Before Germany get back to qualifiers, they face a Lionel Messi-less Argentina in Dortmund. While on paper the game is little more than another friendly, the intrigue around Germany’s latest rebuild makes it relevant.
With 12 players out injured, Germany’s clash with Argentina appears destined to fall into the historical irrelevance that accompanies most international friendlies. The far-from-smooth transition into the latest Joachim Löw era though, keeps Germany intriguing even when they shouldn’t be.
Germany’s recent grapples with the Netherlands have hardly left the impression that the hangover from Russia has truly gone. Löw’s attempt to get his side playing a combined style of possession and transitional football ended up being anything other than balanced. Germany looked confused, twitchy and reliant on the speed and quality of individual players. On top of that, Löw’s squad has been in almost constant turmoil.
“We wanted to use this year with the six to eight games we had to get into rhythm,” Löw said ahead of Wednesday’s game. “The last few months haven’t been optimal. In March, we had the feeling that things were working, but there was a change after the summer break.”
Little time for adjustments
Löw isn’t going anywhere – at least not until after the Euros next year. The issue is that at the moment neither are Germany. The heavy injury list is part of the reason. It has hampered the development of the core unit. “We have so few opportunities to work on our ideas,” Löw said. “Sometimes we only have two, three days to work on our plans… The situation as it is now isn’t what I wanted. None of the players injured are back. That makes life, looking at 2020, harder.”
With Matthias Ginter, Toni Kroos, Jonas Hector, Timo Werner and Ilkay Gündogan joining a list of long-term injured players, Löw was forced to think beyond his usual remit. In the case of Nadiem Amiri, former captain of Germany’s under-21s, and Freiburg’s Luca Waldschmidt this is no bad thing.
Waldschmidt and Hertha Berlin center back Niklas Stark will start, Löw confirmed as much. The inclusion of the latter is likely Löw’s hand being forced by the lengthy list of absentees, but it also highlights that the defense remains Germany’s biggest work-in-progress. Waldschmidt however, has the pace and shooting ability to perhaps be the type of forward Löw thought Timo Werner was going to be. Löw went on to acknowledge that he is aware the automatisms in link up play won’t be there but he expects a performance nonetheless.
Löw’s handling of Werner and, more recently, Kai Havertz suggests though that Germany’s future can’t come soon enough. Werner’s inability to fire in attack has seen him move wide, where he impressed in Russia but has more recently been quiet. Löw’s inability to build a team around Havertz is even more telling. The conservative nature of the Freiburg-born coach might have served him well so far, but when a player of Havertz’s ability appears in your squad, particularly at exactly the same time as Mesut Özil departs, it seems remiss not to make him a centerpiece.
New faces and keeper concerns
There are concerns that the longer Löw stays, the harder it is for him to coach younger players. In the past, he has acknowledged this is a challenge, that communication and demands are different. Despite arms around new inclusion Suat Serdar in training and smiles for the cameras, his recent inability to get the best out of some of Germany’s most talented youngsters on the pitch suggests this problem is lingering.
The ongoing goalkeeper debate also hasn’t helped. Clearly Manuel Neuer still is a top-level goalkeeper, but the decision to deny Marc-Andre ter Stegen the chance to fight for the number one spot in competitive games has been questioned by many, even if Neuer is Germany’s captain.
“For me, this is the smallest problem at the moment,” Löw said ahead of the game, adding that “On Marc, you can rely.” Ter Stegen looked a picture of calm when he took the stage before Löw. “The head coach has made his decision so it’s up to me to perform well for both club and country.”
With no Lionel Messi on show, a factor that would improve the quality of and interest in any game, fans will have to be content watching a Germany team still trying to figure out how good they can be under a head coach who is desperate to find one last spell of success. The game against Argentina is unlikely to give too many answers to that question, but it is a chance for individuals to show they belong.