Germany fans looking for a reaction after Hansi Flick was sacked on the weekend got it. On Tuesday, Germany beat France 2-1 thanks to goals by Thomas Müller (4’) and Leroy Sané (87’), with Antoine Griezmann scoring the goal for France from the spot (89’). It was Germany’s first win since Mar. 6, the first win against France since the 2014 World Cup quarterfinal, and France’s first defeat in 2023.
But more importantly than the win, Germany played like Germany again. The penalty aside, which Sané caused just moments after scoring the winner for Germany, the backline was solid. In the attack, Germany, spearheaded by a very engaged Thomas Müller, pressed high and put in a shift that this country hadn’t seen before the 2018 World Cup.
“The first half was a top performance,” interim Bundestrainer Rudi Völler said after the game. “In the second half, we were stable and put in a great fight. The second goal was a relief for all of us. We were up against a world-class team; you just have to say that. Even if it was just a friendly, it’s also about a bit of prestige; France doesn’t like losing against Germany, I know that. It feels good after the last defeats.”
Just a glance at the statistics underlines the observation by the 63-year-old interim boss. After 45 minutes, Germany had 53% possession and led France with 403 to 363 passes. Although France had more shots on goal, Germany was also the only team producing a big chance, which was put away efficiently by Müller.
The only time Germany seemed to lose a bit of control was when Ilkay Gündogan had to come off with a back injury, but as France pressed for an equalizer, Germany remained stable. Then, in the second half, it was more of the same as Germany went toe-to-toe with France without ever looking vulnerable at the back.
In fact, the full-time stats underline a very balanced match. The possession was 50-50, with Germany completing 503 passes and France completing 506 passes. Where Germany was better, however, was in defensive tackles won (15-12) and clearances (13-7). Defensive midfielder Emre Can, defender Antonio Rüdiger, and full-back Benjamin Henrichs, in particular, stood out.
The defensive performance was very much vintage Germany. Indeed, the Germany of old and the fans at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund very much appreciated the effort put in by Die Nationalmannschaft.
“Today was balm to the soul—both for the fans and us,” goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen said after the game. “We really pushed ourselves, and people saw that. The past few days have been strange; it’s great that we could end it with a win. We wanted to have a relatively simple structure. Rudi got us in the mood for the game today, and in the end, it worked. This win gives us confidence.”
Ter Stegen, in fact, only had to react once in the 82nd minute when he had to tip a Griezmann shot over the crossbar. The Barcelona goalkeeper was then without a chance in injury time when Griezmann beat him from the spot. But overall, like many other players in the team, you could sense that a weight was lifted from Ter Stegen’s shoulders throughout the 90 minutes.
The same can be said about Müller. Playing as a no.9, Müller celebrates his 34th birthday on Wednesday, but that wasn’t visible throughout the game. Müller led the line, pressed, and then scored a typical no.9 goal, showing that it might be early to discuss the impending end of his career.
“First of all, I would like to thank Hansi and his coaching staff,” Müller said after the game. “It really wasn’t easy for us to endure this negative streak, for which we ourselves are also responsible. But at the same time, I also have to compliment Rudi, Hannes Wolf, and Sandro Wagner on how they approached the whole thing in this short time. Ultimately, we implemented it well on the pitch today, were diligent, and rewarded ourselves at the right moments. We still have a long way to go, but today was a small emotional relief.”
The Müller statement is telling. Of course, the forward won the treble at Bayern under Flick. But the reaction against France showed that this team needed a restart with a new coaching staff that not only brought a fresh set of ideas after the end of the Klinsmann-Löw-Flick era but also a sense of pragmatism.
Völler is no stranger to implementing a pragmatic approach. During his first era, he guided a team that was more limited than the current generation to a World Cup final. Indeed, it almost felt like, over the last few days, Völler was more at home on the pitch with the team than during his years in the boardroom.
It is unlikely that Völler could be convinced to continue the role together with Hannes Wolf and Sandro Wagner. But finding someone like Völler might be a better solution than Julian Nagelsmann, who appears to be the favorite for the job.
After all, the Bundestrainer role is more about politics than coaching, and this generation has shown that it needs an experienced voice at the moment to get the job done. And hasn’t Nagelsmann struggled in a similarly political role at Bayern? With that in mind, the game against France shows someone like Völler might be the best solution to coach Germany towards the 2024 European Championships.
Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth and on Threads: @manuveth