Antoine Griezmann Sends Germany Into Early UEFA Nations League Relegation,Plus All Your UEFA Nations League Results
Antoine Griezmann proved the difference as France dusted themselves down after a poor first-half display to defeat Germany 2-1 in their UEFA Nations League encounter in Paris.
Under-pressure Germany boss Joachim Loew – facing increased scrutiny after the 3-0 weekend hammering by Holland – shuffled his pack and started with a back five in the Stade de France.
And Die Mannschaft looked more resolute than at any time in the last 12 months during a first-half when they deservedly took the lead through Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos.
Paul Pogba was robbed on the halfway line by Joshua Kimmich, Germany broke quickly and Leroy Sane won a penalty when his cross hit the hand of the sliding Presnel Kimpembe; Kroos stepped up and edged it past the despairing dive of Huge Lloris.
But the World Cup winners rolled up their sleeves in the second half – no doubt after a half-time shellacking from Didier Deschamps – and came from behind to win thanks to a brace from Griezmann.
After 62 minutes he met Lucas Hernandez’s cross with a wonderful glancing header to leave Manuel Neuer with no chance.
And he tucked home a controversial penalty 10 minutes from time, sending Neuer the wrong way after Mats Hummels had been adjudged to have brought down Blaise Matuidi – despite the France midfielder appearing to stand on the Bayern man.
After Griezmann’s double, and despite an improved first-half display, the pressure will further rise on Loew, whose side have now won just three of their last 13 matches and have just one competitive victory in 2018.
Germany now face the very real prospect of relegation from Group 1 of the UEFA Nations League, unless they see off Holland in Gelsenkirchen next month.
Here are five talking points….
1. Safety first for Loew
Under big pressure after the debacle in Holland, Loew elected to add an extra centre-back into his starting XI.
Germany were widely criticised for their openness defensively at the World Cup and the Jerome Boating-Mats Hummels partnership has continued to struggle since – for club and country.
With Boateng injured, Niklas Sule and Thilo Kehrer both came in as Loew reverted to a 5-4-1/3-4-3 formation. Hummel was joined by Matthias Ginter and Niklas Sule at centre-back, with Nico Schulz and Thilo Kehrer as the wing-backs.
Germany have rarely used a back five since the early 2000s, but Loew’s safety first approach harks back to yesteryear, notably the last days of Lothar Matthaus.
Crisis management….the German way.
2. Return of the German counter
One thing that was utterly dismal about Die Mannschaft during the World Cup was their inability to attack at pace.
Despite having quick players in the side, every attacking move took too long; it was always too considered, too careful, too lacking invention or risk: and that was with Mesut Ozil in the side!
Since, things have continued in a similar manner, but without Ozil they have lost their most dangerous exponent of the slide-rule pass; whatever your thoughts on the Arsenal playmaker, few have greater appreciation for an angled pass than he.
Additionally, Thomas Muller has endured a particularly miserable time in the national side from a personal point of view.
In the Stade de France, with a lightning-quick attacking trio of Sane, Timo Werner and Serge Gnabry, all inter-changing and finding the half-spaces, Germany were much quicker to progress the ball into the final third.
Such was their directness, they looked much more like Loew’s 2010 version than the side that has fallen short at the last two major tournaments trying to dominate possession. The variation made them look far more dangerous.
3. Pogba exploited
Didier Deschamps earned widespread acclaim for Paul Pogba’s displays during the World Cup, as the Manchester United man impressed at the base of midfield.
He’s been very hit and miss in the Premier League since and it was another night where, for every step forward Pogba took, he promptly took another back.
As usual, there were smart passes, intelligent progressions through the lines and clever bursts away from opponents.
But Germany’s penalty came from Pogba being too lackadaisical and hustled off the ball in the middle of the park, while Gnabry – intelligently – made the most of the spaces between Pogba and his defensive line.
Rarely did the ex-Arsenal man venture into spaces behind N’Golo Kante – simply they weren’t there – but he got great joy playing in the shadows left by Pogba.
4. France’s goal made in Madrid
When Diego Simeone sees Les Bleus’ equaliser, you can be sure the Argentine will allow himself a wry smile.
Because Griezmann’s terrific header was the result of fine work down the France left by his Atletico Madrid teammate Lucas Hernandez.
The 22-year-old has come on leaps and bounds in the last 12 months. A steady rather than spectacular performer at the World Cup, he is showing signs of adding more attacking thrust to his game and tonight France benefited.
5. Griezmann shows his class again
His club manager feels he has been the best footballer in the world over the last year and should win the Ballon d’Or. Luka Modric, the favourite for the award, feels that if a World Cup winner takes it then it should be the Atleti forward.
Yet Antoine Griezmann for the Ballon d’Or has been largely looked upon as being, well, wrong.
But the 27-year-old continues to enjoy a sensational 2018, where, in the biggest games, when his club or country really need him, he comes up with the goods.
Two goals in the Europa League final in Lyon handed Atletico that trophy, while he bagged 19 in La Liga as they finished only behind Barcelona . He scored four in Russia, including the crucial go-ahead goal – from which France never looked back – in the final against Croatia.
And the forward came to France’s rescue here, a magnificent header putting Deschamps’ men ahead just as they looked to be running short of ideas.
Mbappe has ridiculous explosive moments, Kante knits it all together and Raphael Varane is largely outstanding. But Griezmann, now with 26 international goals to his name, is Les Bleus’ best and most important player.
He showed why again in Saint-Denis.