Maximilian Mittelstadt: From disregarded to a shoo-in for Germany at the Euros


Arise Maximilian Mittelstadt, Germany left-back at the Euros.

Dressed in the new pink-purple number that’s been described as “a Barbie kit” by tabloid Bild but perhaps bears closer resemblance to a grape and strawberry packet of Nerds, the 27-year-old passed the second part of his audition with flying colours in Frankfurt, the odd wobble notwithstanding.

“A very good player; very ambitious, a lot of power, and what’s more, a top guy (whose presence) does a us lot of good,” Julian Nagelsmann praised the VfB Stuttgart defender after his beautifully-struck equaliser and decent performance in Germany’s 2-1 win over the Netherlands on Tuesday.

In his first two internationals, Mittelstadt has done enough to make one of the Nationalmannschaft’s enduring problem spots his own for this summer’s competition.

Nagelsmann knew that playing the debutant in these two key friendlies, against the French and Ronald Koeman’s side, could have exposed him to plenty of criticism.

“Everyone said: ‘He’s never played for Germany, it’s perhaps too early’,” the Germany manager recalled on Tuesday. To counter those doubts, Nagelsmann last week had told reporters that Mittelstadt was “statistically the best Bundesliga left-back by some margin right now and one of the best four left-backs in the world”.

His attacking and defensive performance data has indeed been hugely impressive under the equally impressive VfB coach Sebastian Hoeness this season yet no one could have anticipated such rapid improvement 12 months ago.

After Hertha Berlin, the club he had joined as a 15-year-old, were relegated last season, Stuttgart triggered a €500,000 release clause to bring him to Swabia.

Mittelstadt was seen as a solid, versatile pro at the time, but also as player who sadly shared the same fate as his club: a lot of promise that never lived up to its potential. In 2018-19, he received so many insulting messages on social media from unhappy Hertha supporters that he deactivated his accounts for an entire year.

Mittelstadt’s form picked up straight away after his move south. His resolute defending and effective wing-play going forward have played a big role in Stuttgart hogging third place in the table one year after surviving the relegation play-offs. “We didn’t expect him to play this well for us,” Hoeness told The Athletic recently. “It’s been madness, really.”

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As you can see from his smarterscout profile above, Mittelstadt’s profile shows a left-back who is equally as aggressive going forward as defending his own goal.

No Stuttgart player has made more crosses into the penalty area than him this season as he will frequently look to advance the ball into dangerous areas (xG from ball progression, 78 out of 99). However, Mittelstadt will not simply waste a long ball forward (progressive passing, 7 out of 99) but will frequently look to advance the play with purposeful running with the ball at his feet (carry and dribble volume, 77 out of 99) — seemingly doing so with impressive protection of possession (ball retention ability, 82 out of 99).

Out of possession, Mittelstadt’s busy profile is shown by his frequency to stick a foot in (disrupting opposition moves, 81 out of 99) and read the game by blocking passes (ball recoveries and interceptions, 98 out of 99). When you have a full-back who showcases such a strong ability in both directions, you can understand why Nagelsmann was quick to heap praise on the Stuttgart man.

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Nagelsmann’s gutsy move to rip up the old order and complement the return of Toni Kroos with “momentum” players from Stuttgart and Bayer 04 Leverkusen has allowed Mittelstadt to make a case for himself in the national team. Kroos was delighted with the left-back’s “maturity in his first ever international” against France on Saturday and Nagelsmann too professed himself pleased with the player’s attitude after his stray pass — and a double slip by him and Jonathan Tah on the soapy pitch — had led to Jonny Veerman’s volleyed opener after just four minutes.

“He makes a mistake, scores a goal and has another superb game — that’s exactly the reaction I wanted to see,” Nagelsmann said.

“An unlucky situation” was how Mittelstadt described the calamitous series of events. “Perhaps in the past, things would have gone differently at that point. It might have hurt my game more. But in the last few weeks, I have loaded up on so much confidence that it was easy to shake off that bad moment. The boys also made it easy for by being so welcoming. I was happy that I could get the team back on track (with the goal).”

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Mittelstadt celebrates his goal against the Netherlands (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

It’s precisely that resilience, to say nothing of Mittelstadt’s endearing humility and positivity, that had been missing from Germany’s game for far too long.

Mittelstadt’s inexperience at this level — three Europa League games for Hertha against Zorya Luhansk, Athletic Bilbao and Ostersunds in 2017 were the extent of his football against international competition before this week — did show a couple of times, however.

Ousmane Dembele caused him quite a few problems in Lyon and so did Memphis Depay at Deutsche Bank Park. He’ll have to learn to cope with that level of opposition in Stuttgart’s remaining high-profile matches against Borussia Dortmund (on April 6), champions-elect Leverkusen (April 27) and Bayern Munich (May 4) before the national team reconvene ahead of the Euros.

Mittelstadt will have to sing a song for his initiation then, as there has been no time for that yet. But after his debut in the France game, he says he gave a little impromptu speech in the dressing room “thanking the boys, the staff and the coaching team for providing such a brilliant welcome. I’m very proud and happy to be here.”

The feeling’s clearly mutual.

(Top photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)





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