Three things we learned as Germany win in Julian Nagelsmann’s debut

Julian Nagelsmann’s reign as top boss in Germany got off to a credible start on Saturday afternoon at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in a 3-1 win against CONCACAF kings United States.

Despite a wonder strike from Milan winger Christian Pulisic to open the scoring on the day, Germany’s ability to control proceedings while remaining expectedly creative proved too much for Gregg Berhalter’s young States side after Barcelona’s İlkay Gündoğan leveled matters eight minutes before the half-time interval.

Die Mannschaft’s performance levels improved in the second half and were rewarded with a composed finish from Borussia Dortmund’s Niclas Füllkrug 13 minutes after the restart, with Bayern Munich wunderkind Jamal Musiala adding Germany’s third just three minutes later, largely silencing 43,000 US fans in New England and allowing the European giants to coast to their second win on the spin in the wake of the Hansi Flick era.

With Germany now poised to head southbound on the I-95 to face bitter US rival Mexico four days from now at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, here are three things we learned as Nagelsmann begins to stamp his seal on the national team during ongoing preparations to host Euro2024 in the summer.

Niclas Füllkrug; the prince who was promised

The longstanding question that lingered heavily over Germany for years surrounded the national team’s lack of a true centre-forward after former hitman Miroslav Klose called time on his glistening international career. Timo Werner failed to materialize in a way that would have benefitted the collective despite bagging 24 goals in 57 caps, while the likes of Thomas Müller and Kai Havertz are just not the same animal when used in the 9 role.

And perhaps the writing was already on the wall when it came to Füllkrug in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup when he scored the only goal in Germany’s tepid 1-0 warm-up win over Oman in an appearance that was a harbinger of things to come. When Flick failed to keep faith in the former Werder Bremen frontman in the opening group stage loss to Japan, Füllkrug ultimately was given a chance to impress and set the record straight against Spain and Costa Rica.

Füllkrug did just that, scoring in the final two group-stage games before netting in subsequent friendly appearances against Peru (2), Belgium, and Ukraine before finding his 8th international goal against the US. 

With true centre-forwards that offer his overall skillset being in short supply, and his early track record being what it is, Füllkrug must become a real focal point heading into Euro 2024 and potentially beyond.

Germany remains susceptible to being hit on the counter

Though Germany continues to look improved coming out of a torrid period under Flick after wins over France and the United States, there remain some signature issues that have run rampant in the senior setup that once again reared their ugly head.

While Union Berlin fullback Robin Gosens performed well overall, particularly in the second half, the opening stages of proceedings were marred by the US time and again hitting Germany on the break in a fashion that is all too painfully familiar. 

With Gosens pushed higher up the pitch and Nagelsmann looking to exploit the left half space when in possession to the benefit of Bayer Leverkusen starlet Florian Wirtz, but when possession was lost, the US found plenty of joy to utilize their pace in the forward line to break in a manner that so nearly proved even more costly than just Pulisic’s opener halfway through the first forty-five minutes.

Gosens, who is quite effective going forward and should be viewed as a source of creativity from wide and deeper areas down the left, really cannot be held at fault overall and a tweak on the tactics board surely must be posited come the clash with Mexico if Germany are to better cope out of possession.

A dedicated holding midfielder or tactical change cannot be ruled out

Building on the continued weakness and susceptibility of being hit on the break, there could be scope to suggest that Julian Nagelsmann may consider adopting a dedicated holding midfielder and a possible shift to a 4-3-3 when the situation calls for it.

Make no mistake about it; in an ideal world, room must be made for Jamal Musiala, Florian Wirtz, and Leroy Sané to all be in the same matchday XI, but when certain needs arise against particular opponents who are structured in a manner to utilize space and pacey outlets through multiple channels, it may be the better part of produce for Nagelsmann to tweak the system in order to better mask the glaring weakness in the side across recent years.

The absence of star midfielder Joshua Kimmich was, in this manner, sometimes felt throughout against the US as both İlkay Gündoğan and Brighton’s Pascal Groß regularly pushed forward, often leaving central spaces between midfield and the centre-back pairing of Mats Hummels and Antonio Rüdiger exposed. Jonathan Tah was often more central when Germany was in possession due to Nagelsmann’s system which at times acted as a counterweight, but on another day, and against a more polished opponent, Germany could have been 2-0 down. 

Once Kimmich is back to full fitness, the possibility of utilizing the Bayern midfielder in a deeper 6 role behind Gündoğan and Musiala could bear fruit if the right framework is applied.

GGFN | Andrew Thompson

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