Much has been made, including in these pages, of Joachim Löw’s decision to deploy his best defensive midfielder at right wing-back at Euro 2020. Never mind Joshua Kimmich, though. On Saturday afternoon, Löw’s best attacking midfielder was left alone and desperate in central defence as Cristiano Ronaldo and Diogo Jota bore their teeth and bore down on Germany’s goal.
For the first 14 minutes of the Group F clash against Portugal, Havertz had been a different kind of central – key to his side’s courageous start against the European champions, as Germany performed (and, perhaps more importantly, behaved) as if they were on the same level as Fernando Santos’ team.
Havertz was embodying Germany’s endeavour in Munich, shimmying through the Portugal box in the opening 60 seconds, testing Rui Patricio with a low, driven shot shortly thereafter, and keeping enough composure to pull off the deftest of nutmegs in the visitors’ box.
Then, all of a sudden, the midfielder was embodying Germany’s disastrous lack of wherewithal, stranded between Jota and Ronaldo up the other end of the pitch, as the former slipped the ball to the latter for the Portugal captain to net the most efficient of smash-and-grab goals.
In that moment, the hole Germany have diligently dug for themselves over the course of three years appeared as deep as ever, but when they needed composure and character, there was Havertz.
The 22-year-old demonstrated his precocious big-game presence just weeks ago as he scored the winning goal for Chelsea in their Champions League final victory over Manchester City, and Havertz was able to replicate elements of that showing here.
There was no hiding in that dark German hole. Havertz, one of die Mannschaft’s new breed, was determined to inspire a Germany display of old.
The midfielder had been stationed by Löw on the left of a front three, but that forward line is designed to be fluid, with Havertz, Thomas Müller and Serge Gnabry all having experience of playing both out wide and centrally.
As such, Havertz seemed to be everywhere – in the final third, that is, and thankfully not in his own half as an involuntary centre-back, as he had been for Portugal’s opener.
Indeed, he popped up in the middle of the visitors’ box on 35 minutes as Robin Gosens volleyed the ball at the back post for the second time in the game. The first time, with a more acrobatic effort, Gosens had found the net but was denied a goal due to Gnabry straying offside. This time, Havertz raced onto the end of the left-back’s ball – or he would have, had it not been for Ruben Dias, who diverted the cross into his own net.
A second own goal followed for the Portuguese four minutes later, with Raphael Guerreiro the unfortunate defender on this occasion as Havertz again made a nuisance of himself, ensuring Germany led 2-1 at the break.
Then, early in the second half, Gosens and Havertz recreated the hosts’ first goal, except this time Havertz did beat Dias to the ball, turning it into the net to extend Germany’s lead.
Havertz even played a role as Gosens himself got on the scoresheet, the Chelsea youngster’s leap distracting the Portugal defence so that the defender could head home at the back post.
Gosens soon exited and there were unsurprising slip-ups from Germany at the back as the game progressed, allowing Portugal to pull one back, but that move for 4-1 – as well as much of Germany’s performance here – seemed to at last vindicate Löw’s decision to play five in defence and use Kimmich, who provided the actual assist for Gosens, out on the right.
As Löw’s defenders begin to figure out where they should be, their coach can count on the fact that Havertz will be everywhere – though, as the back five settle, that will thankfully cease to include centre-back.
This was an imperfect display from Germany but in some ways a perfect response to their 1-0 defeat by France earlier this week, and of the positives that Löw will take from this result, the performance of Havertz will be among the most encouraging.