Germany have an XI ready to cause a Euro 2020 surprise

Lewis Ambrose
5 min readJun 14, 2021

Germany have had a horrible few years. A group stage exit at the 2018 World Cup was quickly followed by the failure to win a single game in their inaugural Nations League campaign.

Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller were soon forced into international retirement by Joachim Löw in a desperate attempt to begin a new cycle for the national team. But that didn’t work either. A relatively uneventful Euro 2020 qualifying campaign saw Germany sail through, winning seven of eight games to pip the Netherlands to top spot. But all was not well. Another Nations League entry saw Germany win just one of four games and ended with a 6–0 loss to Spain in November before they then suffered a shock 2–1 defeat to North Macedonia as recently as March.

So it’s more than reasonable that nobody is talking about them as contenders as their Euro 2020 campaign begins on Tuesday, right?

However, that doesn’t mean they can’t win it. Preparing to step down as soon as the tournament ends, Löw has recalled Hummels and Müller. The pair have been excellent at club level over the past two seasons. And, though they may not be favourites, Germany may suddenly have the best and most well-balanced starting XI (with a few top class players left over for rotation, cover, and an impact off the bench) in the entire tournament.

(All stats per StatsBomb via FBRef)

  • GK: Manuel Neuer

The Bayern stopper suffered a real blip in 2018/19 but has rediscovered top form even as Bayern Munich have offered him less protection than ever. He has made more saves (84, 83) in the last two seasons than in any of his previous eight campaigns with Bayern.

  • CB: Matthias Ginter

Ginter didn’t miss a minute of Bundesliga action in 2020/21. Only two players completed more passes than him. Only three players completed more progressive passes.

  • CB: Mats Hummels

A niggling knee issue is a concern but Hummels is used to managing his body. He isn’t the quickest but never has been, making up for it with his superb reading of the game. He’s also dominant in the air and remains one of the best ball-playing centre-backs in the game — his Instagram username is literally the German word for “outside of the foot” and with good reason.

  • CB: Antonio Rüdiger

Rüdiger has been rock solid since Thomas Tuchel took over at Chelsea. He has the recovery speed to make up for what Hummels lacks and he’s uncompromising in the air and on the ground. He’s comfortable in possession too and has the licence to push into midfield aggressively with two other centre-backs backing him up.

  • RWB: Joshua Kimmich

Maybe the best holding midfielder in the world, maybe the best right-back in the world. Germany are in greater need of the latter, so that’s where he’ll play. From there he can tuck in and help them control the game but he can also burst down the flank to make the most of his fantastic delivery.

  • CM: Toni Kroos

The controller, Kroos will sit in front of the defence and be the key man if and when Germany dominate possession, setting the pace, keeping hold of the ball. No midfielder in LaLiga is more progressive with the ball; Kroos managed to move Real Madrid 523.8m upfield per game last season with his passing alone.

  • CM: Ilkay Gündogan

Gündogan can be paired with Kroos to help Germany control possession and evade pressure but he could also play more advanced after adding something new to his game this season. With Germany likely to play without a natural centre-forward, his ability to arrive in the area undetected could be crucial. He may be part of a double pivot but the fact he has three centre-backs behind him should give him the chance to join in further forward.

  • LWB: Robin Gosens

Something of an unknown in Germany as he has never played in the Bundesliga. Still, he has an incredible 20 Serie A goals in the last two seasons and will be replicating that wing-back role here. With possession likely to be cycled and recycled with a heavy right-sided bias, thank to the use of Kimmich, Gosens could have plenty of space to hurt opponents when play is switched.

  • AM: Thomas Müller

He’s back, and how could he not be? So unique that a term — Raumdeuter — was coined to help explain how he plays. Space interpreter. Nobody finds space like Müller, who is so often seen as lucky when his skill is actually pure judgement, a unique ability to read the game and see what’s unfolding in realtime. He used to use that skill to both score and assist regularly but now leans towards the latter; he has an astounding 39 assists in 65 Bundesliga appearances over the last two seasons.

  • AM: Kai Havertz

Havertz is the perfect foil for the rest of the front three, able to create but also more than capable of regularly contributing goals himself. Germany are built to be fluid in the final third, sharing the workload in the absence of a truly elite, consistent, prolific forward. He’s also deceptively tall with his wiry frame and a real threat in the air, something to look out for if Kimmich and Gosens get time and space out wide.

  • ST: Serge Gnabry

The main man for the national team, Gnabry’s record of 16 goals in 22 appearances for Germany is eye-wateringly good. Gnabry will be tasked with running the channels, pushing backlines back with his threat in behind, and combining before spinning into space. He’s hit double figures for goals in a fifth consecutive Bundesliga season and has club team-mate Müller.

  • Bench: Leon Goretzka, Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sané, Timo Werner

If Germany have any issues scoring goals, they have an abundance of ability to call upon to change the game against tired legs.

The temptation to write this team off is obviously compelling. They’ve had an awful three years or so and things don’t seem to have improved much since their terrible World Cup campaign, even if the team does look different. At the same time, you’d be mad to rule out such a talented collection of players

If this system works — and there’s every chance the returns of Hummels and Müller were just what was needed at both ends of the pitch — Löw could yet leave the job with a bang.