It was exactly six months ago that Germany’s national football team experienced one of their biggest-ever embarrassments.
A 2-1 defeat in March by North Macedonia – just the third home World Cup qualifying loss in their history – was seen by many as further confirmation of an issue in German football, following their exit at the group stage of the 2018 World Cup.
Manager Joachim Low had already declared he would conclude his 15-year reign as Germany boss after the summer’s European Championship – a tournament that finished with an extensive defeat by England in the last 16.
Moreover,with Monday’s return fixture in North Macedonia looming, Germany’s fans are seeing motivation behind the optimism again.
Newly elected boss Hansi Flick, who joined after 18 months in charge of Bayern Munich, has guided them to four wins from four qualifiers, including three clean sheets and a return to the ‘Bavarian’ approach on which Germany has based much of their victory.
Less uncertainty, more Bavarian predominance
That defeat by North Macedonia, who was ranked 65th in the world at the time, accentuated all the things that were wrong with the German team in the latter stages of Low’s tenure.
They had plenty of possession but moved slowly down the field. The lack of movement in Germany’s attacks meant the North Macedonian defense was hardly outmaneuvered. When Germany lost possession, there was no counter-pressing to win the ball back.
By using the same tactical approach as he did at Bayern, Flick has already increased Germany’s ability to keep the pressure on their opponents. Defensive hesitation and a safety-first approach – which characterized their play – are in the past as Flick demands a high tempo, progressive, and high pressing style.
Since that approach is a typical element of Bayern’s footballing identity and many of the key players are under contract at the German champions, the national team is becoming more Bavarian – as it returns to the style that served them so well between 2006 and 2014.
That said, Flick is by no means only keeping his eyes on his former employer and ignoring the other clubs.
He is in contact with coaches such as Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Paris St-Germain’s Mauricio Pochettino, because all three coach German internationals.
He has also encouraged the managers of the Bundesliga to pitch tactical ideas for the national team. Frank Kramer, who is managing Arminia Bielefeld, a club without any current German international players, has publicly confirmed that even he is allowed to “make suggestions”.
When Flick introduced tactical changes, like moving Leroy Sane from the right to the left-wing, he discussed with Sane’s Bayern coach, Julian Nagelsmann, to ensure that the two were on the same page. It paid off immediately.
Flick knows he cannot completely depend on the aptitude of his attacking players and has to be precise with his instructions. Against Armenia and Iceland, Sane played close to the touchline in an isolated role, so he could go into one-on-ones where his biggest strength lies. Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry played in an inverted role on the right side and made many drives towards the goal, scoring three times as a result.
Next-generation is here
Germany has a group of grounded players for the attacking roles in Flick’s 4-2-3-1 formation, while the next generation is already on the verge of breaking through.
Behind the likes of Sane, Gnabry, Marco Reus, and Thomas Muller are highly-gifted talents such as Bayern’s Jamal Musiala, Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz, and Chelsea’s Kai Havertz. They will probably lead Germany into the second part of this decade.
With Karim Adeyemi, currently playing for Red Bull Salzburg, Germany might even have a true number nine again, following years of employing attacking midfielders instantly.
There are rumours that both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich may pursue Adeyemi next summer. The Munich-born striker was let go from Bayern’s academy at the age of 10 for disciplinary purposes. It is feasible he wants to go back to his hometown and wear the jersey of the German champions again.
The amazing thing for him is that appearances for the national team give him a first taste of what it would be like to play in a Bavarian style.