Germany need to ditch Joachim Low to move forward
Spain can rain on England's homecoming parade
The rehabilitation of the German team has begun with a 0-0 draw against France in Munich but my fear is that it could prove to be a false dawn.
There were some encouraging signs in the performance against the French on Thursday, and it’s difficult to find too many faults with a draw against the newly-crowned world champions.
But do I feel uneasy going forward? Yes, very much so.
There is still a lot wrong with the German national team and until some serious issues are addressed there can be no guarantee we will return to our former glories.
In short, Germany has to go back to its roots. There has been a massive disconnect between the national team and the people and that never used to be the case.
Open training sessions have disappeared and the barricades go up far more than they ever used to with the media.
German football always took seriously its role at the heart of German society, a responsibility that seems to have vanished. That comes from the top – Reinhard Grindel, president of the German FA, and Oliver Bierhoff, the national team’s general manager – but the manager and players must share that fading sense of being at one with the people.
I have my doubts about Joachim Low, who has been head coach for 12 years now.
The arrogance showed in giving him a contract extension immediately prior to the World Cup was jaw-dropping and proved a terrible mistake. There was no need to do it and it sent out a terrible, arrogant message.
Low, of course, was thrown unintentionally into the Ilkay Gundogan-Mesut Ozil row which blew up before the finals when those two players were photographed with the Turkish president Recep Erdogan.
Low apparently orchestrated a dressing-room meeting in Russia over the affair which looked, from the outside at least, as though it had caused divisions in the camp. But no one spoke out. Not one person. The German dressing room is famed for its strong characters yet not one player, over a situation that needed talking through, could find a voice.
I think Low has gone as far as he can. Germany don’t go out in group stages and the manner of their exit was shocking.
The problem, of course, is who would succeed him. For me there are two names – Jurgen Klopp or Thomas Tuchel – and I can’t see either of them taking it. They are too young and doing too well in club football.
So you’re immediately looking a bit further down the list, at the likes of Julian Nagelsmann or Niko Kovac, who might not be popular because he isn’t German even though he has played and coached in Germany.
Personally, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest but we’ve only ever had homegrown head coaches and that’s important to a lot of my compatriots.
The only obvious alternative to me would be Ralf Rangnick, whose outstanding achievements at notably Hoffenheim and Leipzig would make him a high-class candidate.
For now, however, it’s still Low’s show and it looks as though he has kept faith in the players he has trusted before.
Notwithstanding the bitterness surrounding Ozil’s decision to retire it leaves Germany short of an outstanding playmaker and how a country with a population of over 80 million can’t find a decent centre-forward is beyond me. Put it this way, Timo Werner is no solution, not yet at least.
Yes, Spain went on to dominate world football with a false number nine but they had little choice. They had no strikers. Are we, a country with a glorious tradition of world-class number nines, about to go the same way?
It pains me to say it, but I don’t have a good feeling going forward.
Spain can rain on England's homecoming parade
The feelgood factor will be evident when England play their first game since reaching the World Cup semis, but I’m taking Spain to ruin Gareth Southgate’s homecoming.
I’m a huge fan of Southgate. I had nothing but praise for the way he went about the build-up to the World Cup and it was impossible not to be impressed by his manner during the tournament.
And England’s players looked like they were having fun under him and the outcome was hugely positive.
But – and there’s always a ‘but’ with England – they could have won it. They should have reached the final. It was a massive opportunity missed.
And I foresee something of a hangover on Saturday.
All the players who Southgate improved and inspired over the summer are back at their clubs. Summer’s over and there’s a Premier League to focus on. How times change.
I know Spain are the opponents and notionally at least it’s a competitive game. But the highs of the World Cup are going to seem like a lifetime ago and England, even during those exciting few weeks, still looked held against top sides.
And Spain are a top side.
Their World Cup was a farce from the moment coach Julen Lopetegui was forced out days before the off.
But they’ve made an outstanding appointment in Luis Enrique who has had time to settle in.
He’s lost the services of big players David Silva and Andres Iniesta but there aren’t too many new faces in Enrique’s first squad.
He can call upon a world-class keeper and defenders and now’s the time for the likes of Isco and Marco Asensio to be the gems the national team is built around.
Spain are the bet for me.
Liverpool look well set for challenges ahead
Early surprises in the first few rounds of Premier League action? Maybe Chelsea’s decent start, but other than that, not really.
Liverpool have made the fast start I expected of them and their title odds have come in because of that.
Perhaps more impressively is that they’ve got 12 points out of 12 despite not even playing their best. Certainly in the wins against Brighton and Leicester they weren’t overly impressive but they got the points and that’s a good habit to have.
Four games is too early to be making any sweeping assessments of who are the likeliest challengers to Manchester City, but the next few weeks will tell us more.
The autumn means the Champions League, when players will be keenly anticipating trips to the Nou Camp and San Siro and be less excited about trips to Turf Moor and Vicarage Road. It’s who can combine those two demands best who can mount a challenge and Liverpool, after reaching the Champions League final in May, know better than most how to juggle the two fronts.
Read Racing Post Sport every day for no-nonsense previews and expert sports betting tips
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport