France vs Germany: Tricky test awaits both in UEFA Nations League opener

Tonight's encounter between Les Bleus and Die Mannschaft promises to be intriguing

France’s recent World Cup winners were greeted to a heroic welcome at their Clairefontaine training base this week. It’s now time to move on, though. The new season has already begun. International breaks are never too far behind.  

This one represents the first in a new initiative to improve competitiveness by avoiding pointless friendlies. Known as the UEFA Nations League, teams are separated into four sub-sections (A-D). With fairly-matched sides divided into four groups, it’s an effective barometer of progress over time.

League A, Group 1 contains Les Bleus, Germany and the Netherlands.

The Dutch surprisingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Didier Deschamps men, meanwhile, triumphed on Russian soil. As for Die Mannschaft, they provided the tournament’s early shock after suffering elimination at the group stage.

France team news

Forced into one significant change from their last 23-man squad, Les Bleus are without Hugo Lloris due to a thigh injury. The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper will remain in North London over the coming week. It means Paris Saint-Germain’s Alphonse Areola, 25, is likely to earn his first senior cap. Benoit Costil and Benjamin Lecomte both provide competition.

Deschamps has managed to convince experienced centre-back Adil Rami, who retired from international football following July’s World Cup glory, to reverse his decision. The Marseille defender returns in France’s latest squad.

The recent form of Everton’s defensive duo, Kurt Zouma and Lucas Digne, suggests it’s not unrealistic to expect squad movement in the near future. Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette is also pushing for selection.

Alexandre Lacazette (centre, no.10) celebrates one of his two goals during France's 2-2 draw with Germany.

Lacazette scored a brace for France during November’s 2-2 friendly draw against Germany

Germany team news

Die Mannschaft have made six changes to their last squad. The most significant absence is Mesut Ozil. The Arsenal playmaker announced his retirement from international duty this summer via social media. Due to playing style, he divides opinion, although the 29-year-old often proved one of Germany’s top creative talents.

VfB Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez also confirmed his decision to step down last month. The 33-year-old’s absence paves the way for a younger generation. Freiburg’s Nils Petersen, who made his senior debut prior to the World Cup, will hope to make an impression.

There’s more of an emphasis on future prospects within Joachim Low’s latest squad selection. Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah, 22, gains recognition. As does club teammate Kai Havertz, 19, and PSG newbie Thilo Kehrer, 21, who both earn their first senior call-ups. Hoffenheim fullback Nico Schulz is included, too.

Leroy Sane, whose World Cup omission was a major talking point, returns to the international scene. Having been named PFA Young Player of the Year with 14 goals and 19 assists in all competitions last season, the Manchester City winger will be motivated to get off and running after a slow start to the new campaign.

Manchester City's Leroy Sane will be hoping to impress after being recalled to the Germany squad

Sane hopes to sweep aside recent disappointments

Germans with point to prove

Germany will relish this opportunity to right their wrongs – not least after an inquest was launched into World Cup failing. Low took most of the responsibility. It’s good the German FA backed him. However, despite having four years to run on his existing deal, the 58-year-old will face insurmountable pressure should results not drastically improve sooner than later.

Arrogance, comfortability, an over-reliance on senior players. Acting too casual. Whatever the excuses, it’s easy to forget that Die Mannschaft were kings of the world only four years ago. They must now start afresh, utilising their core talent. Low cannot afford to adopt a relaxed approach. The quality at disposal is high, yet his team struggled against less-fancied opposition when it mattered most.

Prediction

Buoyed by their second World Cup triumph, France have all the momentum. They’ve also stuck to a winning formula. Germany, meanwhile, are in a mini-transition period. In the two nations’ last three meetings, Les Bleus are unbeaten. In recent years, Die Mannschaft have failed to find top form against quality teams.

France have been criticised in the past for lacking big-game experience. However, they’ve recently proven their mettle. With that in mind, expect a slender but hard-fought win for Deschamps’ side.

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