2018 SheBelieves Cup team preview: Germany

As the 2018 SheBelieves Cup approaches, VAVEL USA will be previewing the four teams in the tournament. Germany enters the tournament as the second-ranked team in the world and the reigning Olympic gold medalists, but the team has yet to work out the kinks since Steffi Jones took over as manager. Germany looks to the latest version of the tournament to jumpstart an important 2018 season.

The German squad has struggled since winning a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Former manager Silvia Neid, who had been leading the team since 2005, retired and was replaced by former player Jones. Jones has a record of 19W - 3D - 3L since becoming manager. 

While their straights are not as dire as France's, Germany has slipped considerably in the FIFA rankings since overtaking the United States for the top rank after the 2016 Olympics. Germany sits 62 points behind the USA and just 19 and 22 points ahead of England and Australia respectively. If Germany performs poorly at this SheBelieves Cup they could drop to third for the first time since the inaugural rankings in 2003 or even to fourth. They have never been lower than third.

Frustration throughout 2017

While Germany's 2017 results may have been good by international standards, the team fell far short of their personal expectations. The year started off at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup with a 1-0 loss to the United States, a 0-0 tie with France and a 1-0 victory over England. Germany finished third in that tournament.

Germany played a pair of warmup games in April ahead of the 2017 UEFA Women's Euro and picked up a 2-1 win over Canada and a 3-1 win over Brazil. The team was feeling like they put their poor play at the SheBelieves Cup behind them.

Unfortunately, the team reverted to its poor play at the Euro. In the opening match of the group stage Germany drew Sweden 0-0, and followed that match up with a 2-1 victory over Italy and a 2-0 victory over Russia. Germany moved through at the top of the group, but they looked shaky in unimpressive wins over teams much below their talent level. Germany would only play one more game in the tournament after being upset by Denmark. The 2-1 loss signaled the first time since 1993 that Germany did not win the Euro tournament, and it was the first time since 1987 that they had not finished in the top four. 

German goalkeeper Laura Benkarth has been struggling with starts in losses to Denmark and Iceland in 2017. | Photo: Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images
German goalkeeper Laura Benkarth has been struggling, getting the start in the loss to Iceland in 2017. | Photo: Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

The devastating loss in the Euro carried forward into Germany's 2019 Women's World Cup qualifying group performance. Germany pulled off an easy 6-0 victory over Slovenia but managed just one goal in a close victory over the Czech Republic three days later. Germany suffered a stunning 3-2 defeat at the hands of Iceland in Germany at the end of October. It was Germany's first World Cup qualifying loss since they were beaten 3-2 by Norway in 1998. It was Germany's first home loss in the history of the group World Cup qualifying system.

Germany finished the 2017 campaign with wins over the Faroe Islands and France, but the three damaging losses are still lingering over the team.

Bringing together the old with the new

The German team currently lacks a consistent formula for victory. Most recently, forwards Alexandra Popp and Svenja Huth have been hot, but there were games scattered throughout 2017 where the German team failed to generate consistent offense and showed uncharacteristic lapses on defense. The German team has a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership, but they are still trying to build a personal team identity.

Striker Alexandra Popp of Germany scores a goal in a 4-0 victory over France in the last match of 2017 for Germany. | Photo: Lars Baron - Bongarts/Getty Images
Striker Alexandra Popp of Germany scores a goal in a 4-0 victory over France in the last match of 2017 for Germany. | Photo: Lars Baron - Bongarts/Getty Images

Six players with at least 20 caps for Germany will not be participating in the tournament. Legendary forward Anja Mittag retired from international soccer after the 2017 Euro tournament, and Simone Laudehr and Melanie Leupolz will miss due to recent injuries and lack of consistent play time. Defenders Bianca Schmidt, Isabel Kerschowski, and Josephine Henning will be absent after competing late in 2017 together. Showing a lack of defensive certainty, Jones called up eight defenders for this tournament. 

Nine players on the squad have 11 or fewer caps for Germany. 

Expectations for this tournament

This tournament represents an opportunity for Germany to reset and start 2018 differently than 2017. Germany should focus first and foremost on generating consistent offense against top-flight competition. In the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, the German side scored just one goal in three games. They need to find a way to score consistently with primarily away games on the upcoming schedule for their World Cup qualifying matches in 2018.

Otherwise, it's time for Germany to start solidifying a lineup they want to take into the 2019 Women's World Cup in France. Both the United States and Germany have been toying with their lineup since the 2016 Olympics, but the recent shakeup of the German call-ups signals that Steffi Jones isn't yet happy with her team. Time is running out, so I would be looking specifically at the defensive setups and which players perform best together. This will be one of the last opportunities for Germany to secure their defensive line before they potentially miss the 2019 Women's World Cup. While it is extremely improbable that Germany will lose their group to Iceland, their October defeat leaves the door open to that possibility.