In one of my first ever articles for this site, I called for the removal of Joachim Löw just days after Germany’s disappointing loss to South Korea that fateful afternoon in Kazan. Since then, Bayern Munich has run away with the Bundesliga year after year, capping off a treble (or quintuple, depending on if you count the trophies earned in the UEFA Super Cup and DFL-Supercup as trophies from this season) for the ages in an uncertain time.
Since 2018, seven different Bundesliga teams have represented Germany in the Champions League and six different teams appeared in the Europa League. In the UCL, four teams have made knockout round appearances since summer 2018, including phenomenal runs by Bayern and RB Leipzig last season. Compare that to the Europa League, where three out of the six teams from Germany have advanced to the knockout stage, including Eintracht Frankfurt who made a great semifinal run during the 2018/19 campaign.
All of this German success at the club level has failed to translate to the national team. At the center of it all is one man: Jogi Löw.
I say this because after a shambolic performance in the 2018 World Cup, Löw has failed to truly embrace positive change. His decision-making and record show that he is not prepared to lead the German national team anymore.
Hamstrung team selection
After building an identity around strong midfield and defense, the best center-back pairing Löw could come up with on Tuesday was Antonio Rüdiger and Matthias Ginter. The former has had a nightmare start to his season at Chelsea and the latter has put in some good-but-not-great performances for Borussia Mönchengladbach. In addition, Löw chose to start Robin Gosens, who normally plies his trade as a left midfielder for Atalanta, as a left-back over Marcel Halstenberg. Löw swapped the two at the 57’ mark of the game, but by that point, five goals had already been scored and Germany was trailing. His second defensive substitution saw defender/midfielder Emre Can come on for Ginter, ignoring the more seasoned center-backs in his roster.
I’ll give Jogi the benefit of the doubt as Niklas Süle was kept on the bench out of injury caution on Tuesday, but the rest of his defensive bench consisted of players whose footing in the DFB is shaky at best or are prone to gaffes.
There’s an easy fix to this: it’s called stop hurting your squad by blacklisting key veterans. On the backline, that’s Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. Imagine if Rüdiger was lined up with a more experienced player in either Boa or Mats and tell me the result wouldn’t have looked different.
In addition to backline issues, while the midfield was mostly solid, it’s hard to understand the logic in breaking up one of the best double pivots in the world. Starting Leon Goretzka in the central attacking midfield role only to have Toni Kroos in the lineup is confusing. Kroos has fallen a bit by the wayside in terms of his form (you can read about that here) and he seemed a bit off all game.
The way you fix this is by bringing back a man who is arguably the greatest German player in the world right now: Thomas Muller. To look at his accomplishments over the past year and decide to let your ego get in the way is just going to hurt the squad even more. What Muller brings to a team is hard to define and replicate, but his intangible abilities have put him on another level recently. Imagine if the Germany midfield looked like:
Gnabry - Muller - Havertz
Gnabry - Goretzka - Havertz
I’d imagine we’d see a lot more movement in the box, more expertly placed passes, and better random chances on net that could baffle a keeper.
On top of direct performances we’ve seen on the field, the blacklisted trio of Boateng, Hummels, and Müller would provide valuable mentoring and leadership on a younger team (something I mentioned at the time of the announcement).
At the end of the day, yes, players are responsible for their performances. But a manager that consistently chooses not to field his best team is a manager that is setting himself up for failure. This wasn’t a friendly match where Löw could get away with experimenting. This is a competition that has serious implications for teams that have yet to qualify for Euro 2020. And despite that fact that his team has already qualifyied, Löw’s tactics and team look shakier than ever.
A young, fast squad with an older, reserved manager
The German national team, as of now, is a dog wanting to chase after a mailman. But, Löw serves as a proverbial fence keeping them in the front yard.
The way the team is set up in their formation is holding them back. Having slower players like Kroos failing to help in the quick buildup hurts the team in the long run. The youth that we all saw lift the 2017 Confederations Cup seemed lost at times in this game.
It’s a tough setup for the team that is trying to break out of the mold they’ve been cast in. Shades of the 2014 World Cup team still permeate throughout this team. But, what Löw may have failed to realize is that the team currently before him has the potential to be deadlier than in 2014, namely through one way: speed. He did not have nearly as much pace on the wings or through the center in 2014, which isn’t to say the team was bad. The fastest player on that team may have been Andre Schürrle or Lukas Podolski. Miroslav Klose could get up and down the pitch but I don’t know if anyone would be inclined to call him pacey. So, as a necessity, Löw set up a squad that relied on ball possession and methodical movements in the final third. That team won the World Cup. Naturally, since it worked one time, Löw ran the same tactics for the next tournament four years later.
That strategy was destroyed in Russia. The team looked disconnected, out of touch, and very much like a Frankenstein’s monster that was made of so many different parts that didn’t know how to work together.
Since then, Löw doesn’t seem to realize what the rest of the world knows: Germany needs to change its approach to the game. It has speed now. From Gnabry and Leroy Sané on the wings, to Joshua Kimmich, Kai Havertz, and Goretzka in midfield, and even to de facto striker Timo Werner, this team can and should run. It can tire teams out from the amount of pace the front six can bring, but the current manager can’t seem to realize that.
It’s time for him to let go of the leash and let the dogs run.
The record speaks for itself
All of this brings me to my ultimate point, one I discovered and posted on twitter on Tuesday. The decision to bench certain players, failing to adapt to a new style, and any other criticisms that have been levied at Löw could all be ignored if Germany was still dominating and consistently winning games.
They are decidedly not. In fact, this may be the most mediocre string of results for the German national team ever.
I laid out my case on twitter (and somehow unintentionally pissed off Taylor Twellman in the process?)
This is not a shot at @TaylorTwellman, but he mentioned something about “Löw is about to face some real criticism” (might have missed a word or two) but idk how you can look at Jogi’s body of work during & since 2018 & not criticize it. And that they’ve been bad the last 4 games.— Jefferson "Europameister” Fenner (@jeffersonfenner) October 13, 2020
In reality, the German national team has been bad for longer than the last four games.
Since the summer of 2018, the national team has played 19 games. They have a record of 8 wins - 8 draws - 3 losses (not 7-7-3 as my tweet says. I corrected it.)
They’ve been bad longer.— Jefferson "Europameister” Fenner (@jeffersonfenner) October 13, 2020
Games since the World Cup:
2-0 N. Ireland
6-1 N. Ireland
That’s a record of 7w-7d-3L since the 2018 World Cup
For those confused by the flags, here’s a running total:
Wins: 8 total
Draws: 8 total
Losses: 3 total
Netherlands x2, France
So, as someone like my colleague Marcus Iredahl will point out, Germany is above .500 and they haven’t lost in 2020. This is true. But what’s the real quality of those wins and draws?
Let’s put this into perspective. Estonia and Belarus haven’t qualified for a World Cup as an individual country ever. The last time they were in the tournament, they were a part of the Soviet Union. Even then, Estonia never had a player born and raised in their SSR make it to the Soviet Union World Cup team, while Belarus had only three players make the cut. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has also had a poor showing in World Cups, having failed to qualify since 1986. So, ask any fan of European soccer and I’m sure they would agree (with all due respect to the three countries) that none of these six wins against vastly inferior competition should be considered quality wins.
For this thought experiment, allow me to define quality teams as countries that have made the World Cup at least once in their last four attempts. This way, Ukraine barely makes the cut and we can include every team Germany has played.
So with all of that out of the way, who’s ready to hear Germany’s record against quality teams?
It’s 2 wins - 8 draws - 3 losses. For the German national team. Let that sink in.
Let’s also add this context: every game represented in that record is either an International Friendly, a UEFA Nations League match, or a Euro qualifier. How can this be acceptable? A team that is one of the greatest in the world should not be forced to accept mediocrity, but that is exactly what is happening here.
I imagine those still on the Löw Train would ask me who I would replace him with. Honestly? I have no clue. But there needs to be someone who is more readily prepared to deal with the team as it can be set up now as opposed to how it was set up before.
Were I the head of the DFB, I would be considering every possible option. I’d need a German speaking coach who knows how to utilize pace and young talent, seeing as that is what mostly makes up the team currently. My top candidates would have to be Julian Naglesmann and Hansi Flick. While people may say it’s weird to have a manager coach for club and country at the same time, it’s been done as recently as 2016, when Russian Leonid Slutsky coached Russia and CSKA Moscow simultaneously.
All I know is that Löw’s inability to change has and will continue to hurt him and the standing of the German national team for years to come. A replacement needs to be brought in as soon as possible if Die Mannschaft want to avoid embarrassment come the Euros next summer.
The alarm has been ringing throughout all of these last two years. All that matters now is whether or not the DFB will get out of bed, or if they will continue to hit the snooze button.