Two days ago, former Germany captain Michael Ballack told Deutsch Welle that he was surprised that his former coach had kept his job after Germany exited the World Cup in the group stage. Ballack said,
I was surprised as well as many other people that he kept his job. For a long time he worked with the team and sometimes you should say that things don’t work anymore when you’re so long with a certain team.
Ballack felt that the DFB failed to make good its promise to “analyze” the disaster in Russia, since the organization had “already made the decision to keep the coach.” Löw brushed aside a question about Ballack’s remarks, stating, “That really doesn’t interest me at all.”
And now Löw has followed up a tepid 0-0 draw against France with a humiliating 0-3 loss to the Netherlands, Germany’s greatest loss since the early days of Löw’s tenure as coach of the national team — tying the 0-3 loss the team suffered to the Czech Republic in 2007 during qualifications for Euro 2008.
Löw promised change after the 2018 World Cup. He dropped Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez from the team – players he arguably should never have brought to Russia in the first place — while Mesut Özil turned his back on the team in his own controversial way. Further changes, however, have been underwhelming and in some cases more frustrating than the problems they are intended to solve.
Breaking what works to fix what does not
The single greatest innovation since the World Cup? Löw has moved superstar right-back Joshua Kimmich – virtually the only German player who excelled in Russia – to the central midfield, attempting to stabilize Germany defense at the cost of its only reliable offensive creator. Even Kimmich’s replacement, Matthias Ginter, a center-back at Mönchengladbach, is likewise playing out of position.
The Kimmich experiment in the Nations League has produced a grand total of 0 goals for Germany and now 3 against – goals conceded to a far inferior team, or so it should be. Germany’s defense remains as vulnerable as ever, and Kimmich clearly has his limitations as a defensive midfielder.
Fundamentally, the question the DFB should ask is why has Löw resolved to tamper with Kimmich in this role when Germany has other talented CDMs to choose from (e.g. Max Meyer, now at Crystal Palace), and one of them already on the national team roster: Sebastian Rudy. What is the appeal of reprising Löw’s similarly failed experiment with Philipp Lahm?
Young, talented, and benched
The humiliation of Germany’s first group-stage exit at the World Cup made it impossible for Löw to retain the worst of his veteran players, but in the aftermath he still refuses to use the abundance of young talent at his disposal. Leroy Sané and Julian Draxler charmed the press at the DFB’s mid-week press conference. Neither of them started, although they enlivened Germany’s lethargic offense when Löw finally unleashed them in place of Thomas Müller and Emre Can after almost an hour.
Julian Brandt had to wait on the bench even longer, getting only about 15 minutes of playing time before the final whistle. But introducing all three offensive players at the expense of Kimmich’s midfield support (Can) finally brought the roof crashing down, as the Netherlands countered, overran Germany’s hyperextended midfield, and embarrassed the defense with two more unanswered goals.
Perhaps the most baffling decision was Löw’s choice of striker: 27-year-old Mark Uth, who has yet to score a goal for Schalke this season (in 660 minutes), became the 100th (and last?) player to debut under Jogi Löw, immediately starting after his call-up caught him completely by surprise. Admittedly, Löw’s other experimental striker, Nils Petersen, was unavailable, but Löw still could have started Timo Werner in the center and supported him with an actual winger, such as Sané.
But Germany’s ongoing inability to score goals is not the only problem, although it has seen the most tinkering: Löw also has failed to renew Germany’s backline, besides replacing Kimmich with an underwhelming Ginter. Löw has remained faithful to his heroes of 2014 in the central defense, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. But this troubled duo has repaid Löw’s loyalty with breathtaking ineptitude, while their youthful replacements — Niklas Süle, Jonathan Tah, Thilo Kehrer — remained glued to the bench. Even Jonas Hector (28), to whom Löw likewise pledged allegiance at the pregame press conference despite the fact he now plays in the 2nd Bundesliga, seemed out of his depth.
The time to move on is now
It was perhaps predictable that the DFB kept a cool head after the World Cup and decided to retain the man who won them the coveted trophy in 2014. But Löw seems to have learned nothing at all from the failed World Cup campaign. Germany still has no recognizable offensive concept, and the flaws in its midfield and defense only seem to have grown.
The DFB needs to acknowledge what Ballack plainly stated: things aren’t working anymore. Germany needs a coach who is not tied to declining veterans, who is unafraid to start young players, and, most importantly, who is not hampered by his own inability or unwillingness to see his own mistakes.
— Germany play France away on Tuesday. While it is not a must-win, if Germany goes on to finish last in their group, they will be relegated to League B of the Nations League.