European Football Championship: Nagelsmann’s defensive risk: European Championship risk with Dortmund charm

European Football Championship: Nagelsmann’s defensive risk: European Championship risk with Dortmund charm
European Football Championship: Nagelsmann’s defensive risk: European Championship risk with Dortmund charm

This is the scenario that critics had warned Julian Nagelsmann about. Double failure in defense and no experienced replacement. The national coach is staying cool ahead of the knockout phase. He must now have confidence.

With his shirt off and his baggy shorts, Mats Hummels aimed very precisely. But the basketball bounced back to him from the hoop. No hit. If Julian Nagelsmann wasn’t Julian Nagelsmann, Hummels wouldn’t be posting vacation videos like this now. He would be an important defensive alternative with plenty of experience for the national team ahead of the round of 16.

However, the European Football Championship is not a tournament in the subjunctive. Due to Jonathan Tah’s suspension and Antonio Rüdiger’s injury, the DFB team is moving towards a new defensive setup that is causing some unease among experts and fans.

Nico Schlotterbeck, 13 international matches, and Waldemar Anton, two international matches. Total minutes played together: zero. They will form the central defense in the first knockout match on Saturday (9 p.m.) in Dortmund, provided the muscle strain in Rüdiger’s right thigh has not healed by then. There were no positive signs of this on the family day announced by Nagelsmann at the Home Ground in Herzogenaurach. Pool fun for EM pros with their families, voluntary athletic training for the particularly industrious and waiting for the next opponent from Group C late in the evening were the daily program there.

More important than the filling jug question

But with the preparation for the round of 16, Nagelsmann’s defensive considerations continue. Whether Niclas Füllkrug or Kai Havertz will be the striker on the hunt for goals is almost an insignificant personnel issue in comparison. Now more than ever, the national coach’s role concept, which has worked so well up to now, is being put to the test.

DFB managing director Andreas Rettig took refuge in evasive phrases on the subject: “As I see the squad, we would still play with eleven and field two others,” he said about Tah’s suspension and Rüdiger’s injury.

The situation is a little more serious: two young, inexperienced backups in central positions. That was the scenario that pessimists had anticipated when Nagelsmann was putting together his squad. But the national coach is playing it cool. His course is set. After all, there were good reasons not to nominate Hummels. “We have confidence in the whole squad,” is one of the national coach’s standard phrases.

Trust in Schlotterbeck and Anton

The last time he said it was when they were looking for a replacement for Tah, who had been suspended after receiving his second yellow card. Rüdiger’s diagnosis was still pending. Schlotterbeck or Anton, that was the question. “They both have a duel. We couldn’t bring both of them in today. They both deserve it because they’re doing well in training,” said Nagelsmann after the 1-1 draw against Switzerland, in which Schlotterbeck was able to get “a few minutes” for Tah.

The answer could be: Schlotterbeck and Anton. And that almost has charm. Because Dortmund is the venue. It is Schlotterbeck’s football home. And if the transfer news is to be believed, Anton’s future. The highly sought-after Stuttgart player is said to have chosen Borussia as his future club. Warming up for future BVB tasks in the national jersey in front of the south stand, so to speak. A Dortmund signal for the future with the ex-Borussia player Hummels only as a beach holidaymaker.

That is the folkloristic view. The factual one is that both have never played alongside each other. And that in the position in the centre of defence, which requires automatisms and coordination like no other. “It’s not easy as a centre-back, because a duo has to find each other first. The coordination has to be right,” said former world champion and TV expert Shkodran Mustafi.

Virtually no tournament experience

The reality is also that there has never been a more inexperienced duo in recent German tournament history. Anton is about to make his tournament debut. Schlotterbeck was only in the starting eleven at major tournaments in the unsuccessful start to the 2022 World Cup against Japan (1:2). After that, former national coach Hansi Flick preferred to move Niklas Süle – another Dortmund player – into the center.

There have been repeated failures of defensive leaders in the history of the DFB tournaments. On the way to the last European Championship victory in England in 1996, Jürgen Kohler was injured after just a few minutes in the first game against the Czech Republic. Substitute Markus Babbel was quickly suspended after receiving two yellow cards. National coach Berti Vogts had to rotate a lot.

Hummels was suspended as a well-rehearsed partner of fellow world champion Jérôme Boateng in the 2016 European Championship semi-finals. At the time, his absence in the 2-0 defeat against France was still a real factor.

Source: Stern

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