An ideal blend of youth and experience led by one of the top coaches in the game, backed up by memories of thrashing Brazil 7-1 en route to winning the 2014 World Cup – you could be forgiven for thinking that Germany will add Euro 2016 to their collection as they begin to dominate world football.
However, with just three months to go until the tournament in France kicks off, Joachim Low’s side are plagued by problems as question marks surface over their title credentials.
Although they qualified for the Euros as Group D winners, Germany were by no means impressive.
There was a 2-0 defeat versus Poland just months after they were crowned world champions and they took just one point from the Republic of Ireland, who also beat them 1-0 in Dublin, leaving the three-time champions of Europe needing hard-fought wins over Scotland and Georgia to finish top.
Upcoming friendlies on home soil against England and Italy will give clues as to where the side stand. But what has made the well-oiled machine cough and splutter its way towards France?
Losing captain Philipp Lahm to international retirement after the World Cup tore a huge hole in Germany’s squad, but seeing his replacement as skipper, Bastian Schweinsteiger, spend much of the time since on the treatment table has only made matters worse.
Schweinsteiger, bloodied and bruised in the World Cup final against Argentina, played through the pain barrier to lead by example in Brazil, but his physique has only further deteriorated since.
The Manchester United man has featured in just six of Germany’s 15 games since the World Cup and will miss the friendlies against England and Italy due to yet another knee problem.
Thanks for all your kind messages. I’ll give my best to return as soon as possible! pic.twitter.com/iSTx4HOCt3
— Basti Schweinsteiger (@BSchweinsteiger) March 24, 2016
Even if he does recover in time for the finals in France, it seems unlikely that Schweinsteiger can replicate the heroic performances that saw him take Die Mannschaft by the hand in 2014.
Low has typically turned to Ilkay Gundogan in Schweinsteiger’s absence, and the Borussia Dortmund man has done plenty to suggest that should be a permanent switch, thriving in Thomas Tuchel’s engine room after overcoming a long-term back injury.
GOTZE’S POOR FORM
Mario Gotze was Germany’s World Cup hero, popping up in extra time to sink Argentina at the Maracana.
The Bayern Munich star once was the golden child of German football and finally seemed set to deliver on his enormous potential. He has been unable to kick on since, though.
Gotze spent four months on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury this season, but has featured just once in six games since returning to fitness, with Pep Guardiola keeping him benched in the remaining five.
Low retains faith in the playmaker though, and will start him against Italy at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday.
“Gotze has been injured for a long period, so I can understand the situation at Bayern. They are determined to win every game,” the Germany coach said at a news conference.
“I want to help him, as I know what he is capable of and the professional attitude that he brings to the squad. He will go to the Euros and can be a very important player for us.”
A SQUAD IN TATTERS
Low has plenty more headaches to deal with heading into the final few months of the season.
Jerome Boateng, the undisputed leader of Germany’s defence, is still recovering from an adductor injury and could be struggling for match rhythm heading into the Euros.
In attack, meanwhile, Max Kruse has spectacularly undone good work on the pitch that had seen him emerge as the stand-out candidate to replace Miroslav Klose at the point of Germany’s attack – a string of off-field incidents prompting Low to drop the Wolfsburg striker ahead of this week’s friendlies.
Sami Khedira, another player struggling to keep fit, recently acknowledged Germany had “no chance” at the Euros on current form, but Low remains hopeful they can deliver again when it matters most.
“Sami isn’t entirely wrong. If we don’t improve our form ahead of tournament we will find it difficult,” the Germany boss added. “If you want to win a tournament you have to play at your best for six or seven games like we were in Brazil.
“But I know that when the European Championship begins we will be able to take it up a notch.”
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
Low’s cautious optimism will likely be inspired by the sensational form of Thomas Muller this term.
The 26-year-old has already netted 28 times in 38 appearances in all competitions for Bayern in 2015-16 and was one of the few players on the top of his game throughout Germany’s qualification campaign, with nine goals from as many games.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 16, 2016
Of course, there are still players of exceptional talent, such as Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels.
Ozil has been the Premier League’s most prolific assister, while Reus and Hummels have emerged from the funk of Dortmund’s woeful 2014-15 campaign arguably better than ever this season.
There is no doubt that the quality is there. But Germany will have to do much more than in recent months if they are to avoid disappointment at the Euros.
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