Former world champions face current holders

  • Germany coach Joachim Low opts for experience against France

  • More responsibilities for some players

  • Three newcomers in the squad

Former world champions Germany begin their UEFA Nations League campaign on Thursday against France, the team that succeeded them as FIFA World Cup™ winners. Die Mannschaft coach Joachim Low has given his views on the reasons for his side’s shock group-phase elimination at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and set out his plans for the future. looks at the players who will have a bigger role to play for Germany in the months to come.

The spine Anyone expecting a revolution will have been disappointed. Low has kept his faith in the backbone of the team, with Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos all retaining their places, though Niklas Sule seems set to earn a start in defence. “We have to be strong down the centre, and we now have four or five experienced players there,” said Low. “The others haven’t been around that long, and we need a base from which we can rebuild and which will help the younger players to bed in.” One name that can no doubt be added to that list is Marco Reus.

“We want to earn the forgiveness of the fans,” said Muller. “We are determined to show that what happened in Russia was an accident and that something like that won’t happen again,” added Hummels. Unfortunately for them and their team-mates, time is not on their side. If improvement does not come fast, the loudest voices advocating change may well get their way.

More responsibility Julian Draxler and Leon Goretzka can expect to be given more responsibility in the midfield, as was the case at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, though not at the world finals a year later. Goretzka, for one, is ready: “I’m going to give my all and work harder than ever to make sure it all works out.” Ilkay Gundogan finds himself in a similar situation. Low is expecting big things from a hugely promising player and there is every chance he will play an increasingly prominent role in the national team.

Julian Brandt’s performances were one of Germany’s few causes for satisfaction in Russia, and he too can look forward to a bright future on the international stage. Like Draxler, the 22-year-old is a genuine contender for the team's playmaking role.

Leroy Sane is another youngster generating high hopes. The Manchester City midfielder did not make the squad for Russia 2018, though he has yet to reproduce his club form for his country. Low believes he will one day: “He has the potential to become a very important player for us over the course of the next few years.”

Germany had more shots on goal than any other side in the group phase at Russia 2018, but also the lowest conversion rate. Had the Germans taken only a few more of the many chances they created, they would have progressed to the knockout phase without too much trouble. Timo Werner, who said that the Germans are no longer the hunted but the hunters, was Die Mannschaft’s first-choice striker in Russia, but still has much to do to justify that status and prove that he is the future of the German attack.

Germany's Kai Havertz (L), Thilo Kehrer (M) and Nico Schulz (R)

New faces Low has called up three uncapped players to his latest squad: Kai Havertz, Nico Schulz and Thilo Kehrer. Havertz is arguably the most promising of the three. At the age of only 18 years and 307 days, the Bayer Leverkusen playmaker has just become the youngest player ever to chalk up 50 appearances in the German Bundesliga. His nose for goal and gift for providing assists make him a significant threat to opposing defences.

Three years Havertz’s senior, centre-back Kehrer has just signed for Paris Saint-Germain. Dependable on the ground, solid in the air and quick with his reactions, he can also slot in at right-back. That kind of versatility will do his international prospects no harm, whatsoever.

Hoffenheim left-back Schulz is an enterprising player and a fine crosser of the ball, two qualities that are essential in his position. Now 25, he is at the peak of his powers.

Tactics In analysing what went wrong in Russia, Low underlined the need for Germany to focus less on possession and attacking. A largely reshuffled side adopted a much more cautious approach at last year’s Confederations Cup, with Low employing a 3-4-2-1 formation. While it remains to be seen if he will revert to that approach on Thursday, there can be no question that the Germans will have to tread carefully against a France side that has mastered the art of the counter-attack to perfection.

“We’re coming up against opposition of the very highest quality,” acknowledged Low. While a fresh setback could further weaken his position, victory over the new world champions would be seen as a hugely encouraging sign.