The multi-purpose Joshua Kimmich had said a phrase before the game that was multi-purpose. “I honestly have to say that I’ve rarely played against a team that defends so well,” said the international, referring to the leaders of Nations League Group 3: the Hungarians, whom the DFB team already had in June in a tough one first leg had met. With the same sentence, the Bayern player Kimmich could also have meant the leaders of the Bundesliga, 1. FC Union Berlin. The Hungarians, that much can be said, are the Union Berlin of the Nations League – they have that kind of quality that is especially noticeable when you happen to be on the pitch as their opponent.
The German national team also had to endure this analogy, that of FC Bayern, which was almost in crisis, that evening when everything was connected anyway: the condition of the DFB-Elf with that of FC Bayern, the game system of the DFB-Elf with that of the FC Bayern (without a center forward!) – and the Nations League with that other tournament that will be held in far-off Arabia in less than eight weeks.
For national coach Hansi Flick , who of course also coached FC Bayern and almost never had a problem with them, this evening offered a lot of challenges at once. On the one hand it was about the current result, on the other hand it was about overarching knowledge for the World Cup, and all in all it was far too much baggage that the German team brought into the game: it showed the weakest first half in Hansi Flick’s tenure. It got a lot better in the second half, but it wasn’t what you call World Cup form. Flick has already missed his first concrete goal as a DFB coach: After the sobering 0: 1 (0: 1) against Hungary, the Germans can no longer win their Nations League group. And the national coach had to record the first defeat of his term.
“Better now than in November,” said Flick. Such a game doesn’t throw his team over, but it may have “opened his eyes.” And what the national coach also admitted: that the first half was just “bad of us”. Thomas Müller also saw it that way: “You noticed that the phase in the club is not the easiest for many,” he said. “We didn’t get the power on the pitch.”
Hungary parks all spaces extremely professionally
Flick opted for the lineup that was generally expected. To put it mildly, it was not a formation based on current form curves. It was an elf that was perhaps once intended as the starting eleven and now followed more pedagogical motives. Among other things, it was about returning Timo Werner and Serge Gnabry, who had lost themselves, to themselves, which was a titanic undertaking against the eleven that defended like a mixture of Hungary and Union Berlin. The guests parked all the rooms extremely professionally, which became a problem for Werner in particular. Werner needs passes in spaces, but without space there were no passes either.
Ironically, Hungary took the lead early – through a goal from a classic centre-forward. Adam Szalai, who at least has a decent Bundesliga career behind him, deflected a corner kick from Dominik Szoboszlai into the goal with his heel (17′). Szoboszlai, by the way, plays for RB Leipzig in civilian life, it was a home game for him in this stadium, as well as for his compatriots Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban, as well as for DFB players Timo Werner and David Raum. In addition to the DFB-Elf, Hungary, Union Berlin, FC Bayern and Qatar, RB Leipzig was also on the pitch, which further narrowed the space there.
In fact, Flick should have been somewhat shocked about the first half. He knows that his team can do much better, but in the first 45 minutes this fact could only be guessed at. Slowly and without any change of pace, the DFB-Elf played back and forth and back and forth in front of Union Hungary’s penalty area, apart from Ilkay Gündogan hardly any player dared to make a steeper addressed pass. It wasn’t until the 39th minute before Thomas Müller headed in what one might charitably call Germany’s first chance to score after a cross from Raum. That could also become a bigger issue at the World Cup in Qatar: that Flick has one of the best flankers in the country – David Raum – in the squad, but no customers who are happy about such programs.
Flick changes the game’s statics
At first glance, the change that Flick made at the break seemed adventurous: he replaced Gnabry, who was still irritatingly struggling for form, with defender Thilo Kehrer. At second glance, the idea behind the maneuver became clear: Flick switched to a three-man defense chain Kehrer/Süle/Rüdiger and let the former full-backs Raum and Jonas Hofmann play a kind of winger. Whether it was because of that or because of a cabin curtain sermon from the national coach, the statics of the game changed. The German team now accepted the fact that you can create your own space with a little effort. Now there were those deep runs that Flick had demanded from the start. It only took five minutes for Gündogan’s long ball to find the sprinting Leroy Sané, and keeper Gulacsi had to make a serious save for the first time. Another three minutes later, the DFB-Elf approached according to a similar pattern: Gündogan’s next assist passed Hofmann back to Müller, whose goal, however, was not recognized – Hofmann had started from the offside.
Flick’s team now seemed much more determined, which the national coach supported with the substitutions of Kai Havertz and Jamal Musiala. The DFB-Elf now ran (if you can run against Hungary/Union), and in the 77th minute it was tight again: Havertz and Kimmich failed in a large-format double chance first by goalkeeper Gulacsi and then by defender Adam Lang, who Ball headed off the line. But the Hungarians continued to defend like the leaders of the Nations League Group 3 and/or the leaders of the Bundesliga.
At the end of an unpleasant evening, there was at least one piece of good news for the DFB-Elf: The Hungarians are not at the World Cup.