World Cup-Blog: The world champion is going home

Justin Separator June 28, 2018

Germany pressed, Germany tried. Even though many fans disagreed right after the match, it was obvious that the players were trying to use their possessions. With a little more luck in the end, the discussion would certainly have been a different one. Goretzka narrowly missed out in the second half. Hummels had also wasted a clear chance.

After the game, the centre-back said he must convert it, then everything would be different. It would have been the ticket to the round of 16 just before the final whistle. But it just wasn’t enough. Germany opened up, South Korea scored two goals, game over. There were hardly any words among the players. Everyone seemed empty and shocked.

Those who narrowly missed the 2014 tournament seemed disillusioned. After this new defeat, there will be many discussions. The DFB has to question itself on a number of points.

7 things we noticed

1. Game plan lacking the tools?

The role of world champion in the group was clear from the start. They were the favourite, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea would fight for second place. In the end, the Germans are last because they no longer have the right tools for their dominant game plan. They tried to build a wooden tree house with a sledgehammer.

In 2010, Joachim Löw was fortunate that his team was often able to counterattack and did not have to play the whole game on their own. The defensive lines of the underdogs were less well organized than now, the favourites at eye level. The team was able to counter, quickly use the spaces and inspire the country. 2014 looked a little different. At that time, the DFB team was more dominant but equipped with the necessary skills. In 4-3-3, Löw was able to set up players in almost any position who were ideal or good for a dominant system.

Football has changed in the meantime. Club football is dominated by teams that offer a good mixture of physical strength and pass security. They combine counterattacking football with dominance, emphasize transition moments in both directions, but can be creative enough to break the deep chains against teams that park the bus.

Germany currently lacks too much for dominant phases. The position play is too weak in some zones, the ball circulation suffers and ball losses lead to counterattacks, which can no longer be defended due to poor positioning. With the sledgehammer you want to nail the boards together, but you always hammer the wood and finally start from the beginning. Against Mexico, this weakness manifested itself mercilessly. In the second and third games, progress was made on the backwards movement, but at the expense of offensive penetrating power.

2. The build-up game

The defensive midfield has to be analysed in detail. In the build-up game, there was often a starting point that was not called Toni Kroos. Boateng and Süle were forced to enter the room in front of them because the Kroos partners were unable to position themselves well. Usually the ball went to the wings too early. Scenes that the opponents could easily defend.

There was this one vanilla flavoured scheme, in which the central defence played against Kimmich, who was also not supported by the right eighth/sixth. That was often Sami Khedira. At the 2014 World Cup, he was even faster in the head and was perfectly supported by Philipp Lahm and the midfielder in 4-3-3. Even if the positional play was never his strength, this could be compensated and the strengths of the former Stuttgart player were focused.

This time Toni Kroos and Joshua Kimmich suffered a lot from the fact that Khedira is not a relay station. Kimmich plays higher than Lahm, is not so dominant in his positioning in midfield. This is absolutely okay, but has to be taken care of by other players.

A Schweinsteiger was missing in several ways. Not necessarily because he embodied the absolute will to win and was one of these ominous “characters”, but because one of his strategic and sporting qualities was to combine offense and defense, to move decisively into spaces in order to offer his team support and security. This was most likely to happen this year when Sebastian Rudy was allowed to play alongside Kroos. These were the strongest 20 minutes for the Germans in the tournament. Too short, I’m afraid.

Kimmich’s weak performance against South Korea made the lack of ideas in midfield very clear. Several times he was forced to dribblings, risky back passes or bad passes into the centre, because he was completely isolated. Only when Özil moved into the half space in the first half, Kimmich found moderately good answers.

3. Vertical runs

What was good against South Korea in the first half were the vertical passes into Zone 14, where Mesut Özil made several good moves and was able to create a dangerous situation with his face facing the goal with a quick turn of his body. However, he then lacked the options in the center.

Werner constantly shifted to the wings, Goretzka sometimes occupied the nine, but then did not go into the depth and the otherwise so strong Reus too rarely found his way into the centre of the penalty area. Özil was often left with only lateral passes, which were simply well defended by South Korea.

In past tournaments it was often Thomas Müller who went vertical and either created space for other players or excelled himself as a finisher. However, the Bayern striker did not play a good tournament and was rightly on the bench against South Korea.

So the Germans lacked a striker or shadow striker who could make the runs for Özil’s passes. Werner did that far too rarely as a nine. His moves often made sense, but were not compensated often enough with a player in the center. It only became dangerous over the flanks and that is too little in the long run. When Özil then had to play deeper and deeper against South Korea in the second half, he also lost his effectiveness and Germany could make even less of the pressure they kindled with the many ball possessions.

4. Löw must question himself

Joachim Löw often had no luck at the 2018 World Cup, although he always made comprehensible changes before the games. Against South Korea, however, he failed to stabilise the team and make the necessary move towards the goal in the final phase. Too few chances arose from the many ball possessions. With the decision to bring Thomas Müller for Goretzka, he shot himself in the leg. Not only did Müller not bring any added value at all, the team’s best offensive playmaker, Mesut Özil, also had to move into deeper zones. Germany’s build-up game suffered from this and the occupation of Zone 14 was almost non-existent from then on.

The world champion coach has to question himself in the next few days. Nevertheless, a big trainer discussion would not be justified. Löw has often brought about strategic change in his career and is confident that he can send a competitive team into the tournament by 2020. He and the DFB are best placed to judge whether he is in a position to do so.

5. No support? It’s your own fault!

What could be seen from the Kroos interview after the match against Sweden was above all that the changing mood in the country was also carried into the national team. Although the midfield strategist meant above all some media, which in his opinion would have been pleased about a premature withdrawal. But between the lines it also became clear that support can be very important.

Between 2006 and 2014, Germany certainly benefited from the mood in their own country, which they carried through the tournaments. The people were enthusiastic, captivated, suffered with them and for the most part stood behind a team that mostly presented itself to the outside world in a friendly and approachable manner.

After his triumph at the World Cup, his own status increased significantly. Bierhoff’s description that the DFB is the fourth power in the state is just one example of overconfidence. Since then, “Die Mannschaft” has developed into a marketing team that is increasingly distancing itself from the fans. Bierhoff and the DFB knew no borders anymore. The marketing machine was unstoppable. The once truly influential DFB team, which brought people from all cultures together, has become an overestimating association that makes it difficult for fans to identify with a great team.

It was discussed extensively in many places, but this may have mainly led to the fact that many Germans were actually happy about the elimination on Wednesday. Over the next few years, it will be up to the DFB to improve its own image. Only then will it soon be possible to restore the mood in the country that existed between 2006 and 2014. For this reason alone, the early elimination could perhaps be quite good for “Die Mannschaft”.

Oliver Bierhoff would do well to rethink his strategy. Less is sometimes more and even the best should take a break.
(Image: Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images)

6. Rebuild? A little!

The elimination of the team is stylized into a drama in many places. In fact, however, this offers great opportunities. Making disappointment a catastrophe now would not be a good approach. Despite their poor performance, the construction sites are simply not large enough.

Of course, the lack of self-conception and the lack of creativity in possession are bad enough. Ultimately, however, the structure of the squad and the names of those who have stayed at home show that the future can still be great.

However, only if the right conclusions are made. When the older players are critically analyzed to see who can and cannot help the team in the future. Even the best sometimes just rest and some of them have their best time behind them or no longer fit the way of playing. Starting this year, the younger players should be given the chance to prove themselves and take the next steps. When Schweinsteiger and Lahm retired in 2004 in the preliminary round of the European Championships, they were the hope of an entire football nation.

It’s not quite that dramatic this time, but Süle, Kimmich and players like Brandt will take the experience with them, learn from it at best and be all the more important for the team in the next tournament.

Nevertheless, a complete upheaval would not be the right approach. Not every stone has to be turned over after this disappointment. It is often said that the truth is on the pitch. Decisive meters were missing there, but above all playful links for the team’s pillars. A new leadership debate would be less effective than a strategic sporting debate and it would make no sense to exchange all the experienced players. It rather needs the correct hammer, in order to be able to construct the tree house with the already existing nails sensibly.

7. Compliments to the three opponents

What is neglected in many analyses should have its justified place in the last point. When the best are resting despite their motto, the opponents have to be there first. And they were all of them. Mexico, Sweden and South Korea have analysed the weaknesses of the German team and tackled them in different ways.

Mexico used a variable pressing, which took Kroos and Hummels out of play. They knew about Khedira’s weakness in possession of the ball and that Kimmich could be isolated accordingly. It was over this very zone that they were able to give the world champion a lesson with extremely fast counter-attacks. This lesson also had psychological consequences that unsettled the Germans.

Sweden interpreted its own approach against Germany’s deficits more defensively and more deeply, but also almost successfully. The game could have gone differently from the start if the Löw team scored the early goal. In the end, however, the Scandinavians also did a good job on the defensive because they forced the world champion onto the wings and there were only a few well-played attacks.

South Korea added another level of difficulty for Germany in the deep defence. The sixes let themselves fall very well into the defence chain, in order to defend well in the width, but also pushed forward at the right moment, in order to direct the opponent early to the outer lane and defend the centre at the same time. Özil found his way between the lines a few times, but the dangerous zones in front of the South Korean goal remained closed to him too.

Germany were dependent on individual quality in all three games because they could not find a solution as a team. However, against three very well organised teams who showed that quality is not everything. Chapeau, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea!

Outlook for FC Bayern

On the other hand, there are also positive opportunities for Bayern. The players will be back in training faster and will be able to work with the new coach. Nevertheless, the club would be well advised to give the boys a sufficiently long break. Anyone who saw Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels or Joshua Kimmich after the defeat against South Korea looked into empty, stunned faces. At first Hummels hardly found any words in the interview.

The repeated Champions League out against Real Madrid, the surprising cup defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt and the early end at the World Cup should not be underestimated. It will therefore be important for the Bayern players to clear their heads and then attack with the club again. Defeats can give rise to great powers, especially if they can be dealt with in a constructive manner. Hardly any club knows this as well as FC Bayern.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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