Germany’s 100 percent record under Julian Nagelsmann did not last long as Die Mannschaft returned home in the wake of a difficult 2-2 draw against perennial CONCACAF power Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Goals on either side of the half-time interval from both sides, on balance, produced more than fair a result as Germany dominated possession while still looking exposed at the back on a number of occasions, with Mexico more capable of capitalizing on chances than their bitter rivals the United States four days prior in East Hartford.
Though Antonio Rüdiger opened the scoring with a close-range header in the 25th minute, Mexico bagged two straight goals on either side of the break thanks to Uriel Antuna and Erick Sánchez before chief goalscorer Niclas Füllkrug’s second-half strike after coming off the bench spared German blushes on the night.
With a month before the next international break and fixtures against Turkey (home) and Austria (away), here are three things we learned as the three-time European champions continue to shake off the remaining cobwebs in the wake of another disastrous World Cup campaign and subsequent poor calendar year under former head trainer Hansi Flick.
Balancing tactical principles with prudence
It is clear that dominance in possession was always going to be the order of the day for any side that came under the leadership of Julian Nagelsmann. Given the talent on offer in the Nationalelf player pool, systemic principles certainly do match the level of technical and tactical quality that Germany possesses overall.
But there are also times when tactical principles and prudent decision-making must go hand in hand, and that very fact cropped up a few times against Mexico, particularly in the first half. Demanding the pass, and controlling the ebb and flow of proceedings, when supported by ample creativity, is often a huge difference-maker on the pitch.
Despite that, Germany’s carelessness in decision-making in the opening 10 minutes nearly gave Mexico a few early chances if not for their ability to quickly regain possession and play out of trouble. Forcing play out of the back against a side that has proven adept at a high press can often spell disaster, and even if it did not directly affect proceedings overall, Nagelsmann will have to find an appropriate balance between his system and playing it safe.
Mats Hummels must feature in the back four
Given the nature of the international break and the need for Nagelsmann to give players on the bubble when it comes to the starting XI a chance to impress, the former Bayern Munich head trainer rested Mats Hummels and gave Borussia Dortmund defender Niklas Süle a run-out at right-back.
That change, which saw Jonathan Tah shifted to centre-back alongside Antonio Rüdiger, certainly could be questioned from the off given Süle’s lack of pace regardless of being tasked with sitting deep while Robin Gosens bombed forward down the other flank.
Süle would ultimately play a direct role in both of Mexico’s goals when the former Hoffenheim standout failed to deal with Hirving Lozano’s run down the flank before Mexico’s opener and lost his marker for El Tri’s early goal in the second half through Erick Sánchez.
It’s clear that Süle should only be viewed as a depth defender moving forward, with Mats Hummels proving ageless against the United States four days ago while offering a player profile far more capable and assured in key moments.
Thomas Müller’s time is up
There is something to be said about having a veteran leader who also offers tactical versatility and big-match experience both at the club and international level. For Germany, Thomas Müller fits the bill in spades given the Bavarian’s CV across a glistening 16-year career at the highest level. But though still only 34 and capable – in theory – of offering something critical to Germany’s aims of hopefully winning Euro 2024 in front of home support, it may only be away from the playing surface that Müller can truly contribute.
After being given the nod by Nagelsmann to lead the line yesterday evening against Mexico in place of the in-form presence of Borussia Dortmund forward Niclas Füllkrug, Müller was entirely ineffective in the number 9 role despite having an attacking trio of club colleagues Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sané, as well as Florian Wirtz behind him complete the front-four.
With zero attempted shots and just 14 touches to his name before being removed at half-time for Füllkrug, who eventually went on to bag the match equalizer six minutes after the restart, it is clear that not only is Müller simply not a centre-forward (nor has he ever been), but there is a reason his minutes at Bayern have been drastically reduced this season under Thomas Tuchel. Few have been better servants in recent decades for the national team, but Nagelsmann has enough firepower to choose from and should look to the Weilheim in Oberbayern native in another capacity moving forward.
GGFN | Andrew Thompson