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Three observations from Germany’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Ukraine

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Germany finally win a game, but they had to work for it. Does the DFB really think Low can continue?

SC Freiburg v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga
Pictured: Thomas Muller gets a migraine from watching Ukraine vs Germany.
Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

Germany show a startling lack of dynamism

Let’s talk about playing style for a minute. When you think of the best teams in modern day football, who is it that comes to mind? Teams like Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester City — i.e. the ones that dominate possession, press the opposition like wolves, and utilize deadly winger-fullback combos on the flanks. Compared to those teams, this current Germany squad seems like a team from another era.

Gegenpressing? Forget about it. Even though Jogi Low has players from Bayern, PSG, and Leipzig at his disposal — all coached by German managers, mind you — he has no idea how to organize his team into a coherent pressing unit. The current iteration of Die Mannschaft is completely passive in defense, barely able to win the ball back, unless the opponent makes an error or plays it out of bounds.

This extremely passive defense doesn’t gel with defenders who are used to defending actively for their club teams, leading to a total mismatch of personnel and tactics. Germany’s defense doesn’t want to be in constant 1v1 situations with opposition attackers — they’re all uncomfortable playing that way. Hence all the goals conceded lately.

Part of the problem can be traced back to the typically immobile Toni Kroos. While a fantastic tempo setter, the Real Madrid man cannot operate in a pressing system in this stage of his career. No pressing system works when the player at the heart of the midfield can’t close down his man. Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka can’t make up for that. They may be part of a pivot at Bayern, but the Bayern system has Thomas Muller, who presses like two men at the same time.

Meanwhile Kroos himself is being misused, since he’s playing so deep he may as well be another center back. His role on the team is so vague and pointless, it’s hard to see what Germany would lose if he was benched for an extra attacker. Kimmich and Sule can already do what he does. He seems superfluous to the setup — so why not bench him?

Low’s 3-5-2 kills the team’s width

Netherlands v Germany - UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

In trying to solve Germany’s defensive woes, Low has sacrificed a traditional 4-man backline for the 3-5-2, which is a formation that doesn’t use wingers. This has had devastating consequences for Germany’s wing-play — instead of leveraging players like Serge Gnabry, Marco Reus, Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, and Leroy Sane, the coach would rather opt for wingbacks instead.

Serge Gnabry, one of the best wingers in the world, is stuck in a static attack with no dribblers and zero movement, which makes it hard for him to get into the game. He has no one to overlap with, and has to deal with opposition center backs all by himself in the middle. There’s no avenue to use his pace either, since he’s never running at the defense — whenever Gnabry gets the ball, his back appears to be towards the goal.

Why is the problem so bad? The thing is, the players are not suited to a 3-5-2. Germany’s wingbacks are not offensive monsters like Alphonso Davies — Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann are defensive players, and they don’t really provide the incisiveness or attacking impetus that the young Canadian can do for Bayern Munich. This cripples an already stunted wing presence even further, leading to a stale, lifeless attack that puts the personnel on the pitch to shame.

It’s telling that Germany’s only two goals came from a set piece and a howler by the Ukrainian keeper — the team was impotent in attack for the entire 90’.

Low packs the box against a toothless Ukraine, to little avail

Germany have a terrible defense, and it seems that Low has no clue how to fix it. His current solution seems to be to pack the box with as many defenders as he can. You’d think that a World Cup winning coach could come up with something a little more sophisticated, but it really looks like this is the best we’re gonna get. He’s completely butchered Germany’s attack and midfield, abandoning his previous philosophy in the process. Why? Just so he can shore up the defense and provide Manuel Neuer some semblance of protection.

The results leave a lot to be desired. Low got lucky that Ukraine’s attackers played like a bunch of caffeinated gibbons — they couldn’t complete a pass in the final third to save their lives. Even so, they still scored a goal! Even with a 3-5-2 and a packed box, Germany cannot defend. There isn’t a single player on that team that plays a system like that at club level. Jogi isn’t going to coach them into Italy 2.0. He needs to stop trying it.

German coaches are currently some of the best in world football. Klopp, Hansi, Nagelsmann, Tuchel — these men are certified geniuses in their field. The German touch is being felt everywhere now — every coach wants their players to press, to play the ball wide, to take the game to the opposition. It is THE way to win.

The fact that the German National Team shows no signs of adopting this philosophy is baffling. Ideally, it should come as naturally as breathing to these players. Instead, you have the best players in the country playing a broken hyrbid of outdated Tiki-Taka and Italian cantenaccio. This isn’t going to bring Germany success. If Low can’t see that, then he must go.