If a good German side makes the World Cup final and a great one wins it, as the famous old saying goes, then what does that make this German team?
Never before had Germany failed to win their opening two games at the quadrennial international showpiece, and whilst four points from their final two games prevented that, it was not enough to ensure the humiliation of yesteryear was not to be repeated. Germany crash out of the World Cup at the group stage for the second time running, and the nation for whom tournament wobbles and abject footballing failure never seemingly affected, have at last been captured by the virus.
Having seemingly lost their Turniermannschaft tag, a critical juncture in the course of German football has thus been reached.
When Germany notched their fourth against a weary Costa Rica side, they had the best xG differential of any team at the tournament. Whilst the likes of Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry, and Jamal Musiala will be heavily disappointed, nobody can really say they are bad players. Expected goals, shots on target, and big chances created were all relatively high, proving that a lack of precision was Germany’s undoing in front of goal.
İlkay Gündoğan was another familiar face who didn’t entirely disappoint. He looked comfortable in the opener against Japan in a more attacking role, and was also excellent against Spain, effectively marking the commanding Sergio Busquets out of the game and nullifying the much-feared Spanish build-up. Hansi Flick must certainly be credited for this, switching his side’s 4-4-2 pressing structure to a 4-4-1-1, highlighting his coaching credentials. But his faulty squad selection, suicidal high-line, and poor in-game management versus Japan and Costa Rica means the treble-winning Bayern Munich coach will begin to feel the pressure.
Germany’s defence was a shambles. There is simply no other way to describe it. The unfortunate truth remains that when Niklas Süle and David Raum are included in your starting line-up, the opposition has always got a chance. Two mediocre defenders at this level, the pair are capable of destructive moments that will cost you dear, and ideally, neither will be playing for Germany again.
Tournament football is about solidity at the back; giving away as little as possible, characterised by the determination of conceding fewer than the opposition rather than outscoring them. Flick, it appears, is yet to learn this. Germany must now re-boot with Nico Schlotterbeck and Armel Bella-Kotchap as the two centre-backs, whilst simultaneously hoping that more talent files through. The fact that it is not obviously doing so at the minute, is arguably the greatest concern of all.
The striker conundrum was also one of Flick’s crucial mistakes. Thomas Müller looked lost; Kai Havertz lacks the clinical edge, leaving Niclas Füllkrug and Youssoufa Moukoko as the outstanding options. Despite Füllkrug’s two goals, his all-round play was at times underwhelming. The time has come for Moukoko to lead the line. A far more technically-proficient player with time enormously on his side, the Borussia Dortmund prodigy is nothing other than the future.
Speaking of the future. Jamal Musiala. What a player. Germany’s final-third attacks rolling through the youngster with therapeutically aesthetic ease was about the only thing the team got right. The 19-year-old will assuredly head home as Germany’s standout performer, and whilst his finishing sometimes went awry – something he’ll need to work on – the team must now be built around him as he becomes the poster boy for a home Euros in 2024. Truth be told, any team containing a player of his calibre is surely never too far away from redemption.
GGFN | James Westmacott