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Euro 2024: For Nagelsmann, subs hold key

Thomas Klein
June 27, 2024

Germany will be forced to field an altered starting 11 when they face Denmark in the round of 16. Head coach Julian Nagelsmann knows he can rely on his squad, and his bench, to help get the job done.

Niclas Füllkrug listens as Julian Nagelsmann gives him final instructions before being subbed in
Niclas Füllkrug, who is accustomed to being a starter in Dortmund, is among those to have embraced his role as substitute at Euro 2024Image: Anke Waelischmiller/SVEN SIMON/picture alliance

"It's important that we don't select the players with the biggest names from the biggest clubs, but the 23 players who fit together," Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann said before Euro 2024 kicked off. Going undefeated and finishing top of Group A are signs that the 36-year-old has found the right mix.

"It's rare for a team with 20 top stars to be more successful than one with perhaps 13 or 14 regulars and three or four young players who are a bit thankful and humbled just to be there," Nagelsmann said.

The national team coach went with the same starting lineups for the matches against Scotland, Hungary and Switzerland, and the substitutes he brought on were largely effective.

Emre Can and Julian Nagelsmann standing in front of the Germany bench
Emre Can came on against Scotland and scored his first goal of the tournamentImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

'Bigger than any individual'

This applies not only to Niclas Füllkrug, who has two goals in the tournament so far, but also to Emre Can, David Raum and Maximilian Beier.

"Coming off the bench and really applying the pressure on the pitch," was how Beier described his role, which he fulfilled perfectly against Switzerland.

Füllkrug, who is often in the starting 11 at Borussia Dortmund, has fulfilled his role as "super-sub" perfectly so far too.

"The cause here is bigger than any individual player," the striker said in an interview with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

"This team spirit is palpable, it's not just a slogan."

Niclas Füllkrug jumps to head the ball at the Swiss goal
Niclas Füllkrug came on for the last 15 minutes against Switzerland, heading in Germany's equalizerImage: Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance

One of the first steps in instilling this spirt in the team were individual meetings the coaching staff held with players before the tournament.

"We spoke to each player about his role for around 20 minutes in March," Nagelsmann explained before the tournament kicked off.

"As a coach, that means you have a commitment, reliablity. The players sat across from me and had to make a commitment."

This evidently had the desired effect. When speaking to reporters, players often reference the particular role assigned to them. The team spirit Nagelsmann and his staff have sought to foster is evident after every goal, when the entire bench jumps up in celebration.

"We have a good mix between very strong personalities and those who are willing to be subordinate while pushing others," Nagelsmann said.

The performances of his substitutes have been forcing the coach to make tough decisions.

"Fülle (Füllkrug) has made a case for continuing to use him as a substitute as well as one of the starting 11," said the coach after the Dortmund striker scored the equalizer in stoppage time against Switzerland – putting Germany top of the group.

However, the national team coach made clear that he was not prepared to give the goal getter any guarantees about getting into the starting 11.

"It is both good and bad for him that he has fulfilled role of the super-sub very well."

David Raum, who set up the equalizer has fully accepted his role as a substitute.

"I'm over the moon that I was able to help the team," he said.

Leroy Sané
Leroy Sané has failed to make an impact so far, despite being subbed on in all three of Germany's matchesImage: Revierfoto/dpa/picture alliance

Leroy Sané yet to shine

Leroy Sané is one of the few substitutes who has yet to impress, something the coach has put down to him needing more time to find his rhythm.

Germany sporting director Rudi Völler concurs.

"He was often injured at Munich in the second half of the season and actually turned up here not fully fit," Völler told reporters.

"He had to train differently to the others at the beginning. Even though he didn't show his quality in the (three) games when he came on (as a sub), he remains a big weapon for us."

Altered starting 11

Nagelmann will be forced to reshuffle his starting 11 against Denmark, as central defender Jonathan Tah is suspended and Antonio Rüdiger injured. So far, Maximilian Mittelstädt has failed to impress on the left. Nico Schlotterbeck is slated to step in for Tah, but the Germany coach has not tipped his hand beyond that.

What is clear, though, is that bringing on substitutes who have fully embraced their roles will again be part of Nagelsmann's game plan.

"If you told me I would be European champion, I'd sign up in a heartbeat, even that meant continuing to come off the bench," Füllkrug said.

This article was originally published in German.