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Julian Nagelsmann with the DFB team: A team formed from ashes

Julian Nagelsmann with the DFB team: A team formed from ashes
Julian Nagelsmann with the DFB team: A team formed from ashes

Two European Championship games, two wins. Julian Nagelsmann has achieved with the national team what seemed a long way off just a few months ago: There is a team again. With someone who is both brave and relaxed.

Regardless of how far the tournament actually goes, after just two preliminary round matches at this 2024 European Championship, it is clear that Julian Nagelsmann has managed to form a new unit from the ashes of the past few years. In autumn 2023, Nagelsmann was faced with the ruins of messed-up years. Nobody knew what the national team stood for in terms of football anymore. They didn’t play effectively, they didn’t play beautifully, they constantly conceded goals. But Nagelsmann came up with a plan over the winter. And it started with Toni Kroos.

In February, the announcement that Kroos would return to the DFB team caused some surprise. Kroos himself quickly made it clear that the “people involved in the national team” had been the deciding factor in his decision. He was “quickly on the same wavelength” with Julian Nagelsmann. “We talked a lot about how to be successful again,” said Kroos. Nagelsmann’s plan and Kroos’ contribution, so to speak.

Julian Nagelsmann does not shy away from unpopular decisions in the interests of success. The decision to bring back Toni Kroos was the one that received the least criticism. The criticism grew louder when Nagelsmann retained İlkay Gündoğan as DFB captain. The greatest incomprehension, however, was that Nagelsmann was sticking with Manuel Neuer as the number one in the German goal. Neuer is no longer up to par and he makes too many mistakes, said critics – most recently when he supposedly and involuntarily provided an assist in the European Championship dress rehearsal against Greece. But Nagelsmann ignored the voices and relied on two such experienced players to find their form again in the right environment. So far, he has been right. The structure is in place, and the Neuer-Kroos-Gündogan axis no longer promises world class on paper.

Julian Nagelsmann also makes unpopular decisions

Nagelsmann’s nominations for the European Championship squad also left some amateur national coaches surprised: Mats Hummels and Leon Goretzka not there? Hummels himself showed understanding for this, despite all the disappointment: “I can understand the idea that a group should have grown since March. For me as an individual, that is bitter because I am currently one of the five best defenders in Germany, I have that confidence. If I had had the phase like I did before the nomination in March, I might have been there – and now also part of the European Championship squad.”

Nagelsmann certainly seems to have a good feel for his squad: in the opening game against Scotland in Munich, he brought on Bayern icon Thomas Müller in the 73rd minute. In the second group game in Stuttgart, he brought on Chris Führich (72nd) and Deniz Undav (84th) from VfB. All three repaid him with committed performances – and Müller even provided an assist – in front of “their” audience. Here, too, Nagelsmann’s courage has been rewarded so far.

The squad determines the tactics

Nagelsmann adapts his tactics to his squad. In defence, full-backs Joshua Kimmich and Maximilan Mittelstädt have shown all their skills after just a few games together, as our colleague Christian Ewers also points out. They made their debut in the international match against France in March and drove Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé to despair. The two German full-backs now know that they have repaid Nagelsmann’s trust – and are doing an outstanding job.

In midfield, Gündoğan and Kroos harmonize much better than many critics had expected. Almost every offensive move against Scotland went through these two. Nagelsmann has managed to ease the relationship between Gündogan and Kroos on the pitch. “Now that we’re playing a little offset from each other, we can complement each other even better,” said Gündoğan after the win against Hungary. “The good thing is, especially with Toni now, that when we look at each other on the pitch, even for a millisecond, we know what the other is thinking and what they’re planning in the next situation. A connection like that is incredibly important on the pitch.”

Tactically, the style of play under Nagelsmann has evolved away from possession football. Now the players are allowed to put the opposing formation to the test with long balls. When Hungary suddenly started to play higher after the break, Rüdiger simply played a long pass to Havertz, who fought for the ball and Germany settled further forward. They outplayed the pressing.

Character and mentality are right

In the mixed zone, it becomes clear what else sets the team apart. After the victory over Hungary, Kroos said: “We have overcome one or two difficulties. That is a huge benefit to the team, and it will be important in the knockout phase. We will not play seven games from the start and always be in the lead. That is why it is important to gain these experiences. (…) Our aim is, of course, to finish first in the group. We have to keep the tension high. It is not good if something falls away. We have a bigger goal than just the round of 16.”

Ilkay Gündogan and Robert Andrich celebrate the goal to make it 2-0 in the European Championship group match against Hungary

Gündoğan and Musiala also whirl against Hungary – all highlights in the video

06:00 min

And Mittelstädt said: “We have shown that we are on the right track. Everything is possible for us. We have shown a very good performance in two games. If we can confirm this performance in the next few weeks, we can achieve great things.”

The DFB team has the mentality and character to achieve great things. Nagelsmann is moving forward in a relaxed but focused manner. Keeping the tension high, not taking any opponent lightly, but also laughing now and then: This is how the team can make it to Berlin.

Source: Stern

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