Germany's backline needs fixing, says Neil Humphreys
Loew must fix brittle backline or forget about Euro glory
GERMANY v ITALY
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Allianz Arena, Munich)
The Germans are angry. In truth, they often are.
They were angry, fuming even, on the eve of their nation's World Cup quarter-final against France two years ago, demanding severed heads and shattered careers if victory was not secured.
Anger has always fuelled Germany, serving as fuel to fire serial winners. But this feels different. The anger is diluted with a shoulder shrug.
Germany's home defeat by England was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. The loss had been coming.
The world champions do not currently boast a backline capable of winning Euro 2016, or perhaps even beating Italy in an international friendly tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
National coach Joachim Loew is aware of the scathing reports back home, blended with a dash of indifference from Joe Public who witnessed Germany's performances during an erratic qualifying campaign.
Loew is also aware that the Germans are still waiting for a first victory over Italy at a major tournament (no wins in three meetings at European Championship and five encounters at World Cups).
But those are trifling concerns compared to the glaring weaknesses that must eat away at his Germanic soul.
The defensive deficiencies must be fixed or Germany face unexpected humiliation at Euro 2016.
In the rush to anoint the world champions the most entertaining bunch of swashbuckling buccaneers in German history two years ago, an obvious fact was neatly side-stepped.
Their defence never wavered in Brazil. They conceded only four goals on the road to immortality (two in the group phase, two in the knockout stages).
Collectively, the back four was a model of reliability, guided by the imperious Philipp Lahm and shepherded by Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Those eager to tout Germany's Euro 2016 credentials, based largely on their World Cup heroics, neglect to mention a worrying stat.
Not one of the back four that denied Lionel Messi's Argentina at the Maracana for 120 minutes will be involved tomorrow morning. Nor will Schweinsteiger.
From left to right, Benedikt Hoewedes, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are all injured and the enigmatic Lahm retired, prematurely, after the World Cup.
Without Lahm in particular, Germany looked like lost sheep against England.
Once Hummels succumbed to injury, Germany surrendered the initiative to England and spent the second half looking like impostors. The faces didn't fit the jerseys.
With Hoewedes out for three months, Jonas Hector was efficient without really excelling.
Under Loew, being efficient is the bare minimum of prerequisites. Efficiency comes with the DNA, a German birth right. Euro 2016 demands more.
But Hector is the least of Loew's defensive concerns.
Antonio Rudiger, 23, and 20-year-old Jonathan Tah, who made his debut against England, struggled to find the cohesion required to halt the Three Lions.
In a surreal metamorphosis, England and Germany appeared to swop places in the space-time continuum in the second half, with the young Englishmen looking like the Teutonic teenage colts that destroyed Fabio Capello's hapless old men at the 2010 World Cup.
Boateng, a mountainous presence in front of Manuel Neuer and the revered leader of his back four, is out with an adductor injury and faces a dramatic race for match fitness before Euro 2016 begins.
Without him, Germany are rudderless and drifting. In the past, there were usually two anchors, two fixed points for disoriented teammates to find when they were losing their bearings.
But Lahm and Schweinsteiger will not be around against Italy. Disillusioned Manchester United fans may break out in hives at the mention of the midfielder's name, but Schweinsteiger was a different player for his country.
As his pace slowed and the lung-busting runs decreased, Schweinsteiger loved playing the human shield.
The little defensive triangle between the United midfielder, Boateng and Hummels was near impregnable in the decisive stages of the World Cup and certainly conspicuous by its absence against England.
Just ask poor Sami Khedira.
Rather like Mario Goetze, Khedira's career hasn't quite panned out as expected after he announced himself as one of the Bundesliga babes to watch.
Goetze, 23, still has time on his side, but Khedira most certainly didn't against England. He was left behind by Dele Alli.
Khedira failed to provide the kind of defensive cover associated with Schweinsteiger in his prime, putting further pressure on the inexperienced centre-back pairing of Rudiger and Tah.
Khedira has insisted that the England loss served as a wake-up call, but there's still a chance that their defence may hit the snooze button again against Italy.
At the World Cup, Loew proved that Germany could shake off their cliched reputation of being dour machinists and win trophies with an attractive blend of quick, youthful, counter-attacking football.
But he won't win anything without a defence.