Joachim Loew faces the toughest tests of his 12-year tenure as Germany head coach in the forthcoming Nations League matches away to the Netherlands and world champions France.
After earning himself some breathing space following a 0-0 draw with Didier Deschamps’ France in Munich last month, Loew must take points from the Dutch on Saturday in Amsterdam, and French in Paris next Tuesday, to restore his tarnished reputation.
His former captain Michael Ballack turned on him this week, claiming he was “surprised” Loew kept his job in the wake of Germany’s World Cup debacle when they crashed out after the group stage.
Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany’s head coach with Loew as his assistant at the 2006 World Cup, also ramped up the pressure by saying a semi-final berth at the 2020 European Championship is now a “minimum requirement”.
“It’s expected ‘Jogi’ will redeem himself with victories and by reaching the semi-finals of the next Euro,” Klinsmann told magazine Sport Bild.
The former striker, 54, says his post-World Cup conversations with Loew convince him that the 58-year-old still has the necessary “hunger” to succeed.
Unusually, Loew, who steered Germany to the 2014 World Cup title, has yet to face the press this week, leaving Toni Kroos to defend him on Thursday from Ballack’s criticism.
– Pressure on Werner –
“I think he has deserved this chance and I am convinced we will sort ourselves out with Jogi Loew,” insisted Kroos.
“These next two games, against Holland and France, are music to the ears and we hear the sound of six points. We want two wins.”
Despite signing a contract extension with the German FA in May until the 2022 World Cup, defeats against the Netherlands and France would leave Loew facing growing calls to resign.
The draw with France and a 2-1 friendly win over Peru last month, in the first matches since a disastrous World Cup, were viewed as no more than sufficient by the German public.
Likewise, the performances of RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner will be heavily scrutinised, having failed to hit the net in his last five international appearances.
If Werner again misfires against the Dutch in Amsterdam, Schalke’s Mark Uth is set to make his debut in the famous white shirt.
There are concerns in the German media that the dip in form of Bayern Munich, who are winless in their last four games, is bad news for Loew and the Germany defence.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, plus centre-backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng – the axis of Germany’s defence – have produced below-par performances for Bayern in recent weeks.
Bayern forward Thomas Mueller, one of Loew’s trusted senior players, who struggled badly at the World Cup, has also been out of form.
Loew’s chief playmaker Marco Reus is sidelined by a knee injury, which gives a chance to Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.
The 22-year-old winger was a surprise omission from the World Cup squad and wants to show Loew why he was voted the Premier League’s best young player last season.
Injuries elsewhere forced Loew into further changes after goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, defender Antonio Ruediger, midfielder Leon Goretzka, winger Kai Havertz and Reus dropped out of the original 23-man squad.
They have been replaced by Juventus midfielder Emre Can, Bayern winger Serge Gnabry and Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
After repeated criticism for too often turning to his trusted core of senior players regardless of form, Loew must be bold in his selection – or risk more damaging defeats.