Germany’s national team coach Joachim Low has plenty to mull over despite a summer of success.
Having led the nation to their fourth World Cup win, Low has seen three established internationals retire and had to name a new assistant head coach. His fitness guru, Shad Forsythe, was even snapped up by Arsenal.
Their first match since being crowned world champions failed to capture the party atmosphere expected as Argentina, led by the impressive Angel Di Maria, ran out 4-2 winners in Dusseldorf.
Manchester United’s British record signing Di Maria, the man who missed the World Cup final in Rio as Germany edged it 1-0, proved a nightmare for left-back Erik Durm, creating three and scoring the other.
Before kick-off there was a farewell to several key components of the World Cup-winning side, as Bayern Munich’s Philipp Lahm, Lazio’sMiroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker of Arsenal bowed out of the international game with 354 international appearances between them.
And it leaves Low with a little soul searching to do before the Germans kick off their bid to reach the 2016 European Championships in France.
It’s certainly worth noting, though, that the Germans had not convinced everyone of their credentials in the build-up to the World Cup in Brazil.
They drew with Cameroon and Poland in warm-up fixtures, and stuttered to a lucky 1-0 win over Chile in Stuttgart.
Defensive concerns had plagued the team in 2013. Germany conceded three goals against Paraguay and another three to Sweden in October. In that summer, the Germans lost 4-3 against the United States and conceded two in a victory over Ecuador.
The defensive weakness appears to be a mix of small things, rather than one overriding factor. Injuries have played a part and uncertainty over who should play as defensive midfielder is also an issue for Low.
Against Argentina these issues were to the fore as poor concentration, aerial weakness and a lack of cohesion between defence and midfield cost them.
Germany’s attack is also in the spotlight, and more specifically ‘the Gomez dilemma’.
Along with Marco Reus, Mario Gomez returned to the fold after recovering from two knee injuries in his first season at Italian club Fiorentina.
His return is a welcome one given Klose’s retirement, but 29-year-old Gomez was anything but convincing against Argentina, missing a number of clear-cut chances.
Scoring 25 times in 60 internationals is a good record, but most of Gomez’s goals have come in friendlies and minor qualifiers. There’s a school of thought in Germany that Gomez and his type of orthodox penalty box frontman hinders the team.
Switching from defence to attack in the blink of an eye is what this generation of German players have mastered. With Reus, Julian Draxler, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos, Low has a great range of dynamic, technically and tactically astute attacking midfielders.
Finding the balance and what suits the collective will be one of the manager’s biggest tasks, and Gomez might find it tough to stay in Low’s starting XI as pace is such a valued commodity.
There was no Gomez in Brazil and Low was unable to find a convincing combination in the early matches, as Mario Gotze and Muller shared the ‘false nine’ slot until Klose’s inclusion.
Muller continues to thrive for Bayern Munich in an inside-right position, while his team-mate Gotze is struggling to find form. A return to a system without a focal point is unlikely for Low.
The manager does, however, have options galore to consider.
Hoffenheim forward Kevin Volland is one of the most complete attackers in the Bundesliga.
The 21-year-old is a chunky and powerful attacker who hit nine goals and set up another 11 last season. He forced his way into Germany’s preliminary squad for the training camp, but failed to secure a seat on the plane to Brazil.
There’s also the Stefan Kiessling conundrum. The Bayer Leverkusen striker was the Bundesliga’s leading marksman in 2012-13, and was the top-scoring German in the league last season. He remains well out of the international picture, though, and his relationship with Low is such that a return to the fold is unlikely.
Meanwhile, the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach’s Max Kruse and Pierre-Michel Lasogga of Hamburg have some convincing to do this term.
The 45,000-odd fans in Dusseldorf whistled Gomez as he passed up three great chances against Argentina, but the likelihood is that he will line up against Scotland on Sunday.
Gomez’s inclusion might not hinder Germany’s passage to Euro 2016, but it’s a barrier that likely needs to be hurdled if Low’s side are to dominate the international scene as Spain did before them.