The first international break of the season is upon us and the two upcoming fixtures for Germany could prove extremely important for the future of coach Hansi Flick and the nation’s outlook moving towards the European Championships next summer. Here are five talking points ahead of the clashes with Japan and France…
1- Is Japan a must-win game?
The matches this week may only be classified as friendlies, but there is a lot more than usual riding on the two games. The World Cup exit at the group stage was bad enough, but it could and should have been put to bed in the subsequent friendlies, but losses to Belgium, Poland and Colombia and a lucky draw with Ukraine put paid to that.
Hansi Flick has come under increasing scrutiny and any further disappointments will be very difficult to explain away. The mood of pessimism is rife at the moment, which in the year building up to the European Championships on home soil is far from the ideal scenario. A second consecutive loss to Japan could well have major consequences.
2- Is Kai Havertz really the only option up front?
With Niclas Füllkrug withdrawing from the squad with a tendon strain and Timo Werner not even selected, the likelihood is that Hansi Flick will once again play Kai Havertz as the most advanced player in attack despite him not enjoying the best of starts this season following his move to Arsenal. But what are the alternatives?
Havertz can play a role in attack, but he is far from the classic number nine that you would like to see spearheading the German frontline. There is no Youssoufa Moukoko, no Mergim Berisha and no Karim Adeyemi- which must be music to Japanese ears.
3- What will be the back four constellation?
Hansi Flick has stated that the experiment with a back-three is over, and from this point forward a back-four will be the set-up in defence. Antonio Rüdiger should be one of the centre backs with one of Nico Schlotterbeck, Niklas Süle, or Jonathan Tah partnering him. The omissions of both Mathias Ginter and Thilo Kehrer may point towards their time being up for now at least.
Robin Gosens and Benjamin Henrich have both started the new Bundesliga season in fine form so look likely to play in the full back roles with little other option to be fair.
4- Can Ter Stegen cement his place as number one?
The continued absence of Manuel Neuer means that Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André Ter Stegen will get the opportunity to continue as the number one keeper. He has not really been to blame for the German side’s recent poor run of results and will have every reason to feel he can stake a claim to be the first-choice custodian for the European Championships (even when Neuer does finally return).
As long as Ter Stegen continues to perform for the Catalans and gives the German coach no reason to drop him, Neuer (at 37 years of age) may be forced to play second fiddle for once.
5- Which is the best offensive formula?
The constellation that is set up in front of (presumably Joshua Kimmich and Ilkay Gündogan) will be interesting to see. Jamal Musiala has missed the past two Bundesliga matches for Bayern so may not be risked, although Leroy Sané looks a dead-cert to start after a very good start to the league season. Jonas Hoffman has also started the season in fine form, as has club mate Florian Wirtz.
Wirtz however has flattered to deceive in recent Germany matches and needs to start bringing his club form to international duty. There is a very good reason Pascal Groß has been called up for the first time, but whether Hansi Flick is brave enough to throw him in remains to be seen.