This may be England’s best shot at their old nemesis

Ahead of Wembley visit, there is a haphazard feel to departing Löw’s Germany selection

When Germany finally levelled through Leon Goretzka, left, it was a wildcard introduction, the 18-year-old Jamal Musiala, who created the half-chance. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

When Germany finally levelled through Leon Goretzka, left, it was a wildcard introduction, the 18-year-old Jamal Musiala, who created the half-chance. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

 

“That was not for the faint of heart,” Joachim Löw said with heavy understatement. He was speaking next to an empty Allianz Arena pitch once the emotional tumult had levelled into something more equable, attempting rational analysis of Germany’s fraught passage to the last 16. Good luck with that. Löw offered some granular detail of what had gone right and wrong against Hungary but the bigger picture is impossible to ignore.

The headline in Kicker captured it perfectly. “Wild, confused, shaky”, it read. “Löw’s team remains a construction site.” Germany are infuriatingly unpredictable. In the good times, that becomes an endearing trait. When they dangle off the edge of the abyss as on Wednesday night, though, it morphs into reason for an urgent national inquest.

They will have to play better at Wembley; everybody agrees on that. The question is how they will achieve it. Most of the Germany contingent’s post-match media appearances on Wednesday had a curious and potentially ill-advised common theme. A precis would be: “Don’t look at what we did just now, look at what happened against Portugal. ” The distraction was offered using logic that England, like the Portuguese side Germany had outplayed, will go on the offensive and offer bundles of space for them to do their thing.

It begs an obvious question: which England games, exactly, have they been watching? It is fair to point out Harry Kane will break his tournament duck if he is offered the space Adam Szalai received in heading Hungary’s opener; similarly, if Mason Mount is able to play he will relish the kind of chasm into which Andras Schafer bounded from midfield to score later on. But even if they will not sit in and spoil like Hungary, it would be folly to expect anything too far towards the opposite. Control and caution have underpinned most of England’s early work and any spies Gareth Southgate dispatched to the Allianz Arena are unlikely to suggest he changes tack now.

Embodiment of chaos

Put simply, where old-fashioned tropes cast the Nationalmannschaft as a symbol of order and England an embodiment of chaos, those roles have now been reversed. It is England who look comparatively stable and modulated, unflashy but able to meet tournament football’s basic requirements; Germany are the ones whose output is impossible to forecast, least of all by themselves.

By the final 10 minutes against Hungary, Löw had been reduced to flinging whatever was available against what Manuel Neuer colourfully termed the visitors’ “multi-legged defensive chain”. When Germany finally levelled through Leon Goretzka it was a wildcard introduction, the 18-year-old Jamal Musiala, who created the half-chance with a gliding run down the left and purposefully weighted pass inside. Given Musiala, the former England Under-21 player, had only just been introduced, a charitable observer might point to a managerial masterstroke. “He was cheeky, his performance was very appealing,” Löw said of the Bayern Munich winger, but his involvement owed to sheer necessity rather than design.

Musiala’s backstory might have been written specifically for next Tuesday and it would be no shock to see him involved again, even if only for a longer cameo. With that single surge along the wing he may even have leapfrogged Leroy Sané, who endured a disastrous evening, in Löw’s pecking order. Sané has traditionally struggled to earn Löw’s trust but with Thomas Müller not fit to start he was asked to rip into Hungary from the off. His performance encapsulated Germany’s and could be summed up in two second-half sequences: a desperate rugby-style grab at the ball when Attila Fiola darted beyond him, and a right-sided corner that ballooned over everyone before skidding out of play, giving rise to jeers from the stands.

Bloemfontein

Erratic in attack, flailing at the back. That is the team England will face unless Löw can harness his resources tightly. If Müller had no reaction to his knee problem after being hauled into second-half action then his return, as a coach on the pitch as much as anything, should help the team’s structure. It may also help recapture the good feeling of his goals in Bloemfontein, where Löw’s Germany destroyed England in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. The problem is that, since going all the way four years later, they have rarely looked like producing players of similar gravitas.

Serge Gnabry could become one but, roaming from the front as a nominal spearhead, has often struggled to combine with teammates effectively. Robin Gosens has been a revelation when on the front foot but Hungary nullified him and, should he get into his stride at Wembley, England may fancy attacking a creaky back three with pace behind him.

Germany are playing as if on a tightrope and Löw is walking one of his own, given he is about to end a 15-year tenure that has few parallels. The two states are probably not unconnected and there is a sense this may be England’s best shot at their old nemesis for some time: nobody can discount Löw from departing with a bang but there is a haphazard feel to this end-times selection that is unlikely to exist when Hansi Flick takes over this summer.

It makes for a buildup in which England, despite any efforts to suggest the contrary, will be the party exuding serenity. “Wembley, great, there is almost no better game,” said Joshua Kimmich. Germany must somehow channel the rigour of the past if his excitement is to survive the next five days.

– Guardian

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