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Germany must evolve to succeed

Joachim Löw’s seemingly magic touch looks as if it’s gone, and now the real work begins.

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There are a lot of adjectives that could be used to describe Germany’s 1-0 debacle of a loss to Mexico. You could go with lackluster, lazy, disappointing, lethargic, or dispassionate, and no one could argue with you.

The one word that has hit hardest, however, is complacent. This German team, for whatever reason, seems to be fine with just being okay and riding its past laurels. As Mexico proved, though, no one outside of that roster gives a damn about the German football machine.

In the summer of 2017, Löw decided to roll into the Confederations Cup with a squad that was generously listed as the “B Team”; every move he made went amazingly well. Why bring all of your stars to a major global tournament when you can challenge the next generation of German superstars to become great?

The Confederations Cup represented Jogi Löw at his creative best.
FIFA via Getty Images

This ... was peak Löw.

The tournament was not exactly comprised of beer league squads. Hosted by Russia, the Confederations Cup field was skilled, veteran-laden, and talented. In addition to the host team, Mexico (Ah!), Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Portugal, and Cameroon all fielded competitive squads featuring the likes of stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Ricardo Quaresma, Raphaël Guerreiro, Aleksandr Golovin, Mathew Leckie, and Claudio Bravo among others.

Löw looked at the opposing rosters and countered with a mostly young and extremely hungry lineup led by Julian Draxler (Golden Ball winner), Timo Werner (Golden Boot winner), Leon Goretzka (Bronze Ball winner), and Joshua Kimmich. Other young players who made a grand impression included Julian Brandt, Niklas Süle, and Antonio Rudiger. With Marc-André ter Stegen between the sticks, this squad was youthful, hungry, passionate, and driven.

Exactly all of the attributes that Löw’s current team is lacking. So what went wrong?

It would easy and convenient to dismiss the accomplishment of that Confederations Cup-winning “B Team,” but Löw — for all his brilliance in tactics and player management — has let his judgement be clouded by past accomplishments.

Marco Reus was excluded from the starting lineup in what foreshadowed one of many questionable decisions by Löw.
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Instead of calling on Germany’s next generation, Löw is relying on its past. To continue to play Sami Khedira, when you could add a true pivot like Sebastian Rudy or a box-to-box phenom like Goretzka, is absurd. In addition, to react so slowly to replace a clearly struggling Khedira was an injustice to the players on the roster who are more capable of helping the team win — which is, after all, the whole reason every country spends tens of millions of dollars on developing and incubating these teams.

Löw needs to play to his team’s strengths and find the mix of young/hungry and veteran/experienced that works for this unit. For a man that once had an expert feel on how and when to use his weapons, Löw is firing blanks. Löw may have lost his objectivity when it comes to his roster; for a coach, that is a death knell. If he cannot move past his allegiance to 2014, the current squad will only suffer.

This is typically the part of the post where we take a more optimistic slant on the next two games, but Sweden and South Korea now have a solid three-game arc on which to build their respective game plans.

  1. Sit deep and wait for Germany to become frustrated.
  2. Counter quickly when Germany makes a mistake to capitalize on Die Mannschaft’s overzealous fullbacks and defensive midfielder, who are prone to leave their center-backs exposed and outnumbered.

It is that easy. Can Sweden and South Korea execute the plan that Austria, Mexico, and even a completely over-matched Saudi Arabia side all carried out, all of them experiencing relative levels of success? It remains to be seen. But unless Löw can regain his objectivity, do what is best for his team, and stop acting as if his aura alone will win a game, it could be a short and unfulfilling June for the reigning World Cup champions.

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