Concerns grow over Germany’s performances and chances at the Euros

German flag graphic for "Frauen-Bundesliga Buzz" by Helene Sophie Altgelt

The first edition of the Arnold Clark Cup has come to an end. In England, the hopes for winning the Euros on home soil have risen, but the tournament hasn’t made Germany fans optimistic for this summer.

Frustrating results for Germany at the Arnold Clark Cup

With just two goals scored in three matches, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s team finished last behind England, Spain, and Canada. Some moments of individual brilliance, like Lina Magull’s superb freekick against the Lionesses, were not enough to clinch a win. 

These results seem to indicate that Germany, crowned European champions eight times, will not be able to repeat this success this year.

Of course, the cup was just a friendly tournament and Germany might hit the ground running just in the time for the Euros this summer, but scoring just one goal from open play should still be a cause for concern. Or is it all down to injuries, questionable refereeing decisions and the opponents’ strength? We will look deeper into this.

Evaluation of Germany’s performances

There seem to be different perceptions of Germany’s performances and the underlying problems within the team and coaching staff. 

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg remained optimistic after the tournament and emphasized how much the team have learned: 

We know why we didn’t win the games for us. I would have been much more shocked if we had been miles away from the other teams in overall performance (…) We will go to England and we will have grown from these experiences.

Sara Däbritz agreed: 

You could simply see that in the end we lacked the coolness and cleverness in the decisive situations. But it could have ended differently, we could have won just as well (…) I am sure that we will be ready for the European Championship and that we will be able to beat these teams then.

Self-criticism from the players

Some players were more critical of themselves, though. According to Germany’s number one between the posts, Merle Frohms, lots of work is to be done before the Euros: 

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We have to defend more aggressively. (…)We are not satisfied with the tournament result at the end and had promised ourselves much more.

Centre-back Sophia Kleinherne, who started against Canada and England, took the same stance: 

We have to show a completely different face by the time the European Championship comes around.

From reassuring statements that the problems were recognised to calls to question the entire system, everything was there. This leads us to the question of whether Voss-Tecklenburg’s optimism is justified, and what the problems in those three games were. 

Bad luck, injuries and an inexperienced team

The preconditions for Germany, going into this tournament, were far from ideal. 14 players that usually make the squad had to stay home due to injuries or covid. With key players like Wolfsburg’s Alexandra Popp and Svenja Huth, and Bayern’s centre-back Marina Hegering absent, few expected Germany to perform at their best. 

With an average number of 20 caps for the national team, the squad was inexperienced. It wasn’t a miracle that the world’s very best exploited this weakness. Add to that a few questionable refereeing decisions, like the two penalty kicks against Canada that were not given, or England’s second goal, which was probably offside, and you have a simple explanation for the fourth-place finish. 

Unfortunately, the problems go a bit deeper than that. 

Recurring problems

Looking at the games Germany have played over the last year, it becomes clear that the reasons for the bad results aren’t new. Against Israel, ranked 75th in the world, the team came by the skin of its teeth to a 1-0 victory.

When they faced the Netherlands in a friendly last February, Germany could have easily conceded more than two goals. It was an open game though, as Germany missed some chances as well. After the game, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said that it was a game they shouldn’t have lost. One year later, she comes to a very similar conclusion after the England game: 

“The defeat is very frustrating because it was unnecessary. I don’t think we were the worse team. We sold ourselves short.” 

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But if Germany’s problems aren’t that concerning, why are they recurring in every game against top opposition? When individual errors by both defenders and attackers occur in most games, maybe they aren’t that individual after all. They are a pattern.

Decision-making in attack

Let’s have a look at the first problematic aspect: the decision-making in attack. In many situations, Germany found themselves in a good position to attack. But then, the players either held the ball for too long or chose the wrong pass. These aren’t just individual mistakes, because the decision in these cases depends, of course, on the positioning of the others.

In this example against England, Klara Bühl makes her way down the left wing but can’t get past Millie Bright. Bühl had no other choice than to keep the ball, because only two German players were in the box, outnumbered by five English defenders and midfielders.

Wrong decisions paired with shooting accuracy were a problem against Canada, where only 5 shots out of 17 were on target. Their xG for the game was at 1,07, so the data suggests they would score 1 goal. However, it is not a lot given their number of shots, meaning that Germany tried to score from unpromising positions many times as well, as their xG per shot is 0,06.

Bad timing in counter-attacks

Germany won the ball quite often, but with more cleverness and timing, they could have created better chances. For example, they produced four counterattacks against the Lionesses but only one of them resulted in a shot.

Here, they find themselves in a promising situation against the Olympic champions after Anyomi does well to win the ball and drive into Canada’s box but then plays the pass too late. A through ball to Lea Schüller could have been the better option, which could have seen Germany more threatening in front ot the Canadian’s goal.

Technical problems

Another issue that became apparent in these situations are technical deficiencies. Several times, Germany had found a way through the opponent’s defense but then couldn’t produce a good shot. Here, Bühl is left completely unmarked but she can’t control the ball. Not only does this end an attack, but it can lead to a very dangerous transition to attack for the opposition.

Short strings of passes

Another problem was that Germany’s phases of possession were quite short. Compared to their opponents, Germany played fewer passes per possession. Either they lost the ball after an average number of passes of 3,76 or their possession was interrupted. The difference in the Germany-Spain game is striking. While Spain, known for trying to dominate possession, had an average of 6,55, Germany’s was less than half of it with 3,1.

This indicates a direct style of play, trying to surpass the midfield with few touches and playing quickly. But as we have seen, another problem has been that the counterattacks led to few shots. Germany’s precision and timing were insufficient, which makes direct, quick attacking harder. 

Distribution from the midfield

One reason for that is the lack of a defensive midfielder that is good at distributing the ball, initiating attacks. Well, technically this is not true, because Germany have Lena Oberdorf, undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest talents in that position, in their ranks.

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However, Voss-Tecklenburg apparently decided to move Oberdorf to the centre-back position, as Germany have very few options there. The question is if she won’t be missed more sorely in midfield, since her attacking threat significantly decreases when she plays in defense. 

The centre-back problem

The situation is tricky because Voss-Tecklenburg doesn’t exactly have an embarrassment of riches in the center-back position either. Oberdorf took a knock in the Spain game, and she couldn’t play the last two matches. Frankfurt’s Sophia Kleinherne played alongside Jana Feldkamp against England, but both could not impress.

Ellen White’s goal was partially caused by the mistakes of the two of them. While Feldkamp (#8) gets a foot on the ball but fails to clear it, Kleinherne (#2) doesn’t succeed in marking England’s number 9. 

This means that Oberdorf will probably play as a central defender, even if this isn’t her strongest position. At club level, Wolfsburg’s coach Stroot experimented with this at the start of the season as well. As his team lost stability and quality in build-up play, he changed his mind, though. For the Euro, Alexandra Popp is an option for the midfielder role, if she recovers from her injury by then. 

Lack of a distinct style of play

Even if the defensive issues are sorted out, the problem of chance creation and decision-making will remain. For now, Germany looks like a team without a distinct style of play and plan. Neither excelling at dominating possession nor at counter-attacking, the team tries to do a bit of both. The result of this can be tactical flexibility. In Germany’s case, it rather leads to a game relying on individual skills like dribbles and shots from distance. 

The main takeaway for Germany from these friendlies is that not having a clear plan could cost them dearly. Spain try to combine their way into the box with short passes and one-touch playing. Canada sit back and score from counterattacks with their fast players or set pieces. England count on their Walsh-Williamson double pivot to distribute the ball to their explosive wingers. What playing style does Germany want to adapt, building from the back or attacking directly?

In both scenarios, there is a lot of work to be done concerning positioning, decision-making, and coordination. But Germany’s squad also boasts lots of extraordinary players. If they can find a clear identity until this summer and become more clinical, they might surprise those who already write them off.

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