Scoring goals is not a problem for Germany, but at the other end, Joachim Low's die remain porous.
1. Löw’s back-line conundrum
A team which boasts as many attacking riches as the Nationalmannschaft can, on occasion, get away with certain defensive shortcomings.
Why worry if the opposition don’t have the ball and are invariably on the back-foot? But in the demanding world of German football, every box has to be ticked and after Saturday’s 3-2 friendly loss to England in Berlin, the sorry state of Joachim Low’s rearguard was the number one theme of the post-mortem.
In the absence of injured tower of power central defender Jerome Boateng – who could be back in action in April following a lay-off with a groin tear – both Roma’s Antonio Rudiger or second-half debutant, Jonathan Tah of Leverkusen floundered, while at right-back, Emre Can of Liverpool looked exactly what he is – a fine central midfielder lost in an alien position.
Good quality full-backs are few and far between in today’s Bundesliga and Low has no other option but to make do and mend, to take midfielders by vocation (Can, Jonas Hector, Sebastian Rudy) and bend them into lateral back-four shape. The hunt for the next Philip Lahm goes on. And on.
2. Not maybe Mario. Definitely
No German player was in a more upbeat mood after Tuesday’s 4-1 warm-up win over Italy in Munich than ‘hometown’ Bayern attacker Mario Gotze, whose excellent header put his side two-nil up on the brink of half-time, his first competitive goal since early October.
Marginalised at the Allianz Arena this season by a long-term groin injury, so-so form and Pep Guardiola’s apparent indifference towards him, Gotze’s chances of starting for the national team in France were fading fast, with top TV pundit and ex-Bayern star, Mehmet Scholl particularly trenchant in his criticism of the player’s physical conditioning. (“He used to be an arrow. He was so fast and athletic. He’s far removed from that these days.”).
Gotze, who has been linked in the German press with a return to old club, Dortmund, would not be drawn into a slanging match in the mixed zone after the game, though wasn’t prepared to to let the matter drop either.
“I think I train hard enough, ” he smiled.
3. Bayern circle the wagons
In a development bound to deflate his many admirers in Spain (Real Madrid) at the top-end of the Premier League, Sport Bild magazine is reporting that Polish striker extraordinaire, Robert Lewandowski, is ready to sign a two-contract extension at Bayern.
If it turns out to be true, the free-scoring front-man – 36 goals in all competitions this term – will be the fifth Bayern star after Thomas Müller, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Javi Martinez to pledge themselves to the club until 2021.
As far as Bayern are concerned, all this contractual activity only has one aim – to keep the overseas wolves from the door. The fear of the Bundesliga giants is that when coach Pep Guardiola moves to Manchester City in the summer, he will promptly return for a ‘souvenir’ or two and the movers and shakers at Bayern were to said to be furious on hearing City director of sport, Txiki Begiristain, recently refuse to rule out a trip to the Bavarian sales.
4. Never mind the trinkets. Give me the game time.
Despite pocketing a Champions League winners medal with Barcelona last season and being on course for another, young Nationalmannschaft goalie, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, looks on the verge of bidding farewell to the Camp Nou. Unhappy that he only plays in cup games for the Catalans – with the Chilean Claudio Bravo standing between the posts for La Liga fixtures – the 24-year-old Gladbacher made it clear in a recent interview with Köln daily, Express, that a job-share simply wasn’t for him.
“Of course, Claudio is a great keeper, but everyone has to do what’s best for them individually and I want to be in goal every three or four days, ” said Ter Stegen, who started in Germany’s friendly win over Italy this week.
“I want to take the next step and play more often. If the situation doesn’t change, we’ll inevitably have to talk. ”
5. Didavi to head for Motor City
In real danger of going from Bundesliga runners-up to mid-table non-achievers in 12 short months, Wolfsburg and their backers at VW are busy making plans for a new, sleeker model next season and seem to have made the right modifications with the Bosman free arrival of much-coveted Stuttgart playmmaker, Daniel Didavi.
The 26-year-old left-footer has been outstanding for the Swabians this term, scoring ten goals and making another five and is widely-assumed to be in the German national team waiting room. One snag: a propensity for injuries.