OPINION | Hansi Flick’s Germany are on the right track after a difficult few years

As the seemingly interminable season finally draws to a close, everyone can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Was this really the best time to slot in some international fixtures? Certainly not. Were the players themselves even particularly enthusiastic about it? Not entirely. Though despite this round of the Nations League’s professed pointlessness, Hansi Flick and his coaching staff will undoubtedly have viewed this set of fixtures as categorically vital for their team’s development on their steady road to Qatar. So, what have we really learned, and where do Germany really stand?

Whilst the results on the whole have been thoroughly decent, it will be the final round triumph over European champions Italy that will please Flick the most. An opening day point away at Italy in Bologna appeared a reputable one, particularly with the duly expected rustiness of the national team joining up once more at the end of an arduous season. Yet, perhaps the following game against England in Munich was where Germany really showed what they were about.

In spite of failing to get over the line due to a late Harry Kane penalty, Germany looked impressive. Joshua Kimmich oozed class, displaying his inherent beguile and ability to dominate the midfield. This looked like a Germany discernibly different to Joachim Löw’s team, representing a seemingly positive step forward for the side as they push towards the World Cup. Nevertheless, merely dazzling the Bavarian home crowd wasn’t enough, as it was yet another game against top opposition that Germany failed to win. Was that elusive win against one of Europe’s finest ever going to arrive?

Another draw followed, this time with Germany picking up a point away at a stubborn, though mightily impressive Hungary side. Germany looked a little sluggish, ostensibly taking a small step back after the imposing football played last time out against England. Whilst having been noted as the weakest side in the group, Hungary have been the surprise package, stunning Euros runners-up England with a 4-0 blitzing in the process. Perhaps the point collected in Budapest was not as inadequate as it had initially seemed.

Then came a masterful evening in Mönchengladbach. Beating Italy 5-2 was exactly the result Germany had been so eagerly awaiting. The result that confirmed that they were back amongst the best. Germany utterly dominated the European champions, albeit a new-look Italian side, establishing their own, stylish game on top-tier opposition. A compelling victory such as this was required in order for the supposed improvements under Flick to become tangible. Having been criticised for failing to get over the line after successive draws against the Netherlands, Italy, England, and Hungary, Germany had unearthed their best performance and result of the Flick era to date in timely fashion.

Though come what may, are we really any closer to identifying Flick’s preferred eleven? Whilst Manuel Neuer has anticipatorily persisted in goal, Flick has fluctuated between playing a back-three and a flat back-four, with all of Nico Schlotterbeck, Antonio Rüdiger, Niklas Süle, Thilo Kehrer, Lukas Klostermann, and Benjamin Henrichs having been given a run out. David Raum appears to be the first choice left-back, either in a back-four or the wing-back role, representing one of the few positions where Flick’s mind appears clear.

It is perhaps reasonable to infer that Kimmich is the first name on the team sheet, having started all four games. He’s been partnered with both İlkay Gündoğan and Leon Goretzka, with Germany having seemingly played their best football with the former. Gündoğan and Kimmich is probably the best-balanced midfield two for Germany, and so it has proved. In the two games the pair started together, Germany looked accomplished, securing a point against England, whilst earnestly dismantling Italy. The pair appear to have a telepathic understanding of one another’s game, with one often dropping in to sit as the six when the other bombs forward. Flawless in possession, this is the type of midfield needed to dominate the top teams, and it would appear as though Flick has found it.

In the attacking midfield and wide player department, once again, Flick has given opportunities to all of Thomas Müller, Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Jamal Musiala, proving that he is perhaps unsure of his best options. Though, at this stage it probably doesn’t matter, particularly given Germany’s wealth of quality in these attacking positions. Whilst Timo Werner has hung on to the centre-forward role, he remains unconvincing, despite scoring twice against the Italians. Notwithstanding expert runs and exquisite movement, Werner is not a natural finisher. Is Gnabry perhaps the better fit for that role? Or, having undoubtedly elucidated his wonderful versatility, could the man for the job even be Kai Havertz?

Despite just one win from the four played, Germany remain unbeaten under Hansi Flick. Sitting pretty with six points in Nations League Group A3 behind shock frontrunners Hungary, Germany possess a wonderful opportunity now to win this group and enter the knockout rounds of this competition for the first time ever. Whilst it remains to be seen if Germany are genuine World Cup contenders, this has been a promising international break, with Flick’s side firmly on the right track after a difficult few years.

James Westmacott

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