Credit: Thomas Holbach
Spain’s 6-0 drubbing of Joachim Löw’s Germany has sent shockwaves around Europe- but to the German fans and media this comes as little surprise. Die Mannschaft needed just a point from their final group game as they travelled to Seville last night, in order to qualify for the Nations League finals.
What unfolded was a nail -or six- put in the coffin that may await the German coaches fate. He fielded what was arguably one of his strongest available line-ups, barring the injured Joshua Kimmich. Record-break Manuel Neuer was back between the sticks, followed by the ever dependable midfield trio of Kroos, Gundogan and Goretzka. The front three of Sane-Gnabry- Werner made them one of the most in-form trios in the world- but they did little to show what makes them so formidable.
The middle and final third of the pitch hasn’t been the area of concern for the 4-time World Champions, however. Their defence and the personnel involved have come under scrutiny ever since the inception of the Nations League. Last night did little to silence those critics- a shambolic defensive performance highlighting the lack of experience and quality of the backline.
Löw’s side were unbeaten in 2020 before facing Luis Enrique’s men- but that’s a stat that only tells half the story. 4 draws and 3 wins- which were not routine even against lesser opposition- put the manager in the spotlight for his team selection.
The back-line against the Spanish was arguably stronger than recent deployments. Sule and Ginter bringing the experience for Koch and Max’s lack of it. 3-0 down and subbing Sule off for Jonathan Tah showed how badly this line-up played out, before then conceding another three in the second half. One almost felt sorry for Neuer, being a victim of the incompetencies in front of him, with Spain making the most of 4 vs. 3 situations throughout the game.
This frailty has been a thorn in the side for months. Löw has constantly pushed for youth to be at the fore- giving debuts to Philipp Max and Robin Gosens amongst others in recent matches- not in a way that has seemed organic to supporters, but rather forced.
Löw came under fire for infamously dumping veterans Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller from the side after the poor showing at the 2018 World Cup- and his stubbornness to not recall them has been well documented, even with the poor string of results.
Hummels and Boateng are arguably Germany’s two best centre-backs based on form, and despite their age, provide standout performances week in-week out. Publicly refusing to acknowledge the form and ability of the same players who won him footballs biggest prize is a sign of the managers ego possibly getting the better of him, and harming the national side in the process.
The German FA and its directors came out to defend their coach- stating it was a dark day for German football, but that they were on the right track for the longer-term project. The youth being pushed by ‘Jogi’ Löw is seen as the right path to be on, and just as they pushed the 2014 World Cup winning side through years of transition, they aim to do the same for future tournaments with the current crop.
The only difference- and saving grace- was Germany’s consistency in the major tournaments prior to the 2014 showpiece, reaching the the final of the European Championships in 2008 and finishing third in the 2010 World Cup.
The 2021 edition of the Euro’s may well be Löw’s last chance at redemption, to prove to his critics that the current run of results are just a blip on the route to being crowned the best in the world again. With the next set of international fixtures being played in March, there is little time to fix the major problems at the back- and Löw and his staff will have all hands to the pump by the time his boys can get back together at a national team camp.
Being put in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside France, Portugal and Hungary doesn’t provide much optimism to Löw, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from years of international football, it’s to never write the Germans off.