Where are Germany vulnerable and how can England exploit?

History may suggest Germany go into next Tuesday’s clash at Wembley as favourites against England but the form of Joachim Löw’s team at Euro 2020 would certainly suggest otherwise. 

Described by football magazine Kicker as a “construction site” after their stumble through Group F, there’s no doubt that this German team are anything but the well-oiled machine we’ve come to expect from a nation that has reached the finals of the European Championship on six occasions. 

Gareth Southgate’s own side may have some convincing to do, but the England manager can certainly take note of some sizable holes in this side and look to take advantage of them.

Where Germany are vulnerable
1. Get in behind Hummels

There is no question that Germany had a huge problem in central defence ahead of this tournament. Löw was not happy with the nation’s dwindling options and ultimately had to swallow his pride and welcome Mats Hummels back to the team after banishing him in March 2019. However, that decision has offered its own problems. 

The Borussia Dortmund player is a clever defender and tremendous passer of the ball, but his pace has quickly become a serious issue for Germany. Löw has tried to accommodate this by placing Antonio Rüdiger and Matthias Ginter either side of Hummels but it has not worked. 

As Kylian Mbappe did for France, Diogo Jota for Portugal and Raheem Sterling can surely do for England, counter-attacks against Hummels – now 32 – are a clear and obvious route to goal against a German side that will surely look to push up the field and apply pressure to England in their own half. 

Germany have already conceded five goals in three games, and one of those came off the right foot of Hummels in a desperate attempt to get back into position and block Mbappe.

“Sometimes that second is enough for you to be too late when the striker has the decisive advantage,” noted Michael Ballack when he was pointing out Hummels’ delayed reaction for Hungary’s opening goal on Wednesday. There is no reason why England’s quick forwards cannot put the German defender under just as much discomfort.

  • Euro 2020 knockout stage predictions

2. Find space behind the wing-backs

Germany may have some of the best midfielders in the world but when it comes to creating goals, most of their assists come from Gosens on the left flank and Joshua Kimmich on the right. 

Indeed, with Löw playing a traditional 3-4-3 formation with two holding midfielders, the German wing-backs are tasked with providing the necessary width and service into the box. As a result, both players have been responsible for setting up four of Germany’s six goals at this summer’s tournament. 

However, that success is predicated on Kimmich and Gosens bombing into the opposing half with the kind of tenacity that can often leave space on either flank. As we saw from the own goal against France and Andras Schafer’s goal for Hungary on Wednesday, midfield runners or opposing full-backs can exploit the space behind Kimmich and Gosens to worrying effect. 

Euro 2020: German advanced wing-backs

Here, England can undoubtedly hurt Germany. Whether it be Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden or the Bundesliga’s own Jadon Sancho on the wing, England have players with pace and skill to run into the gaps left behind by Germany’s gung ho wing-backs. 

3. Keep Havertz quiet 

Perhaps the most notable takeaway from Germany’s first three games of Euro 2020 is that any success this team enjoys in front of goal tends to come through Chelsea forward Kai Havertz. 

The 22-year-old talent was comfortably Germany’s most potent attacker against Hungary and was ultimately the man that got his side back on track with a 66th-minute equaliser, when he bundled in a header. 

“Kai Havertz is more productive in 90 minutes than Leroy Sane has been in three games,” suggested former Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Mehmet Scholl after Wednesday’s game. He  was not wrong.

Germany looked at their best against Portugal when Havertz was performing as an effective focal point up front. It was the Chelsea striker’s darting run that enticed Robin Gosens into firing a cross towards Portugal’s front post, forcing Ruben Dias to bundle the ball into the back of his own net. The second own goal came about from another cross to Havertz in the penalty box and the third was a tap in from a few yards that the young forward happily converted. 

In a team with no traditional strikers, Havertz is the fox in the box. Which is why France marked him out of the game and, ultimately, kept Germany quiet in their opening day 1-0 victory over Löw’s side. If England want to keep a clean sheet and win the game then they’ll likely need to do something similar. 

Euro 2020: German Kai Havertz’s touches

Scouting report: How England’s pace can hurt old rivals

By Daniel Zeqiri

Germany appear to have a chronic inability to defend counter-attacks under Joachim Low which should play into the hands of England, whose squad is younger and is blessed with far more pace. 

They are reminiscent of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in that they’re technically better than England but so vulnerable immediately after losing the ball. Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan are not hard runners but Germany lack the tactical nous – full-backs tucking inside or a Jurgen Klopp-style counter-press – to protect them.

England will feel confident that the likes of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips – or Mason Mount, if Gareth Southgate decides he is available to play post-Covid isolation – ploughing through the middle of Germany’s pedestrian midfield once England win back possession. 

Gareth Southgate will also want Raheem Sterling to use his pace to unsettle the ageing Mats Hummels, whose lack of pace on the turn has already been exposed in this tournament, while Bukayo Saka will try and do the same to Antonio Rudiger.

Euro 2020: German v England pace

Southgate might try and get Saka or Jack Grealish into an inside position to exploit this, maybe by switching from a back four to a back three plus wing-backs. 

England will need to be aware of Germany’s crossing – it was their main attacking weapon against Hungary, albeit it was far from effective, and only one team (Poland) surpassed Low’s side tally of 82 in the group stage. So John Stones and Harry Maguire will need to be prepared for that. 

Euro 2020: German crosses v Hungary

One option for Germany might be to play Timo Werner: he misses chances, but he has a good record against Manchester City defenders, and Stones and Kyle Walker will not relish coming up against him again. 

What we noticed in Hungary shambles that should give England heart
1. Manuel Neuer is making errors

The solid sweeper keeper of tournaments past has been replaced by an error-prone hot-heat. Suffered a calamitous mistake for Hungary’s second that would have caused weeks of soul searching had it been committed by Jordan Pickford. Improbably, Pickford will go into Tuesday’s game as the more reliable of the two keepers.

Neuer ends up in the wrong place during Wednesday's Hungary game

Credit: DPPI

2. They give away silly goals

When Kai Havertz equalised there was a sense that normal order had been restored. Surely there was little chance that Germany, a side with such laser focus that their nickname Die Mannschaft translates simply as “the team”, would fail to close ranks against Hungary? Wrong. In catastrophically un-German fashion, they held onto the lead for just 90 seconds.

3. Time-wasting

Good game management or a sign of how far they have fallen? The sight of Toni Kross and Thomas Muller running down the clock to secure a 2-2 draw at home to Hungary – particularly given that top spot in Group F was still up for grabs – would have gladdened the heart of any England fan. The embarrassed celebrations at the end told of a side who knew it, too.

4. Scrambled brains

This was not the Germany of sharp suits and precise language; it was the Germany of two-pint jugs of beer and oompah bands. Nothing captured the muddled thinking of 2021’s Germany than this corner from Leroy Sane. Gareth Southgate thinks he can fix England’s set-piece funk in a week; on this showing the Germans should be able to score from a corner by Euro 2024.

Euro 2020: German cross Sane

Our experts on who Gareth Southgate should pick
‘Grealish has seized his chance’ – Jason Burt
Foden or Saka?

It is a tough call. Foden is the better play but Saka has performed better – so far – in this tournament. His ability to run with the ball, his intelligence in playing across the attacking three behind Harry Kane and his work-rate tips the balance in his favour. Saka also looked very confident and deserved his man-of-the-match award. Foden has not quite found his feet in this tournament and would be a fantastic option from the bench.

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

Possibly. Again another difficult call. His experience, especially in a last-16 tie and against Germany could be crucial, but is he ready to start? His fitness may be key to this decision. Also England played their best football so far in the opening half hour against the Czechs and that was without Henderson. Gareth Southgate may well go for him and that would make sense. But maybe Rice and Phillips should retain their starting places.

Grealish or Mount?

The call may actually be between Grealish and Foden. Mount is a Southgate favourite and it is easy to see why. He has played okay, so far, during these finals and will probably not have to train in full isolation before the Germany game. But Grealish has already shown his value as a game-breaker and deserves to keep his place. Mount offers another strong option off the bench. There is no doubt he would have played against the Czechs but Grealish seized his chance.

Which full-backs does he go for?

The obvious answer is to stick with Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw. There was a good balance to England’s defence with that pair and they – especially Shaw – got forward. England threatened down their left. However there is clearly an issue with set-piece delivery and Southgate will be tempted to bring in Kieran Trippier who can provide that delivery. Although a natural right-back that would mean leaving out Walker and his physicality and recovery runs are crucial. So Trippier to left-back.

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side?

Probably. But it might compromise England’s attacking options a little too much. The front four worked well and can get better. England have to play to their strengths and worry less about the opposition. With a back-four they have hardly been giving up lots of chances and the return of Harry Maguire is crucial. Southgate may think about a change and the use of wing-backs but Germany are vulnerable defensively and do not need to be matched up in formation.

Jason Burt’s England XI to face Germany

‘Henderson’s experience could be crucial’ – Sam Dean
Foden or Saka?

Saka deserves to retain his place in the team following his performance against the Czech Republic. Against Germany there is likely to be space in behind and his speed could be crucial to England’s counter-attacks. Saka also has the defensive awareness and diligence to track German runners, especially from their wing-back positions.

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

In a game of this magnitude, Henderson’s experience could be crucial. This is a midfielder who has played at the highest level and someone who knows that these matches are settled by the finest of margins. Phillips has had a good tournament so far but he remains relatively new to top-flight football, let alone international football. Together, Henderson and Rice provide an impressive balance in midfield.

Grealish or Mount?

This surely depends on the isolation situation affecting Mount and Ben Chilwell. If Mount cannot train properly with the group in the build-up to the game, there is no way he should be included in the starting lineup. If he is available to train, however, he must play. Not just for his intelligence on the ball, but for his defensive energy without it. Grealish is the perfect impact substitute in games like this, especially if England have the lead. 

Which full-backs does he go for?

Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw. There should be no debate here, even if Kieran Trippier impressed in the opening game of the tournament. Walker’s recovery pace makes him one of the most useful defensive players in Europe, while Shaw offers natural width and balance with his left foot. Shaw looked sharp against the Czech Republic and seems to be growing into the tournament.

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side?

Not necessarily. The danger with a back three or five is that England become pinned back into their own half and cannot get out. We have seen this before, as recently as 2018. The greatest strength of this squad is their speed on the counter-attack and there is a chance that a five-man defence would rob Southgate’s team of their attacking venom. Germany are a good team, of course, but they are not so good that England must abandon the usual shape in order to contain them.

Sam Dean’s England XI to play Germany

‘If Mount is available, he plays’ – Chris Bascombe
Foden or Saka?

How about Foden and Saka? Foden’s absence against the Czech Republic suggests he was rested for the last sixteen. It’s possible that is because of the uncertainty about Mason Mount’s availability as he self-isolates. Against high class opponents, the choice might be Foden or Grealish behind Harry Kane. Put away those pitchforks but I would go with Foden and choose between Grealish and Saka. And Saka is the more difficult of those two to leave out because of his terrifying pace…

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

No. It was encouraging to see Henderson play 45 minutes, but for the moment he has to remain on standby in the event of Rice or Phillips being injured or suspended. Realistically, Henderson would replace Phillips if he was 100 per cent. But the Leeds midfielder does not deserve to be left out.

Grealish or Mount?

If Mount is available, Mount plays. Southgate is in a no-win situation, of course, since Grealish is being hailed as the second coming. The Villa man did alright against the Czechs, but Mount is rightly ahead of him in the pecking order. As suggested earlier, circumstances might see Foden as the number ten.

Which full-backs does he go for?

Against tougher opponents it will probably be Walker and Trippier again. That was the logic against Croatia and it’s hard to see how it has changed with Germany coming to Wembley.

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side?

It’s plausible, but if it goes wrong, can you imagine the flack if Southgate sacrifices an attacking player for another centre-back? The politician within will see the perils. If he was going to play a back five he would surely have done so in the opening game. The 4-2-3-1 suits the players available.

Chris Bascombe’s England XI to face Germany

‘Grealish needs to stay’ – John Percy
Foden or Saka? 

Foden is a huge talent but has yet to make a big impression at Euro 2020 so far, while Saka’s performance against the Czech Republic was excellent. Saka is direct and possesses all the attributes defenders hate, so deserves to keep the shirt.

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

Phillips has been a revelation but Henderson must return for the Germany game. He has one of those roles that can easily be overlooked, but Henderson sets the tempo and has the experience for such a big occasion.

Grealish or Mount? 

Grealish needs to stay in the team regardless of other players, he offers something completely different and is a unique player. Mount could easily play alongside Grealish if Southgate released the hand-brake.

Which full-backs does he go for? 

I would stick with Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw, as they can both defend and offer something going forward. Germany’s wing-backs Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens have been brilliant at Euro 2020 so England need to combat them with players who know both roles.

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side?

A back-three with two wing-backs has been a formation frequently used at Euro 2020, but against Germany England need to have more confidence in their attacking players. Abandon the caution and attack Germany head-on.

John Percy’s England XI to face Germany

‘Stick with Rice and Phillips’ – Mike McGrath
Foden or Saka?

Saka did enough to keep his pace for another game after his fearless running and creativity against Czech Republic. Despite concerns over burnout last season, he looked fresh. While Foden hit the post against Croatia and had an early chance in the Scotland game, he faded in both games and was also playing on the right flank, which he rarely did for Manchester City last season.

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

While it was a huge boost to see Jordan Henderson on the pitch on Tuesday, I would stick with Rice and Phillips. With Phillips sat deep, it will give the right protection against the Germans. Henderson is still easing back from his groin operation and it would be too much of a risk to throw him in for this game.

Grealish or Mount? 

Grealish. Mount will not have enough time to prepare for this game after isolating, regardless of Frank Lampard recently suggesting he is intelligent enough to go straight in after a week away from the team. Grealish will relish the challenge of facing Germany and his dribbling will cause them problems. Ideally I’d have both in the team.

Which full-backs does he go for?

Luke Shaw on the left because Ben Chilwell will not have time to prepare after isolation. Had both been training fully it would be a close fight between the two, who are ahead of Kieran Trippier in my eyes because they are natural left footers and would not have to check back to cross. Shaw looked good in his games so far.

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side?

Yes, it would offer more protection as the wing-backs dropping back would really make it a flat-back five. But with two holding midfielders it would also be too cautious and means one less attacker on the pitch. This is probably not the game to play for a 0-0 and go to dreaded penalties.

Mike McGrath’s England XI to face Germany

‘Grealish is capable of producing moments out of nothing’ – James Ducker
Foden or Saka?

Phil Foden. The Manchester City forward was strangely substituted in England’s first two games and left out against the Czechs but it would be very odd of Gareth Southgate to omit one of his biggest goal threats and most technically accomplished players against the Germans. Put it this way, Germany would be very happy to see Foden not start.

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

It would be so very England to start a player who has managed 45 minutes since February so, no, is the answer on Jordan Henderson. I’d play Jude Bellingham over Kalvin Phillips. He’s very familiar with German football, has proven he is not fazed by the big occasion and offers energy, intensity and quality on the ball from central midfield and may provide a better link to the attack.

Grealish or Mount?

I think Gareth Southgate will go with Mason Mount and that would be understandable – he knows what he is going to get from the Chelsea playmaker in that No. 10 position, not least intelligent, quality pressing. But I don’t think the Germans would expect Grealish to start and he’s capable of producing moments out of nothing, even if he cannot expect all around him to do his leg work.

Which full backs does he go for?

Kyle Walker and John Stones play together on the right side of Manchester City’s defence and Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw on the left side of Manchester United’s defence, plus Stones and Maguire know each other’s games well and have performed on the big stage for England before. So why would you meddle with that? Walker and Shaw both offer great pace and Shaw a genuine threat going forward.

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side?

England have kept three clean sheets in the tournament playing a back four and looked fairly comfortable and solid defensively. Germany are likely to stick with a back three so there will be a temptation for Southgate to match up but England as a whole never looked particularly convincing with a back three during qualifying and may be better playing to their strengths, rather than fretting too much over Germany’s set up.

James Ducker’s England XI to face Germany

‘Grealish is more unpredictable’ – Luke Edwards
Foden or Saka? 

It was Foden by miles before the tournament but he has not been at his beat and Saka gives you more pace on the counter. 

Does Henderson come in for Rice or Phillips?

I don’t think so. He hasn’t played much football for four months and think he’d struggle.

Grealish or Mount? 

Grealish is different. That’s not to say Mount is a bad player, far from it, but Grealish is more unpredictable. 

Which full-backs does he go for? 

Walker and Shaw. I worry about the latter defensively against the best sides but it has the best balance of the full back options. 

Does a back five offer more protection against a better side? 

Absolutely, although given England haven’t conceded a goal yet I don’t think the defence has been the problem.

Luke Edwards’ England XI to face Germany