Good lord this World Cup has contained shock after shock but none quite hit as hard as the events of Wednesday 28th June as the reigning champions Germany crashed out….to South Korea…who themselves had been dreadful. Perhaps what made it so shocking, was the fact that Germany were so dreadful as well. We associate them with mental fortitude ahead of anything else.
In trying to fathom this result I wasn’t sure where to begin, and I imagine the deconstruction of this will be discussed for a long time to come, but it is perhaps best to start with the contrast – the awful Germany of 2018 versus the German World Champions of 2014.
From their first game of the competition, Germany’s defence looked a constant liability. Low didn’t start the same back 4 once in the three games. I began by looking at stats based on a per 90-minute average to remove any bias based on the number of games, and the contrast was stark.
|% of successful tackles||68.25%||59.93%|
Take the Clearances figure for example, in 2014 Germany averaged 25.3 clearances per 90 minutes. In 2018 that figure was 10.7, a crazy swing. Crosses blocked also spoke volumes with the figure swinging from 3.4 to 0.3. Germany’s defending between the 2 competitions is not remotely comparable, and yet their attempted style in both tournaments was the same – high pressing, not letting the opponent out and smothering them into submission.
Indeed, it’s the consistency of style but the contrast of the figures which confuses most. In both years, Germany’s game was based on short passes, reminiscent of the Spanish style, with a slight more emphasis on physicality. When I looked at the passing numbers I was initially shocked.
|Total no of short passes||526.9||598.7|
|% successful short passes||88.31%||89.86%|
|Total no of long passes||51.4||57.7|
|% successful long passes||66.93%||74.00%|
Germany not only played more passes per 90 in 2018, they were also more likely to be successful. This was true of both short and long passes. Does this mean their passing was better? Of course, the answer is no, as the assists figure shows. Germany were much more likely to have an assist with a pass in 2014 than in 2018. To be frank, the figures of passing that are so high in 2018 match up with the slow and ponderous image I got off Germany throughout the tournament – a team who held the ball but lacked ideas, a team who constantly passed sideways without incision. I don’t necessarily think passing sideways is a bad thing (Guardiola has compared it to a tennis player dragging his opponent from one side of the court to other, tiring him out in the process) but as we saw from Argentina and the excellent Ever Banega on Tuesday night, you need someone who can play the risky ball forward when the moment is right.
So perhaps it wasn’t a lack of effort on Germany’s part, rather a mixture of bad defending and less invention going forward? Yes, there is certainly truth to that, but there is another factor which saw their goal count fall.
|% shots on target||47.24%||29.17%|
In 2018 they actually tried almost twice as many shots per 90 than they did in 2014, but alas, a far smaller number were on target. 47.24% in 2014 were on target versus 29.17% in 2018 – a damning statistic. Their shooting was incredibly poor. In my mind I can see the failed moments, whether its Hummels’ missed header or Werner’s misfiring shots.
The major criticism of Low is also that he didn’t bring Leeroy Sané and you have to wonder what his blend of speed and attacking verve would have brought. He achieved 17 assists and 14 goals for Manchester City this season. I believe the defensive statistics are the most damning of all and change is now needed. It does not bode well for Bayern Munich. The essence of what is here is that of a team which tried harder than in 2014, that really wanted to win, but of one which was technically inferior, lacking in confidence to attack with thrust and prone to defensive calamity.