Lacklustre England exposed by experimental Germany

In a low-key match to sign off the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations, Joachim Low's re-jigged second string condemned Roy Hodgson's team to a second consecutive Wembley defeat
By Wayne Veysey at Wembley

On a raw-boned November evening, it was impossible to tell if the two managers had donned white coats under their fleece-lined winter jackets.

But laboratory uniforms, rather than tracksuits, seemed appropriate attire for a contest that felt like a glorified experiment for both teams.

Roy Hodgson and Joachim Low are both urbane and experienced enough to pass comfortably for professorial types, even if the 53-year-old German possesses a suaveness lacking in the owlish Englishman.

Despite the history between these two nations and the presence of an 86,000 sell-out crowd, this was a night more for football boffin types than those seeking elite sport. Both managers were eager to test new players, combinations and formations.

PLAYER RATINGS: Greg Stobart at Wembley evaluates an unimpressive Three Lions performance
The conclusion to be drawn from this fact-finding exercise, long before the final whistle, is that Germany boast a strength in depth that England can only dream of.

For all the excellence of his team's performance against Poland last month when the heat was on - and the quality of that display should not be dismissed - Hodgson knows deep down that England's qualifying group was a fairly cosy one.

In more exalted company, against the technicians of Chile and the youthful vigour of a second-string Germany, the Three Lions have struggled to muster a roar.

Low had marked out his run-up by leaving marquee men Mesut Ozil, Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer in Germany and lacing his pre-match press conference with talk of the need to "experiment a bit" and a "deliberate acid test for these young players". A debut was handed to goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, as well as rare starts to the likes of striker Max Kruse, the Bender twins in central midfield and Heiko Westermann at right-back.

The visitors were seriously below-strength but were so superior to their hosts that Joe Hart was able to begin the process of re-establishing his reputation with a string of smart saves in goal.

Hodgson, keen to avoid being the first England manager in 36 years to preside over consecutive Wembley defeats, had made nine changes in the wake of Friday's humbling defeat to Chile and selected a near full-strength team.

Only perhaps Chris Smalling, Adam Lallana, Tom Cleverley and Kyle Walker would not expect to have started had England been playing their opening World Cup match rather than an autumn friendly.

But there was an all-too-familiar lethargy about the home side for a friendly at the new Wembley, even if mitigating factors could be offered in the timing of a fixture shoehorned into the crowded club calendar and certain players confident of a place on the flight that leaves for Rio next summer.

The step up in class from opponents like Montenegro, Ukraine and Poland was also evident as England struggled to land a punch on Low's team. "We needed better quality tonight," sighed Hodgson afterwards. "We weren't as efficient with the ball as the Germans."

Andros Townsend, Hodgson's find of the autumn, hit the post with a second-half thunderbolt but there was little else to alarm Weidenfeller in goal.

The twin-striker system, with Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge in tandem, looked archaic in comparison to Germany's fluid midfield interchanges.

Youthfulness, entertainment and attacking football have been permanent features of the Germany team during Low's seven-year reign but it was a header from a 6ft 6in centre-back whose command of aerial duels is well known to English audiences that was the difference between the two sides. Per Mertesacker raced in front of the flat-footed Chris Smalling to bullet his 40th-minute header into the right corner and beyond Hart.

The Arsenal defender was outstanding, as he has been for his club over the last 12 months. What Hodgson could do with a central defender of Mertesacker's class and experience. "Per organised our defence," observed Low afterwards. "He is known for his positioning and was a pillar of strength. He excelled."

England picked up after the break as they searched for a reply but a slew of predictable substitutions disrupted their rhythm and momentum. It was as unconvincing as it was worrying.

The Germany team celebrated heartily at the end. England's players mooched off, absorbing the realisation that the two steps forward made through a vibrant conclusion to their qualifying campaign had been followed by two depressing steps backwards.

A crossroads has been reached. Again.

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