Reports of Germany’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Updated: Jan 1, 2020
They somehow seem to be flying a little under the radar, but Germany are very very good.
Germany had a rough 2017. There’s no pretending otherwise. Coming off an Olympic gold medal the previous summer, they were flying high. But 2017 was a descent into the depths. The biggest moment came in the quarterfinals of European Championship, when the Germans were knocked out by Denmark. Not only was this Germany’s earliest exit, it was the first time they had lost a knockout game in the competition since 1993. That game ended a run of six consecutive titles. But if that wasn’t enough, they then proceeded to lose to Iceland in the early stages of World Cup qualifying.
All of a sudden Germany, one of the titans of the game, were on the ropes. Steffi Jones, hired after the Olympic victory, was shown the door after less than 18 months on the job. The team seemed listless and uncertain. And while results did turn around under interim coach Horst Hrubesch, that early loss to Iceland left Germany still unsure of qualification all through 2018.
But they did qualify, and ultimately with relative ease. The three goals they conceded against Iceland in November 2017 turned out to be the only goals they allowed in the whole campaign, ending up with 38 goals scored to just 3 against. And with the arrival of Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, they also have a permanent coach. While it remains to be seen how she will structure the team over the long run, it increasingly seems like the lull during the Jones era was a blip rather than the new normal. So when considering the strength of this Germany team, it’s probably wiser to look at the underlying talent. And, well, there’s a lot of talent.
We’ve grown accustomed to pre-tournament hype for Dzsenifer Marozsán, but familiarity should not become the enemy of wonder. Marozsán really is phenomenal, and she’s arguably better right now than at any other point in her career. And it’s not just Marozsán. From top to bottom, the German midfield is absolutely lights out. Consider Sara Däbritz, one of the most technically gifted players in the world, who can pirouette around tackles, and drop inch-perfect balls behind the defense. Then add the always-reliable Melanie Leupolz to keep the keel steady, not to mention versatile players like Linda Dallmann and Lina Magull. Need experience to shore things up in a rough game? Bring in veteran Lena Goeßling. Need youthful energy? Giulia Gwinn is not yet 20, but already looks like a world class player.
This German midfield is outrageously good, and matches up favorably against any other team in the tournament.
The other lines aren’t quite as strong, but it’s not like there are slouches in any of these positions. At forward, Germany certainly doesn’t possess the sort of game-changing player who can put the team on her back. But given their diverse attacking talent, they don’t really need one. Instead, Alexandra Popp and Lea Schüller will generally serve as the central point around which the attack will orbit—dropping back to bring in the midfield, drawing defenders out of space so that fluid attacks may develop, and then stepping up to convert the chances that result.
They seem most likely to default to a single-striker formation, with Popp the likely starter. But Schüller is in such good form that they may shift things to allow them both to play. In their tune-up match against Chile, for example, Schüller played out wide, giving her a slightly different look at the attack.
To the extent that there is a genuine weakness in the squad, it’s in the defense. Like many top teams, they lack a truly world-class goalkeeper, with Almuth Schult having endured a tough year (including a serious case of the measles). The backline is also not necessarily set, having seen quite a bit of experimentation over the past year, including shifts between a back three and back four. Some consistent names have appeared: Sara Doorsoun, Verena Schweers, Kathrin Hendrich. But there has also been a lot of movement, with some of the midfield depth options occasionally being dropped back into defensive roles.
This is certainly a place where Germany’s relative lack of recent matches (they’ve only played four in 2019, compared to a team like the US who have played 10) may prove a hinderance. With more time, Voss-Tecklenburg might have had a chance to solidify her defensive structure. That said, there’s also a case for freshness. Things haven’t had a chance to grow stale yet, and positions haven’t calcified. That may give the coach more freedom to adapt to events and to the opposition.
Put it all together and you have a squad that is on par with supposed frontrunners like the US and France. There are weaknesses, certainly, and Germany probably do deserve to be considered a half-step behind the favorites. But only a half-step. This team is really good. So if you’re still thinking about them as the struggling side that stumbled into 2018, you’re well behind the times.