It was a fine line that the Germans walked on to avoid elimination against Sweden, but it seems like that’s when they work best. Manager Joachim Löw was sweating bullets on the sideline as he threw everything he could think of out onto the field as the game inched closer to failure for Germany.
But, the so far nonexistent figure in this World Cup, Toni Kroos, came up with a similarly meaningful goal to his Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale just under a month ago, breaking a nervy stalemate and emerging victorious from a must-win game.
Kroos’ goal saved Die Mannschaft on the night, yet you get a sense there are bigger tasks ahead for the defending World Champions, the first of which still being a win against South Korea to even advance to the Round of 16.
Germany haven’t played particularly well in their last two matches, which is an obvious statement, but one that needs to be said for those who believe Germany are still the side they were in 2014. Although this looks like a case of team underperformance, it would daft not to say a lot of the blame lands on the shoulders of Mr. Jogi Löw.
The accomplished coach has shown his ability to adapt on the fly before, most famously in the World Cup Final when Mario Götze was thrown in as a No. 9 when Germany needed a goal. But, even before then, the German manager realized his 2014 Group Stage conundrum of playing Philipe Lahm as a holding midfielder was far from perfect, changing his tactics and playing to his starting 11’s strengths.
Löw needs to find that composure again.
Germany’s defense looks shambolic as of right now because it’s basically the equivalent to the Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls event; except in Germany’s case, there are only two runners who are trying evade getting gored by the number of attacking bulls stampeding their way.
Mats Hummels found it relevant to speak about after Mexico beat the Germans 1-0 in their World Cup opener, saying that his teammates often left only him and Jerome Boateng to defend because the rest of his teammates were attacking. He followed that comment up with another candid response, hinting that him raising this issue to either his teammates or coach was basically deemed unimportant saying “…that’s something I often talked about internally. It doesn’t always bear fruit.”
It isn’t only the lack of defensive coverage the Germans have that has made them a shell of what they were in 2014. Their side has struggled to take their chances thus far, blasting shots wide of the mark or right into the keepers path far too often.
Thomas Muller, who has ten goals in World Cup competition and has been Germany’s best performer since 2010, cannot seem to put a foot right, both as a creator and a goalscorer. Julian Draxler was preferred over Mesut Özil against Sweden as the latter was a non-factor in the hole when facing Mexico, a role the Arsenal man has thrived in over the years for club and country. Toni Kroos is neither defending nor attacking in the center of the park, both normally being strong suits of his as one of the world’s best box-to-box midfielder.
It wasn’t all bad news for Jogi Löw, as there were many times the Germans looked threatening against Sweden, particularly with low cross into the box. Timo Werner looked a different player as he took to the left flank, when Mario Gomez came on, slipping in behind the Sweds and teeing up those exact crosses, one of which found Marco Reus’ knee for Germany’s equalizer. The Borussia Dortmund man was another who was lively on the night with his link up play and movement around the box.
Julian Brandt was a handful substitute, even if it was only for a a ten minute cameo. However, thats two substitute appearances that the 21-year-old has been the best player of the pitch for the little time he was given, getting unlucky on both occasions with two of the exact same shots hitting the woodwork in both cases.
But there’s no leadership or direction in this team and since the retirement of Philip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, someone needs to become the alpha. It’s odd to see this considering Thomas Müller’s role at Bayern Munich as a leader and Joachim Löw’s usual iron-fist rule, yet it’s also unsurprising because of the quality and experience around the camp.
Everyone in this competition have their own unique kinks to iron out, and Germany are no different. However, bringing in defensive stability with either a back 3, to allow Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector more attacking capabilities, or simply having a midfielder slot into a defensive role when the full-backs push up, can only see this German side improve back into World Cup favorites. It won’t be a pretty shape up, but it’s one Joachim Löw will need to implement if there is any hope for a German repeat.