Ramos, Torres, Reguilon; Ruiz, Rodri, Thiago; Rodrigo, Gerard Moreno, Asensio
- Germany just about have the edge over Spain when it comes to head-to-head record. Die Mannschaft have picked up nine victories, compared to seven for La Roja. There have been seven drawn matches between the two nations.
- After losing three in a row against Spain, including the 2010 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, Germany have not tasted defeat in their previous two meetings against them (W1 D1). The most recent meeting between the two teams, in a friendly in 2018, ended in a 1-1 stalemate.
- Germany come into the game having lost just one of their last 12 matches, including friendlies (W8 D3).
- Spain, on the other hand, are currently on an eleven-game unbeaten streak, with the run dating back to November 2018 (W9 D2).
- Both Germany and Spain have kept three clean sheets each in their last five matches.
Player to Watch
The past year has been a difficult one for Leroy Sane. After having played a key role in Manchester City’s all-conquering 2018/19 campaign, the German winger ruptured his cruciate ligament in the FA Community Shield encounter in August last year.
Sane spent the majority of the 2019/20 season out on the sidelines and while he did return post-lockdown, the 24-year-old played just eleven minutes of first-team football for City, before earning a transfer to Bayern Munich.
With no Gnabry in the squad, Sane is expected to start for Germany on Thursday, in what will be his first competitive start in over a year and his first appearance for the national team since June 2019, when he scored against Estonia. There will be a lot of pressure on the German, and it will be interesting to see how he copes on his return.
Germany 2-1 Spain
Both teams will be taking the field for the first time in over ten months and with players that will have been fatigued after what has been a long and strange season of club football due to the pandemic. Given the unusual circumstances, it is hard to call this one, as there will be a lot of factors in play.
Spain may have a number of new faces in the squad, but there is plenty of quality within the ranks. Germany, on the other hand, are missing a number of their regulars, with familiar faces from Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig being rested.
Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of oomph within the squad. And, the form that the likes of Kai Havertz, Julian Brandt and Timo Werner were in not so long ago might just tip the scales in the favour of Germany. And that is why, The Hard Tackle is predicting a 2-1 win for Jogi Low’s side in Stuttgart.