Gareth Southgate feels the Premier League started too early this season on the back of the World Cup in Russia – with England’s run to the semi-finals catching out those in charge.
Questions have been asked as to whether a number of players who went deep into the tournament are now struggling with tiredness having not been afforded a proper rest.
Three Lions captain Harry Kane has been constantly knocking back suggestions that he is fatigued, while England boss Southgate lost five members of his current squad through injury.
The English top-flight returned on August 10, a week before LaLiga and with Serie A starting eight days later and the Bundesliga a full fortnight on.
Speaking ahead of England’s Nations League meeting with Spain in Seville, Southgate said the Premier League is suffering as a result of returning just 26 days after the World Cup final.
“I think it’s psychological freshness, rather than physical. Everyone adapts their training load appropriately,” he replied when asked if he felt players had started the season more slowly than in other years.
“But I think when you see the league, there are probably a lot of teams that haven’t started yet at the level when they are at their maximum.
“There have been lots of injuries across our league, I don’t know about the rest of Europe.
“It is a balance. I don’t really understand why our league started so early, but they did, so it is a really difficult situation for the clubs.
“Look at Tottenham, who had so many players in the semi-finals of the World Cup they had to put their players straight into matches on the back of very little pre-season, so it was an impossible situation for the coaches really.”
Southgate suggested England’s run to the semi-finals may have been an unexpected success – even if the dates of the World Cup had been known well in advance.
“I hadn’t looked into when the season started until when we got back from the tournament,” he said. “Maybe they were expecting us to be back by the end of June. I assumed the rest of the world were going to be there until the middle of July.
“It’s always easy to make a comment like that and not know the complex scenario the decision-makers had to go to, because that happens to me quite a lot. I think everybody knew when the final was going to be and the semi-final and that they would be away for a period of time.”
He also pointed a finger at the scheduling for Premier League games for those clubs who play in the Champions League and Europa League – where games are often moved to the detriment of the English side.
“It’s a bit like our clubs in the Champions League,” he added. “Some of the rest of the leagues in Europe help them and adjust the fixture list and I’m sure our clubs would appreciate that because in the end they’re representing English football and we want them all to do well.”
Crashing out of the World Cup at the group stage this summer was an all-time low for Joachim Low and Germany, so, in theory, the only way to go was up.
So, what does one say about their 3-0 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday?
It was the first time they had ever lost by three goals to the Dutch. It was also their fifth loss in 2018 – the most a Die Mannschaft team has had in a single year since 1985 – a sixth loss in ten games, and the ninth time they have failed to win in their 12 fixtures since sealing their qualification for Russia.
For a side that won the 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup, and reached the Euro 2016 semi-final, it makes for pretty dire reading.
Low has yet to explain this slump, let alone correct it.
Saturday’s fixture saw Schalke striker Mark Uth become the 100th player to be handed a debut by Low since he took charge in 2006. It’s an impressive record that shows how diligent the manager has been in spotting talent and giving them a chance.
Yet recent caps speak less of precise planning and more have the feel of a sense of desperation.
Uth is 27, fairly late for an international debutant. 29-year-old Freiburg striker Nils Petersen was given his first cap in June.
Fair enough. Some players can be late bloomers, and it’s good of a manager to select in-form players regardless of age.
And the picks make some sense. Germany have been struggling for goals. Timo Werner had a poor World Cup, Thomas Muller a worse one, and since the retirement of Miroslav Klose, the team has not had a proven international goalscorer. Giving Uth and Petersen – the Bundesliga’s top-scoring German last season – chances wasn’t the worst idea.
Young trio Kai Havertz, 19, Thilo Kehrer, 21, and Nico Schulz, a relative veteran at 25, are also recent debutants, appearing in Germany’s 2-1 win over Peru last month. Schulz scored the winner – though not before the left-back made an error that cost his side a goal.
With Jonas Hector the only recognised left-back in the national team reckoning, looking for other options is smart.
Yet by the same token, Philipp Max’s continued absence since the 2016 Olympics is baffling, especially given a remarkable 2017-18 season in which the Augsburg man’s 12 assists were the second-highest in the Bundesliga, bettered only by Muller. There seems to be no clear case for Schulz over Max.
Attacking midfielder Havertz and centre-back Kehrer are future stars, but seem like examples of Low turning to someone because nobody else is getting the job done.
Julian Draxler, Julian Brandt, Leroy Sane, and Leon Goretzka have all been given a run in the national team. Germany still can’t score. Sane, who was controversially left out of the World Cup squad, missed a crucial chance on Saturday when the score was just 1-0.
Netherlands 3, Germany 0— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 13, 2018
In his team-record 168th match as Germany's coach, Joachim Löw presided over Germany's largest-ever defeat to the Netherlands.
Germany has also lost 5 matches in a calendar year for the first time since 1985 (as West Germany). pic.twitter.com/kkk67pzaia
However, exciting talent though Havertz may be, he’d previously never represented Germany above his age group. He wasn’t even part of the side that won the Euro under-21s crown last year. Havertz may have been named Germany’s best under-19 player last season, but the call-up still seems strange given Havertz’s tally of 11 goals and 15 assists in 66 Bayer Leverkusen appearances is more respectable than brilliant.
Kehrer is good enough for Paris Saint-Germain to have spent £33million on him in the summer, though again, his call-up was as much an indictment of the poor form of Mats Hummels, Matthias Ginter, and, especially, Jerome Boateng as it was a reward for the youngster. Five of Kehrer’s seven PSG appearances have been as a substitute, so he hardly has any recent form to go by.
The German football federation kept faith in Low after their summer disaster, but his job is now undoubtedly hanging by a thread.
And at the moment, he doesn’t have a plan to save himself.
The 33-year-old missed the World Cup – which Les Bleus won – with an Achilles injury, and had intended to retire from international duty after the tournament.
Koscielny told Canal+: “I think that I have given everything I can for France. My injury does not change my decision. For Les Bleus, it is finished.”
On Deschamps, Koscielny said: “He called me once for my birthday in September. Otherwise, no (contact).
“Lots of people disappointed me. Not only the coach. It feels like a hit on the back of the head.
“When you are in good form, you have lots of friends. When you are injured… after a certain period of time, you are forgotten about.”
Koscielny, who has 51 caps, was injured in Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid in May and is still recovering.
He announced his intention to retire from France duty in November 2017, confirming it on Sunday as he outlined the pain of missing the World Cup success.
“France’s World Cup victory did me a lot more psychological damage than my injury did me,” he added.